Blending austere black-and-white visuals with vigorous symbolism and dour psychological scrutiny, Carl Dreyer's searing, pessimistic masterpiece possesses real emotional wallop.
Set in 17th-century Denmark, the action begins with a pious parson (Thorkild Roose) sending a `witch' to her fiery death. The old hag curses her persecutor - and his life rapidly crumbles as his new young wife (Lisbeth Movin) falls for his handsome son (Preben Lerdorff). Their incestuous bond tips the clergyman into a premature grave, causing the pastor's mean-spirited mother to label her adulterous daughter-in-law a sorceress...
Shot during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, Day Of Wrath can be read as an allegory in much the same way that Arthur Miller's The Crucible mirrored McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt. But it's the film's ability to transcend one time and meaning, to work as a warning against all moral hypocrisy for all time, that keeps it relevant. Not to mention a bowel-loosening torture scene that makes Reservoir Dogs look as tame as the Andrex puppy.
Two more classics (Ordet, Gertrude) followed the pair Dreyer made previously (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, Vampyr), his slow-moving, fiercely intense dramas forming a body of work that remains one of the finest in world cinema.