DVD Maleficarum

DVD Maleficarum
DVD Maleficarum

Run time: 102 min
Rating: 6.2
Genres: Drama | History | Horror
Director: Jac Avila
Writers: Jac Avila
Stars: Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, Roberto Lopez
Maria Francisca, a wealthy young heiress and her friend Mariana De Castro, a young protestant widow, are accused of witchcraft and taken before the Inquisition. Maleficarum is the story of Francisca, a wealthy orphan and Mariana, her widowed protestant friend, who live surrounded by a town in which they are the center of hostile gossip. Francisco Verdugo, the Inquisitor, has his own ambitions. He has his greedy eyes on the orphan heiress’s properties, but he needs a pretext. A confrontation in the street among a group of girls gives him the perfect excuse to arrest Mariana and Francisca and enchain them in the horror chambers of the Inquisition, leading them to a frightful end as they are convicted of witchcraft. Written by Jac Avila
Plot Keywords: spanish inquisition, witch, human branding, burning, sexual sadism
Country: Bolivia
Release Date: 31 October 2011 (Bolivia)
Box Office
Budget: $105,000 (estimated)


  1. Warning: This is a brutal film that definitely will not appeal to everyone. It involves extensive female nudity and torture and falls into the "church torture of heretics" genre.

    Now that you know what to expect in general:

    The technical quality of the cinematography, and the authenticity of the sets and costumes gives this film a definite sense of "big budget theatrical release," which is completely unexpected for a film in this genre, particularly one made on a stated budget of only $105,000.

    Despite falling into the "torture" genre, the film does not rush into those scenes, but takes the time necessary to set up its story and characters, and does so with a calm that very much contrasts with later events. For a time, in fact, the head of the church, the women's main accuser, truly appears interested in saving their souls, rather than in taking their money. While it is obvious immediately that things will not go well for Lady Francisca (Mila) when she does not agree to the church's request for a large monetary donation, the background music remains soothing, rather than ominous, throughout the film, thereby contrasting what is happening in most of the scenes over which it is played. Even the opening questioning of the two women is understated, although Lady Mariana (Amy) gradually becomes more terrified as it becomes apparent that the charges against her are far more serious than her mere involvement in the minor altercation that had led to the appearance of the two ladies before the inquisitor tribunal.

    The juxtaposition throughout the film of the scenes in which the head inquisitor calmly questions the many witnesses against the women with the scenes of Mariana and Francisca being brought to the dungeon, stripped, chained to the wall and subject to a variety of tortures was masterful, effectively presenting the unimaginable tension, terror and pain that lay just beneath the facade of a calm search for the truth.

    The dungeon set, as expected, presents a sense of absolute doom and dread, with its hard, cold stone walls and dim flickering lights. The ways in which the director, Jac Avila, chains and stretches the two women make it obvious that he knows how to create, consistently, scenes that are visually appealing and exciting to the viewer, while, at the same time, magnifying the horror facing his subjects. The two lead actresses, Mila and Jane, are absolutely beautiful in their extended whipping scenes, during which both show proper reaction as their tortures harshen. Jane's whipping scene is particularly brutal, since she is forced to hang by her chained wrists with her feet off the ground, her body swinging with each lash, a position that, on its own, certainly must have caused great pain to her shoulders. Nor are there any weak flicks of the wrist from their torturer, but full arm motion with every blow. Whatever filming techniques may have been used, it is impossible to believe that Jane and Mila were not subject to some real pain during the filming of these whipping scenes.

    Mila and Jane are also stunningly filmed in their respective scenes on the rack, the beauty of their stretched and sweating bodies, backs arched off the rack's table, enhanced by the varying camera angles, particularly the shots from the overhead camera. There is no bend in their wrists or knees, which are shown chafed and bleeding as the ropes securing them dig deeply. While the viewer does not expect that the women are actually being stretched to their absolute limit, it is certainly easy to believe that they are, which, after all, is the goal of good filmmaking.

