Kladivo na čarodějnice
Directed by Otakar Vávra
Written by Otakar Vávra
Ester Krumbachová
Based on Kladivo na čarodějnice
by Václav Kaplický
Starring Elo Romancik
Vladimír Šmeral
Soňa Valentová
Music by Jirí Srnka
Cinematography Josef Illík
Edited by Antonín Zelenka
Release dates
23 January 1970
Running time
103 minutes
Country Czechoslovakia
Language Czech

Witchhammer (Czech: Kladivo na čarodějnice) is a 1970 Czechoslovak drama film directed by Otakar Vávra and starring Elo Romančík. Based on the novel Kladivo na čarodějnice by Václav Kaplický, Witchhammer relates the story of the Northern Moravia witch trials of the 1670s, focusing on the priest Kryštof Lautner, played by Romančík, who falls victim to the witchhunt after opposing the trials. The film contains possible allegory about Communism in Czechoslovakia.

After its completion, the film was banned in Czechoslovakia. Despite this, it won awards at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in 1970 and is considered one of Vávra's finest films.


In the 1670s in Moravia, an altar boy observes an old woman hiding the bread given out during communion. He alerts the priest, who confronts the old woman. She admits that she took the bread with the intent to give it to a cow to re-enable its milk production. The priest reports the incident to the owner of the local estate who, in turn, calls in an inquisitor, a judge specializing in witchcraft trials. Boblig von Edelstadt, the inquisitor, commences an ever-escalating series of trials, with Boblig revering the book Malleus Maleficarum as his guide. The tribunal uses thumbscrews in its interrogations, relying on its conventional use to justify it against torture accusations. However, a priest, Kryštof Lautner, criticizes Boblig for inhumane methods, and another clergy member senses many of the accused women burnt at the stake are in fact innocent, and openly prays for the trials to stop.

Boblig comes to fear Lautner, and one of the accused testifies against Lautner and his cook, Zuzana. Lautner is questioned about having a cook and playing the violin, both unconventional for a clergyman. Lautner replies his late mother took Zuzana in, and he kept her because the girl had nowhere else to go. Lautner's friends, the Sattlers, who possess property to be confiscated by the tribunal, are forced to confess that they accompanied Lautner and Zuzana to Peter's Rock, engaged in fornication and worshiped Lucifer. Under torture, Zuzana is also driven insane and confesses. Lautner denies his friends are telling the truth, while admitting he took Zuzana's virginity. Ultimately, the tribunal rules that the 36 confessions outweigh his professions of innocence. Eventually, Lautner is forced to confess. Boblig finally concludes that he has risen above all ordinary men.


Historical basis

A plaque at the Church of St. Lawrence in Sobotín, Czech Republic, commemorating victims of the Northern Moravia witch trials.

The story of the film is based on Václav Kaplický's book Kladivo na čarodějnice (1963),[1] a novel about witch trials in Northern Moravia during the 1670s.[2] Kryštof Alois Lautner is a historical figure who is portrayed accurately in the novel.[3]

The film is also an allegory substituting the Inquisition for show trials in Communist regimes.[4] Vávra had political trials in the 1950s in mind when co-writing the film.[5] With the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 following the Prague Spring, scholar Peter Hames wrote that it was "difficult to see" Witchhammer "as anything other than a response to the political realities of the post-invasion period."[6] Richard Chatten of The Independent wrote the film was "possibly Vavra's indirect disclaimer to a paper to which he was obliged to lend his name in 1968 endorsing the Soviet invasion."[7]


Otakar Vávra co-wrote and directed the film in 1969, consulting trial records.

