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Part history lesson followed by re-enactments with actors, this film takes depicts the history of witchcraft from its earliest days through to the present day (in this case,1922 or thereabouts). The result is a documentary-like film that must be among the first to use re-enactments as a visual and narrative tool. From pagan worship to satanic rites to hysteria, the film takes you on a journey through the ages with highly effective visual sequences. Written by
The skeletal horse-like creature wandering around during the sabbath is clearly being moved about by a couple of stage hands, hidden under the blanket that covers it's "body". The feet of the crew member at the front of the monster are visible in one shot. See more »
Poor little hysterical witch! In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law.
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The striking visuals would in themselves be sufficient reason to watch "Häxan", but in addition it is a thought-provoking feature that combines dark humor, some occasional chilling moments, and perceptive commentary on human nature. It's an unusual package and an unusual feature, and there aren't many films quite like it.
Simply on the surface, the series of unusual visuals and believable recreations of bygone eras would make for interesting viewing. Benjamin Christensen added a strong dose of the macabre to practically every scene, even in some of the smaller details that are only noticeable upon repeat viewings. Some of it is fascinating, some of it unsettling, all of it interesting.
But there is much more to "Häxan" than a mere collection of grotesque images and vignettes. Towards the end, in particular, the commentary becomes quite pointed. It is quite easy for anyone - film-maker, writer, commentator - to criticize and condemn the beliefs and practices of the Middle Ages or of any other long past era. But it is far more of a challenge to, as Christensen has done here, point out the sometimes devastating parallels to one's own era. It is always such a comforting fiction to believe that we are so much more enlightened than past generations have been, and yet it is rarely if ever true.
Christensen aptly illustrates the point that the inability to deal with the odd, the eccentric, and the unusual in our fellow beings is a perennial failing of humanity. Each generation simply devises its own means of stigmatizing and punishing those who cannot conform. (Nor is our own generation markedly better than was Christensen's.) This feature can certainly be viewed (either in the original silent version, or in the 1960s version with some spoken narration) for entertainment value alone. But it is even more pertinent in its observations on human nature. It's an often unsettling movie, with some images that might be bit too uncomfortable for some viewers. But for all that, it's an unusual and worthwhile viewing experience.
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