Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is an interesting documentary from 1922. It broaches the subject of black magic and devil worship, chronicling the history of supposed witchcraft up to modern day (well, modern day as of 1922). It's less of an educational experience and more of a comment on the demagogic nature of superstition. Director Benjamin Christensen examines the behavioral traits of women in the 19th century that were accused of consorting with the devil and compares them with the traits of modern mental patients who are diagnosed with hysteria. The point of Haxan, it seems, was to quell any lingering beliefs in the supernatural. At the very least, the film aims to paint puritanical precepts as primitive. That's a lot of p's. I didn't mean for that to happen.

Haxan is broken up into seven chapters with the first twenty minutes or so consisting of subtitles and still photography. Eventually, this bubbling cauldron becomes a motion picture. The visuals are stirring, creepy even. Haxan was fairly hardcore for 1922. We get to see partial nudity, a severed finger, a dead baby, and a great deal of sacrilegious imagery. The atmosphere is palpable. Christensen himself plays Satan in several scenes. In my opinion, his unsettling appearances are the highlights of Haxan. The make-up is rather impressive, and the colored tints accent his demonic visage. I can definitely understand why people were freaked out by this flick when it was released.

If you're a fan of silent horror cinema, you'll want to pick up Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. The Criterion DVD includes the 1967 version of the film, which features narration by William S. Burroughs. I haven't watched it yet (the '67 version, that is), but personally, I would recommend viewing the original version first. The score is worth checking out. Is there anything I didn't like about this mute chiller? Well, it takes awhile to get going, but once you're past the "slideshow" section of the film, it's smooth sailing.

No comments:

Post a Comment