Director Otakar Vávra made the film in 1969.[8] In crafting the screenplay with Ester Krumbachová, Vávra drew from Kaplický's novel and also records from the historical trials in Šumperk.[5] Vávra was reminded of trials he had seen in the 1950s, stating that "In historical records I came upon sensible, hard-working people who fell quite unexpectedly into the clutches of the revived medieval witch trial machine."[5] Changes made from the novel include beginning the film with women bathing, to the scorn of a monk, as opposed to the novel, which begins with knitting. Vávra and Krumbachová thus set up a theme of sexual repression as political repression, which Krumbachová would continue in her next screenplays.[9]

The film was produced by Barrandov Studios.[1] Cinematographer Josef Illík shot the film in CinemaScope.[8] Krumbachová is also credited with writing the "soldiers' song" used in the film.[9]


The film debuted in Czechoslovakia in January 1970.[10] However, it was shortly after banned by the Czechoslovakian government.[11] This was part of a general trend after the Warsaw invasion, with more Czechoslovak films banned in 1970 than in the past 20 years.[12] Later, the film had a successful DVD release.[13]

The film had a release in the United States. In Region 1, the DVD was released under the title Witches' Hammer by Facets Multi-Media, with quotes on the cover billing it as erotic and shocking.[14]


Critical reception

In the Czech Republic, Witchhammer has been called Vávra's magnum opus.[15] Radio Prague's Jan Richter wrote it is "perhaps the strongest film Otakar Vávra ever made" and "an impressive analogy with what was happening after the Soviet occupation."[10] Scholar Peter Hames also called it "one of his best films."[8] Author Robert Buchar wrote many of the best films of the Czech New Wave were made in 1969, including Witchhammer.[16]

Critic Paul Simpson wrote the film is "engrossing," and "a Czech The Crucible, but with more female nudity."[17] Andrew Leavold of Senses of Cinema observed comparable allegory to Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, and called it unsubtle but with "deliberately measured pace and a mounting sense of doom."[18] In 2011, Will Tizard of Variety called Witchhammer a "sly parable on paranoia and political persecution," and one of Vávra's "most prized artistic legacy to critics."[19] Author David Elroy Goldweber gave in an 8 for quality, suggesting it for fans of Witchfinder General (1968), though he found it more "serious and sad."[14]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Mar del Plata International Film Festival 5-15 March 1970 Special Mentions Otakar Vávra Won [20]
Cineclub Núcleo Awards Best Feature Film Otakar Vávra Won

See also


  1. 1 2 Alan Goble, ed., The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film, Bowker-Saur, 1999, p. 251.
  2. Jan Bažant, Nina Bažantová and Frances Starn, The Czech Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Duke University Press, 2010, p. 344.
  3. Zuzana HARAŠTOVÁ: Nad severomoravskými procesy s čarodějnicemi. Diplomová práce, UNIVERZITA PALACKÉHO V OLOMOUCI, 2011.
  4. Marc James Léger, Drive in Cinema: Essays on Film, Theory and Politics, Intellect Books, 2015, p. 76.
  5. 1 2 3 Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition: Theme and Tradition, Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p. 28.
  6. Hames, p. 16.
  7. Chatten, Richard (16 October 2011). "Otakar Vavra: Film director who fell foul of the communists". The Independent. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 Hames, p. 27.
  9. 1 2 Jill Nelmes and Jule Selbo, eds., Women Screenwriters: An International Guide, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 259.
  10. 1 2 Richter, Jan (1 March 2011). "The man who was willing to pay the price: film director Otakar Vávra turns 100". Radio Prague. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  11. Robert Buchar, Czech New Wave Filmmakers in Interviews, McFarland & Company Publishers, 2005, p. 200.
  12. Buchar, p. 13.
  13. Hames, p. 30.
  14. 1 2 David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film 1902-1982, Lulu Press, 2016.
  15. Fila, Kamil (16 September 2011). "Zemřel Otakar Vávra, nejkontroverznější filmař historie" (in Czech). aktuálně.cz. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  16. Buchar, pp. 12-13.
  17. Paul Simpson, Movie Lists: 397 Ways to Pick a DVD, Profile Books, 2008, p. 378.
  18. Leavold, Andrew (August 2008). "Witches' Hammer". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  19. Tizard, Will (16 September 2011). "Czech director Otakar Vavra dies". Variety. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  20. "11º FESTIVAL". Mar del Plata Film Festival. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
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