Reviewed on 2009 October 14
Truly bizarre Swedish film from 1922, revived in the 1960s with a Jean-Luc Ponty jazz score that was one of those things that shouldn’t have worked, but did. Add William Burroughs doing a deadpan narration throughout the film, a polished Criterion Collection release, and you have… Witchcraft Through The Ages. If you watch the other version on the Criterion DVD, you get a classical score and lots of historical tidbits, but for me, warped creature I am, the jazz-and-Burroughs version is more interesting. It also got director Benjamin Christensen in some hot water when he unleashed it.
Häxan doesn’t have a plot, so much as a thesis: the ills of the world, including mental illness, were attributed to witches and witchcraft, and it follows ancient beliefs from the Persians and ancient Egyptians to the witchcraft hysteria of medieval Europe, and concludes with a vignette in the 20th century. Christensen paints his picture with a mix of horrific woodcuts, gruesome critters tormenting humans in Ray Harryhausen-esque glory, nuns behaving badly, and clergy and witchfinders general trying to literally beat the devil (and yes, he appears: Christensen puts on a rubber suit and horns and has a field day) out of peasants.
You no doubt realize this thing is not for everyone. I have the DVD and while I’m glad I saw it, once is enough. But it’s something that should be seen by horror freaks or cinema fans, and might be entertaining to have playing in the background if you’re having a Halloween party.
Three chocolate morsels and some eye of newt, tongue of dog…