    Repeatedly in the middle of the torture scenes, the men from the church enter, calmly ask whether the tortured women are ready to talk, and then, just as calmly leave to allow the tortures to continue when the women refuse to respond. Unlike the majority of the film's viewers, these church men are not excited by the torture of naked women, but simply want their confessions and the transfer of their wealth to them. That they are such cold pitiless men adds to the terror of the women's plight.

    Other of the torture scenes are out of the norm even for films in this genre, and are also done excellently, but no more can be said about them without pushing the "spoiler" content of this review too far.

    As much as I enjoyed the film, I do have several criticisms: (1) While Amy is an excellent actress, Mila does not yet have the training or experience to match Amy, but this criticism relates only to Mila's delivery of her dialog, as she gives an excellent performance in her reactions to her tortures. (2) I would have preferred that Francisca and Mariana not have been subject to the same tortures (for example, the same whipping and rack tortures), particularly not one after the other, during the first half of the film, and I also would have preferred a torture to Francisca other than a repeat whipping after her sentencing. (3) I don't know why Mariana's clothes were put back on before she was taken outside, only to be immediately removed again. Nakedness indoors has a degree of privacy, while nakedness outdoors exposes one, at least figuratively, to the whole world. So leaving Mariana naked when she was moved outdoors would have, I think, more realistically and more strongly conveyed the sense of increased psychological exposure that the film apparently sought. (4) The ending, which I can't reveal for "spoiler" reasons. I have several thoughts as to why the particular ending was chosen, but, even if my suspicions are correct, there are several other possible endings that I would have preferred.

    All things considered, an excellent film for those who like films of this genre. But definitely not for the weak of heart.

  2. Maleficarum is getting a lot of attention. This is a review that appeared online: "A pretty powerful and disturbing movie: Disturbing because the film doesn't really hold back in its many torture scenes, some of which are less than easy to stomach, but powerful because despite all the torture, the film manages to tell a rich story full of interesting characters, it manages to make the love between the two tortured girls who go through hell together rather than betraying one another, and the direction (successfully) aims for atmosphere rather than sleaze.

    To put it shortly, a very nice, well-made film. Recommended – but for above reasons probably not for everybody." Mike Haberfelner (re)Search My Trash

  3. A wealthy orphan (an adult, but whose parents have died and is as yet, unmarried – so, in that period, unprotected) befriends another woman who has lost her husband and is now a homeless widow. Their relationship has lesbian elements – which of course are "beyond the pale" in the era; additionally, the friend is "horror of horrors" – a Lutheran – in other words – a heretic! And the orphan is wealthy… The Inquisition steps in soon enough and when the two women prove 'uncooperative'- this film pulls no punches. The film shows both how the two women are slowly but surely broken in graphic detail and, showing interviews the inquisitors have with various witnesses, also how the common beliefs of the time justified it. The torture is shown historically accurately being done to the women's totally nude bodies…

  4. Maleficarum (2011) by Jac Avila is a good screen play by an independent Bolivian film company. It is a good historical fiction loosely based on María Francisca Ana de Castro, a Spanish immigrant to Alta Peru, who was renowned for her beauty and wealth. She was arrested and accused of "judaizing". After many days of Torture before confessing; She was burned at the stake in 1726. This event was a major spectacle in Lima, but it raised questions about possible irregular procedures and about the corruption within the Inquisition, this lead to the end of The Holy Office (The Inquisition) in Peru. The director, Jac Avila, and actors try to recreated the actual realistic suffering in great detail of what the victims of the Spanish Inquisition had to endure. The best was the director's use of the actors' facial and body language, it was very cerebral and visual at the same time. This viewer marveled at the simplicity of that movie and how it got its complex message across, the script and the story plot was very well thought out. The dialogs of the accusers and witnesses did well in showing the bias and superstitions of that time.

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