The 1978 witchfinder film Inquisition is probably best known as Paul Naschy’s directorial debut, although he uses the pseudonym Jacinto Molina for his credits. The late ’60s and early ’70s were a prime time for inquisition films – Mark of the Devil, The Conqueror Worm, The Demons, The Devils – but by the latter portion of the decade, the idea had mostly burned itself out (pun intended). However, Naschy’s obsession with inquisitions – in the film’s case, the French Inquisition rather than Naschy’s more regional Spanish Inquisition – became the idea for another film with the opportunity to show multiple naked young women tortured, maimed, and burned at the stake. And Inquisition adheres to these unspoken rules of the subgenre so heavily that it is at times difficult to decipher Naschy’s voice from the multitude of witchfinder films that came before it.
Daniela Giordano stars as Catherine, a woman stricken with depression after her fiance Jean (Juan Luis Galiardo) is killed while away from his village. Unluckily for her, the French Inquisition is in full swing in town, with Bernard de Fossey (Naschy) and a couple of his witchfinder cohorts torturing anyone whom the village dirtbag Renover (Antonio Iranzo) decides he doesn’t like. Since depression is clearly a sign of Satan weighing heavily on the heart, de Fossey decides to take Catherine under his wing, doing everything he can to woo the ailing widow. And Catherine, plagued by dreams where de Fossey kills Jean, decides to enlist the help of a local witch to do her bidding.
Like most inquisition films, Inquisition is slow and brooding. Naschy does a good job with set design, costuming, and mimicking the stylistics of the 16th century period, adding some much-needed eye candy to offset the film’s exorbitant amount of dialogue. However, the film’s lengthy beginning is required to set up Catherine’s eventual suicidal pact with the Devil: Inquisition develops that romance, however fleeting, between Catherine and Jean in order to give her decisions more weight. While Naschy’s direction can be rather bloated, it’s necessary for the film’s turn toward surrealism in the middle portion.
One of Inquisition‘s more interesting offerings storywise is its exploration of real witchcraft occurring on the outskirts of town. The witch Mabille (Tota Alba) seems to have some sort of power, crafting potions for Catherine and helping to induce hallucinations that allow her to fly with the Devil and experience Hell. Naschy includes a colorful and hazy experience with demons in the underworld as Catherine attempts to uncover her lover’s murderer, but Inquisition never identifies whether Catherine’s visions are true or just figments of her imagination.
This adds an air of mystery to Naschy’s direction, with the viewer never quite sure whether to trust Catherine’s inclinations. Once she dreams that de Fossey was the killer, she becomes obsessed with bringing him down. While de Fossey isn’t a particularly likable or moral character, he does at least deserve some benefit of doubt; there’s no real evidence to suggest he had anything to do with Jean’s death besides his lecherous attraction to Catherine, and even that is somewhat influenced by Catherine’s own doing.
Inquisition, then, puts even more emphasis on the persecution of innocent citizens versus those that are actually practicing witchcraft. This creates a juxtaposition that leads to a tragic but ultimately satisfying conclusion: both de Fossey and Catherine burn, one for his sinful advances towards a woman and one for her belief in witchcraft despite whether she actually dabbled in the profane or not.
Other than that, though, Inquisition is a paint-by-numbers approach to the subgenre. It features a bevy of beautiful naked women, some of them hooked up to antiquated torture devices. The special effects are solid, although not as featured or accentuated as some other witchfinder films. Naschy gets to wear an iconic mullet-esque wig that changes his entire appearance, especially compared to the final shot of him with his head shaved. Inquisition is a slow-burning feature that, while intriguing in its vacillation between witchcraft and reality, will most likely only appeal to those fans of the style; even then, it is not the best representation of the sub-genre despite some attempts to diverge from the norm.
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