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A historical view of witchcraft in seven parts and a variety of styles. First, there is a slide-show alternating inter-titles with drawings and paintings to illustrate the behavior of pagan cultures in the Middle Ages regarding their vision of demons and witches. Then there is a dramatization of the situation of the witches in the Middle Ages, witchcraft and witch-hunts. Finally the film compares the behavior of hysteria of contemporary (1921) women with the behavior of the witches in the Middle Ages, concluding that they are very similar. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Out of all the silent films I've seen, this is probably the most bizarre both visually and conceptually
Out of all the silent films I've seen, this is probably the most bizarre both visually and conceptually. A mockumentory and a mondo movie long before either became popular, this purports to explain the phenomenon of witchcraft as being a result of diseased and primitive minds. It provides many scenes as evidence, not to mention some scientific explaining. Its the contrast between the different type of segments that make this film the most unique and avant-garde. The scenes themselves are still among the most surreal ever caught on film. Overall, this is a very disorienting experience, possibly the first psychedelic film (over forty years before such tendencies became popular). For those reasons, it has secured status as an enduring cult classic.
I can not decide upon a single segment as my favorite. The opening explaining man's scientific and supernatural attempts to explain the world throughout the ages (complete with fascinating vintage woodcuts of witchcraft) is one of my favorites. Plus, the midnight ride of the witches on their brooms to meet up with Satan and sacrifice babies takes the clichéd notion of witchcraft to new surrealist heights. The shocking imagery unsurprisingly caused a lot of controversy. For a silent film (even for one made in Sweden and before the moral reform of cinema in the next decade), there are considerable quantities of both nudity and blasphemy. Its more of an attack on the Catholic church than on witchcraft. This is probably why it wasn't released to the states until 1968.
This isn't a perfect film by any means. Its not boring, but is slowly paced and may take two viewings to get through (this isn't recommended though). However, it is so consistently bizarre that your eyes are glued to the screen. For fans of vintage psychotronic cinema, this is a must-see as it is one of the earliest psychotronic films that I know of. It's also a fascinating avant-garde style of film-making that was a few decades ahead of its time. There's a version narrated by William S. Burroughs, but even though I am a massive fan of the Commisoner of the Sewers himself, I'd much rather watch the film as it was intended. The print on the Criterion DVD looks beautiful considering the age and the history of the film. (7/10)
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