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Grave robbing, torture, possessed nuns, and a satanic Sabbath: Benjamin Christensen's legendary film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the middle ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. But the film itself is far from serious-instead it's a witches' brew of the scary, gross, and darkly humorous. The Criterion Collection is proud to present two versions of this genre-defying "documentary," for the first time ever on DVD.
Witchcraft through the ages is explored with dark wit in this silent classic. Writer-director Benjamin Christensen uses a historical study of witchcraft as a jumping-off point for a fascinating film that is part science, part horror, and part social commentary. This Criterion edition uses a beautiful print, a rearrangement of music from the original Danish premiere, and the original Swedish intertitles (with subtitles). Goodies include commentary by Danish film scholar Casper Tybjerg, the option of watching a narrated version without intertitles, and test shots from the film. The test shots, in particular, give insight into the early filmmaking process, as when Christensen uses his own image to try out (and reject) a flying effect. This is a worthy edition to the collection of fans of horror films, silent films, and film in general. --Ali Davis
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With an effective cast who could act out the paranoid mindset that was swelling and spreading, Häxan had and still has the ability to lead viewers into witnessing some darker realms of humanity that were under the guise of spirituality. The emotion of fear, in conjunction with superstitions regarding a village's misfortunes, would prevail throughout this movie. As it would often fall in line with the edicts of those in power, namely the clerics, and as it would secure the standings of those already at the top, fear, as it would be experienced among laypersons and lower-ranking pastorates, overruled logic.
It can be argued that Häxan was a creative exposition to the adage that wrong people in power, if given the opportunity, will try to control the minds of others by keeping them poor, blind, scared and stupid. Häxan is based on a premise that a collective mindset built upon rumor, superstition and hate is highly dangerous.
Though this movie is nearly ninety years old, Häxan does have its fascinating, visual effects that were perhaps way ahead of their time. Portions of the movie depicted those deemed as the outsiders, that is to say, the pagans or devil worshippers who performed rituals that consisted of costumes, masks, and fire altars with some similarities to the pagan festivities in the 1973 movie, The Wicker Man. And it is within these ceremonial scenes that the stunning, technical aspects of the film arise.
The viewer is transported right away into a different dimension, where it is not clear if it is supposed to be an outer, spiritual world that exists or the enactment of what was in the mind's eye of the superstitious. Nonetheless, the presence of ghostlike figures and demons helped to create as stunning a heaven-or-hell dilemma as what one could possibly hope for from this film. The trick photography for enhancing the awesome spectral appearances leaves little doubt that ten years later, Carl Theodor Dreyer's use of ectoplasmic imagery in his 1932 film, Vampyr, was inspired by the viewing of Häxan.
All in all, this classic is, to say the least, a quintessential two-for-one. It is a perfect docudrama in the history of human behavior, and it is the perfect expositor of the genius of Benjamin Christensen, the movie's writer and director.
There are images of horror but it's more describing the peoples fear and nothing that actually happened.
I was surprised on the internet movie database that the only genre this falls into is horror. It's a a whole lot deeper than that i believe and plays true today and every decade since.
The real horror and probably the scariest of all is the judgmental ignorance and fear by man of anything different, and in this film if there was something that couldn't be understood, well then blame it on someone that looks and acts different and call them a Witch.
History repeats itself unfortunately you could use this same film today and use witches and then at the end of the movie you could replace mental disorders with Hitler and the Jews. You could use witches and then supplement mental disorders with slavery, racism and segregation. Again use witches and replace mental disorders with "the evil doers" our president refers too. Who will be the "witches" of the next generation? That is the horror.
This is a great and important film.
**DVD Features** from back cover
Haxan (1922) New digital, speed-corrected transfer of the Swedish Film Institutes's tinted restoration
-Music from the original danish premiere, arranged by film music specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech film orchestra, presented in Dolby Digital 5.0
-Commentary by Danish silent film scholar Casper Tybjerg
-Benjamin Christensen's introduction to the 1941 re-release
-A short selection of outtakes
-Bibliotheque Diabolique a photographic exploration of Christensen's historical sources
-New English translation of intertitles
Witchcraft through the ages (1968) The 76 minute version of Haxan, narrated by William S. Burroughs, with a soundtrack featuring jean luc ponty