When watching a horror period movie, I wonder if the torture they use is true to the time. I’m a medieval history nerd, and here is my conclusion on the matter.
Before The Puritan torture of Jane Doe let’s make something clear:
SPOILER ALERT is in effect! Movies are dissected, and plots revealed.
MATURE AUDIENCE: Subjects of violence, torture, sex, and gore are part of this article.
TRIGGERS: Abuse, Torture, PTSD, Mental Illness.
Consider yourself warned!
Official IMDb Synopsis of The Autopsy of Jane Doe
A team of father and son coroners investigate the death of a beautiful ‘Jane Doe’. As they aim to ascertain who she is and how she died they find an increasingly bizarre sequence of clues.
Cinema Magic In Medieval Time
Medieval torture is present in many movies that aren’t even horror. We can think about: Braveheart, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Count of Monte Cristo, and so on.
To have the audience feel something for the characters often torture is used. However, is it accurate? The history of medieval torture is a long and wide road to Hell.
Like most period movies, the accuracy is often nonexistent. Hollywood often chooses sensationalism over history. Specific torture devices, such as the Iron Maiden, were meant for show and weren’t used.
However, we can say we’ve come a long way. Hollywood might be larger than life when it comes to movies, but smaller production houses aim for history.
The Autopsy Of Jane Doe
Focusing on the torture only!
Indeed, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe is not a period piece, but the corpse sure is. In this 2016 movie taking place in a mortuary office and home, the body of ‘Jane Doe‘ is in pristine condition. Father and son are ready to go to work as coroners.
No external sign of trauma, and yet, her wrists and ankles were shattered. When opening her mouth, no tongue is to be found. The most puzzling piece of all, her lungs were black as if she suffered third-degree burns. That is beside her organs, showing scars and bruises.
When looking closer, they find traces of jimsonweed in her stomach. The jimsonweed is a paralyzing agent. While the corpse’s condition suggested, the death occurred hours before the autopsy. The cloud in her eyes showed days.
A cloth found in her stomach with the missing molar inside lies there. The fabric had writing on it and refers to 1693 coinciding with the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Father and son discover other symbols marked inside her skin.
Jane Doe Vs. Puritans
The Puritans of the time attempted to kill an innocent girl turned into a martyr. Because Jane Doe wasn’t a witch, the ritual had the opposite effect on her body. It explains the brutalization of anyone who attempts to touch her body.
We have: a paralyzing poison in her stomach, a tongue cut out, a tooth removed and wrapped in markings, ankles and wrists shattered, skin flayed with ritualistic patterns, lungs burnt, and her inside lacerated.
In Salem, they did have public speaking as a test to see if one was part of the Devil’s doing. The test was to recite the Lord’s Prayer without any flaw.
The flaw in that ‘hard evidence’ procedure was illiteracy and terror. On that note, it is possible that if Jane Doe made one tiny mistake, ‘off with her tongue.’
Real Witch Trials Torture
Salem was a unique case in the United States. It is a source of inspiration for many novels, movies, and series. The truth behind the trial is so shameful that its beginning almost suffered embellishment.
Confessing that an entire parish fell for a group of mean girls was hard and embarrassing. But, the torture used in Salem for the witch trial is brutal to pinpoint.
Many of the methods used do not correspond to The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It resembles more the European 300 Years of Witch Hunt.
In that regard, it explains why the torture Jane Doe undergo is more European influenced. The director is Norwegian André Øvredal with a fantastic horror movie record. However, the torture of poor Jane Doe doesn’t seem to fit.
A Bit Late To The Party
Because Puritans didn’t have Facebook or Netflix, they turned to a group of mean girls for entertainment. They turned their magistrate’s house into Judge Judy’s court, and one of the darkest pages in North American’s history happened.
We can fast forward through Jane Doe’s most likely “Salem Trial Torture,” such as: shackled, dunking, sleep deprivation, dehydration, hunger, rape—come on, we’re not stupid, and daily beating. Other torture methods could be cilice, pear of anguish, and heretic fork.
Witch hunters without a job needed to move continents to find employment. Most of those were common in the small town of Salem. Let’s not forget that the Salem Witch Trials only happened once the European mass hysteria about witch-hunt ended.
The Witch Trials gained popularity in the United States once it almost entirely stopped in Europe and Canada. So, the torture methods weren’t as grandiose. Salem was a small community, after all.
Torture Resembling Jane Doe
Looking at Jane Doe’s torture, logically, I would think the shattering of her bones in the wrists and ankles would be first. People believed that to “interrogate” a witch, it was okay to turn to pain as they were immune to it—maybe the torturers were deaf. It’s better without any resistance.
The poor girl underwent flying in the second act of her torture, I would think. The branding of her skin in ritual symbolism would explain the markings appearing all the way through once her cavity was opened. It would also explain the charred lungs by the smoke.
Pulling was third. The removal of Jane Doe’s molar would logically follow since she would need a tongue to swallow. Starting with the ritualistic flaying and then wrapping her molar into the cloth with more symbols on them seem to fit.
I would guess at that point, the people in charge of Jane Doe decided to make an example out of her. Her words meant nothing since she wouldn’t confess, and they proceeded with the brutalization of her body.
But What More Could They Do?
The fourth act consisted of the jimson weed often used as medicine back in Puritan days. The plant is native to the south of the United States, mostly Virginia. The problem I found with the plant is that the ingestion doesn’t seem to cause paralyzation.
After research, I found out that in extreme quantities, it can put someone into a coma. The plant can also cause arrhythmia, hallucination, seizures but rarely kills. So, the accuracy is half and half on the jimson weed.
Once force-fed or drank of the jimson weed, they most likely cut the tongue. The tormenters had no need of the “witch” speaking, swallowing, or anything. The tongue was superfluous. Only devilish words would come out.
Proper Methods Used In Europe
The 300 Years of Witch Trials in Europe—1450 to 1750—saw many torture methods. Various tortures came to life through the imagination of monks. Who knew! Yes, often it would-be monks who came up with ideas.
Mutilation was common in witch trials: flaying being one of them. Whipping, gouging, plucking, pulling, and pins were other methods.
Other crude tortures involved crushing: using screws, twisting ropes, garrotte, and matters of pressing.
Burning was also an excellent help for the pain perverts: hot irons, scalding water, fire, hot oil, or hot fat.
For that reason, I believe the director had his inspiration from European torture devices and not Salem.
My View On The Matter
The Autopsy of Jane Doe gives us a broad view of the torture used in Medieval European time. When it comes to witches, the matter was severe on Puritan lands, but other issues of torture were used than the ones we see in the movie.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a magnificent movie that I highly recommend. It’s minimalist in its crew but so efficient. The torture might not be accurate, at least to my research, but the story is worth a watch.