Playing like a Sidney Lumet 'policier' thriller (think "Prince of the City" transposed to 1684), "Witchhammer" concerns the initial hysteria that grips a Czech village when an elderly woman is caught trying to steal a host from her Catholic Mass service. Initially saying the object would be to help nurse a sick cow, her testimony soon includes other women on the outskirts of town and an ominous sounding place called Peter's Rock. Believing they have a full-on witches coven sullying the land beneath their noses, the local leaders call in ex tribunal judge Boblig (Vladimir Smeral) and a mass witches trial eventually overtakes the town.
Being of Czech origin and released in 1970, its no surprise "Witchhammer" is an angry veiled reference to, basically, name your aggression. Boblig, whose shadowy intentions slowly emerge, is shown to be secretly as vile and consumed by wealth and money than any person in the town said to be a worker of the devil. His wreckage of souls (and bodies through torture) targets some of the richest men in town since their land, upon confession, would be forfeited to his tribunal in order to pay for the trial services. It's not long before "Witchhammer" becomes an exercise in tolerance as we watch the machinations of Boblig destroy people and crush souls all in the name of religious piety. The only comic relief we get are brief explanations of tribunal law from a book about twice the size of the Bible, in which it regulates with mind-numbing calculations the extent to which a head nod under torture is allowable as an actual head nod admission. Bureaucracy hasn't changed in 300 years, obviously.
In an ideal world, the outrageous acts explored in "Witchhammer" are true remnants of the ignorant past, fodder for silly horror films and Vincent Price's intent gaze. Sadly, open any page in any local newspaper and one realizes we're consistently doomed to repeat that ignorance. For that matter, "Witchhammer" is just as prescient today as it was almost 40 years ago.