Thursday, 16 October 2014

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922)

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages is a stunning work of art, a piece of horror entertainment that everyone should watch at least once. Director Benjamin Christensen originally set out to make a documentary, but that remit soon changed as he came up against resistance from many of the experts he was asking to participate, resulting in a film that blends fact and re-enactments with some haunting imagery to draw a line between the past and the present.

Divided up into a number of chapters, Christense beings by reminding people of what constitutes a witch, as well as what people believed many years ago, when witchcraft was something that seemed to be found lurking behind the closed doors in every street. He then moves on to some dramatic sequences, the majority of the movie, that show witches getting up to no good, women being accused of witchcraft, torture being used to extract false confessions, and the way in which the tormentors of the time would often use one victim to find many others.

I won't spend much time going on about the acting on display here, although it's worth mentioning the elderly Maren Pedersen, a woman who gives both a great performance, and also a great anecdote that ended up being incorporated into the movie.

What I have to go on about here, and on and on and on, is the quite amazing visuals on display. Using old techniques that have stood the test of time very well, Christensen and his team provide viewers with such sights as witches flying through the sky (of course), the devil allowing his followers to kiss his behind, terrifying creatures guarding doorways while witches have their fun indoors, and much more. Even when not being so fanciful, the camera shows a number of interesting, and horrifying, artworks, and also shows numerous torture devices that were used to extract confessions from those accused of witchcraft.

But the real masterstroke here occurs in the final few minutes, scenes in which Christensen reminds everyone of just why it's important to look back at the past and see what lessons can be learned. He asks people to take note as he shows a number of disturbing, and effective, parallels between the then and now, highlighting the fact that such superstition and mistreatment of certain members of society isn't consigned to history.

The labels may have changed, we all might be wearing new clothes and have access to new torture devices now, but the essence remains the same. People can still look around for scapegoats, quick to forget about others who may need their attention while they embark on their witchhunts. Which makes this movie just as relevant today as it was back in 1922.


You may also find a variety of versions available on YouTube, due to the fact that it fell into the public domain some time ago.

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  1. One of my most favorite movies! I did this one for the October Challenge years ago. I really need to rewatch it.

    1. It's a shame it took me so long to get to it. I'd seen half of it a few years ago, but somehow didn't ever get back to the rest. So gave it my full, undivided attention this time :-)