Short Film Showcase: Witchfinder
Dir. Colin Clarke
When a love-struck man ventures into the foreboding forest that surrounds his village to seek the dubious help of a witch, their forbidden ritual is interrupted by witch hunter William Thatcher Blake. After sentencing the unfortunate pair to death for fraternising with the Dark Lord, Blake is cursed by the witch, and when he returns home, soon realises the full extent of her dark powers…
Colin Clarke’s short film unveils itself as an atmospheric love letter to vintage Gothic horror. Witches, ancient rites, dark woods and violent revenge are swirled together in a cinematic cauldron that expertly conjures the spectres of bygone horror. With a distinctly old fashioned feel, there are nods to the likes of vintage Hammer, Michael Reeve’s Witchfinder General and the gloomy dread and sadism of classic Italian Gothic horror. One moment in particular - the scene depicting the unfortunate witch’s grisly demise - pays beautiful homage to Mario Bava's Black Sunday/Mask of Satan; right down to the shadow-play on a mask lined with spikes as it advances towards the fragile flesh of the woman’s face.
With a simple story, basic plot structure and a running time of just under twenty minutes, there’s very little messing around, as Clarke soon cuts to the chase, establishing a spooky atmosphere and creepy imagery, some of which echoes that seen recently in Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem. Clarke’s witch-infested tale is a much more subtle affair though; for one, he knows when to use silence to his advantage. The complete absence of music in one later scene is tremendously effective, as Blake hastily leaves his house and stumbles through the dark with only the creaking of his lantern and the moaning wind present on the soundtrack. Val Lewton would be proud. The discovery of a wide open door after something goes bump in the night is also well staged, and when the witch finally reappears, it’s a haunting sight.
Clarke and co prove that nightmares don’t need a big budget in order to be woven around our beds effectively enough to take root in our heads; just technical skill, creative vision and passion and respect for the subject matter. With heaps of atmosphere - ably enhanced by a moody score courtesy of Brandon Lutmer and Mark Gustafson - grim tone, and spine-chilling denouement, Witchfinder is a well made short that casts all the right dark spells.