Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages

1922 Danish silent documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The documentary covers the history of witchcraft and proffers an explanation that hysteria was the cause of strange symptoms that were seen as signs that a person was a witch in the Middle Ages and beyond. Yeah, it seems like odd subject matter for a 1922 silent documentary.

This had to have been the feel-good hit of the summer of '22! The movie had a little bit of everything! An Al Gory slide-show presentation with shots of diseased people, bewitched shoes, witches milking broomsticks, orgies. A pointer was even used to specify! There were monks poisoned by cat feces and dead bird juice, monks later transformed into vile grabass monks!There were numerous scenes of demon fellatio! Witches dancing with reindeer! A woman with gigantic hands shoveling what appeared to be syrup into her mouth! Yep! She was a witch! Filthy elderly person torture! Insect demon birth! Horse skeletons! Disembodied souls and ghostly-white witches superimposed over cloudy skies! Soup made from babies and toads! Two scenes (I do not shit you) in which demons ferociously churned butter. Old women throwing buckets of piss at cursed doors. Homoerotic S&M scenes! Preconception abortions. Urinating kitty vandals! More torture! Satan bludgeoning nuns! As usual, the pictures speak more loudly than the words. Satanic blow jobs:

There was some interesting information in this odd little movie, and lots of the camera trickery/special effects were probably pretty innovative for 1922--see the aforementioned witches, the scenes of hell, and especially the nifty stop animation used to animate coins. A lot of the imagery reminded me of F.W. Murnau's Faust which came out four years later. There could have been less narration (I'm not Danish, after all, and therefore do not like to read), and I never was clear whether there was a tongue firmly planted in cheek with this or not. Honestly, it doesn't matter. It's worth seeing just for those two butter-churning scenes.

Note: This was rereleased in '68 with a Jon Luc Ponty jazzy score and William S. Burroughs narration. I've got that on now, and despite the fact that I love Burroughs' voice and like Ponty just fine, this shorter version really doesn't work at all. Those silly avant-gardists!

Trivia: The director, Benjamin Christensen, actually plays both the devil and Jesus.

Here I am learning all about the history of witchcraft:


winter rates said...

was this the beginning of the devil's association with the umlaut?

cory said...

After watching this, I looked for reviews in my Maltin book and another that I own. Neither had seen it, and I envy them.

This film is an hour and forty-four minutes long, but felt like an eternity (maybe this is what The Devil watches in Hell for entertainment). I swear I looked at the clock about 30 times. There are good moments. The metaphorical churning, insect devil babies, fun costumes, and some extreme overacting occasionally liven this up a little. For the most part though, "Haxan" is preachy, dreary, overly earnest, boring and depressing. It is a college lecture in the guise of a movie (including the irritating pointers you mention). It looks like something a film student might make. I have never seen so many subtitles in a silent, and it felt like pure work getting through this. If all silents were like this then I would never watch another. The music that was chosen was so incongruous that I had to turn the volume down or I would have assuredly gone crazy like a nun with The Devil in her.

I really can't believe that you gave this a 16. I can't imagine any group of people who have ever seen this saying "hey, let's watch "Haxan"!". You must have been in a much better mood than I was. Were you high? You're review might lead someone to think this might have "Rocky Horror..." possibilities, but they haven't seen it. I haven't seen any movie like this before, but that doesn't make it a good film. I would give it a point for novelty and two points for The Devil, who I enjoyed more than anything else (I wished he was in every scene), but that only brings this up to a 12. I will say that the movie ends perfectly. I was surprised that the Danish word for "The End" is SLUT. Nice.

Shane said...

Hmmm...I really thought this was a fascinating document! I enjoyed it! There's no way I'd ever recommend it to anybody else though. I believe my brother liked it, but I'll have to check with him again to make sure I didn't dream that.

I'll definitely agree that there were far too many title cards though. Maybe you should have watched it with the Burroughs' narration. That version's significantly shorter anyway.

And next time I see you, I'm going to enthusiastically say, "Hey! Let's watch Haxan!" just to mess with you.

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