[Review] The Martyr [MidWest WeirdFest]: Meet the Woman Trying to Clear the Name of a Man Who Some Claim to Be a Monster

Margot K. Juby, British author of the 2018 book The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais, has spent much of her life fascinated with de Rais, the controversial French historical figure who was once made a Marshal of France for his valor in the war against the English but later tried and executed for crimes ranging from heresy to sodomy to multiple child murders. Director Edmund Stenson’s The Martyr (U.K., 2021) focuses on both of these people, resulting in a documentary short that should appeal to dark-history buffs, conspiracy-theory enthusiasts, and anyone who likes a well-crafted look at outsiders.

Stenson combines interview footage with Juby — including slides of a family trip when she was a teenager to Champtocé, where de Rais was born, after discovering him in Dennis Wheatley’s book The Devil and All His Works and thinking that de Rais was the most handsome man she had ever seen — with Robbie Ward’s finely crafted animation of scenes from de Rais’ life. Footage from a 1992 mock trial in France led by writer and film director Gilbert Prouteau in which de Rais was found not guilty of the crimes for which he was accused is also featured.

Juby frankly discusses her family life and explains the drive behind her dedication to exonerate the controversial French figure, calling herself “Gilles de Rais’ representative on Earth,” and the obstacles she faces. Stenson does a fine job of bringing to the screen the person behind the passion — some might call it an obsession — of trying to clear the name of the person Wheatley described in the aforementioned book as “one of the blackest sorcerers in history.”

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Martyr screens as part of MidWest WeirdFest, which takes place March 4–6, 2022 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For more information, visit http://www.midwestweirdfest.com/.

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.