A Witch-Finder General (not that one) falls in love with a village beauty and suspected witch who, unbeknownst to him, has made a pact with Satan himself to seduce and eternally damn those who would kill off his servants. Vincent Price would never have fallen for that.
“No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” goes the old Monty Python sketch. Except you do, because Witch-Finder General Bernard de Fossey (horror legend Paul Naschy) puts up notes all around town informing the villagers that he’s there to look for witches. Also well-signposted: a Witchfinder General influence.
Everything about Inquisition cries “rip-off”, from the lead character to the period setting and story (ruthless Witch-Finder develops feelings for a local girl). But what sounds like a shameless steal of Michael Reeves’s classic movie is given a life of its own, thanks to some classy writing and direction from Naschy. The horror icon wrote, directed and stars in this movie, which is a lot of work to be simply dismissed as a Witchfinder General knock-off. Even if it is, a little.
Inevitably, in the story of a cruel and unusual Witch Hunter invading a small village, there is some crossover. There’s just as many exploitative scenes of sweaty torture and nudity, only with nubile Spanish peasants instead of nubile English peasants. The story is similarly quite slow, but with moments of extreme violence and cruelty serving to make it seem more dense than it actually is. Inquisition is much slower than Witchfinder General, and unfortunately less compelling. The story, sadly, just isn’t as interesting, and Naschy is no match for the booming great tones of Vincent Price. Well, few people are. He does have a nice beard though, and a lovely wardrobe full of black silk and crucifixes. Unfortunately this leaves him looking a little like Blackadder; slightly too cuddly to ever be taken too seriously. He fares better as Satan, buried beneath a mass of makeup and horns, and looking like something out of a cartoon.
The best scene comes almost an hour in, with the Devil seated around his supper table and surrounded by a whole host of nubile young worshippers (and ‘nubile’ is the only way to describe the actresses in Inquisition). As his red eyes burn like rubies, he moves in for a kiss. He appears in more human-looking form later in the film, looking on sleazily as a girl’s throat is cut before him. It’s here that both his and Catherine’s plan becomes clear. Looking to avenge the murder of her lover, she’ll stop at nothing to assure de Fossey’s damnation.
Inquisition really looks the part, with its rotted skulls, desolate rural environment and believable period setting all adding to the charm. The opening is fantastic, kicking off with a rotted skeleton dangling from a tree, his similarly decomposed chums also scattered around his feet. The film’s Gothic tone is biggest success. The story is well-researched too, based upon real events in medieval France, where a magistrate fell in love with a local witch and wound up joining her being burned at the stake. Of course, witches and the devil aren’t real (unless you’re religious, in which case, okay, I’m sure they are) so there is a little embellishment there; although the realism and attention to detail everywhere else makes you believe that they could be. The attention to detail extends to the torture sequences and props (some of which were borrowed from a museum) and exposition. It’s a thoroughly engaging and real world.
For all the hard work that evidently went into making Inquisition, it’s simply too slow and uneventful to make much lasting impact. A more theatrical lead performer (Naschy is a bona fide genre legend, but seems miscast here) and faster pace would have done much for the film. The scenes of torture and exploitation, while lurid and unpleasant, don’t do enough to make the rest of the film seem particularly memorable.
Inquisition is well made, well-researched and looks a treat. It is however, somewhat fatally hampered by both its own flaws and (not entirely unfair) comparison to one Witchfinder General. Still, inquisitive readers would be well recommended to check out this movie. It’s not quite bewitching, but it is oddly compelling. You may not expect the Spanish Inquisition, but you should be well prepared to enjoy this one.