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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
Included among the '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die', edited by Steven Jay Schneider. See more »
The monk drains his wine glass. When he chases the maid round the table in the next shot it is half full. See more »
Karna, can you perchance get me a love potion that has power over a pious man of the church?
Karna - the Witch:
Here, young maiden, take a potion of cat feces and dove hearts, boiled during the full moon. A drop of this in a man's drink will soften his heart at once.
Karna, can i have an even stronger potion?
Karna - the Witch:
If the maiden wishes to drive the man out of his wits for love... I have a potion boiled in May from a young and playful male sparrow. Hold your coins, maiden! First smell my ointment! This ointment is good,...
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More commonly known as "Witchcraft Through the Ages", this is definitely one of the most bizarre, visually arresting movies of all time, even nearly 80 years later. It starts out as a rather dry documentary, detailing medieval superstitions and folklore while showing ancient woodcarvings of witches and demons in various forms. Then we move on into the dramatic portion of the film. In one scene we see witches concocting potions using the body parts of corpses from the gallows. One witch walks in carrying a bundle of sticks, and undoes the bundle revealing a decomposed human hand hidden inside. Fans of "The Blair Witch Project" should take notice, especially considering that the Danish title of this film is "Haxan", also the name of the movie company that created "Blair Witch".
Director Benjamin Christensen appears as a leering, tongue-wagging Satan, with very realistic makeup. The witches are shown with the Devil and his minions performing various acts of sacrilege and perversion that must have been extremely shocking at the time the movie originally appeared, and would be offensive to many people still. The film was banned for many years because of the depiction of these acts (not to mention the occasional nudity), as well as sacrileges performed by nuns and monks. There are some stop-motion animation sequences (pre-Harryhousen, no less) that are very good, especially for the time. This is a difficult movie to describe. It really is something that you'd have to see for yourself.
The version I am reviewing is actually the re-issue from 1966, with a dubbed-over narration by beat novelist/junkie William Burroughs, and a modern, jazzy score featuring Jean-Luc Ponty. I enjoyed Burroughs' narration quite a bit, but oftimes the music is annoyingly inappropriate. Sometimes it works very well, but most of the time I was wishing for a standard orchestral, or vitaphone, score. A Klezmer score, even, would have been very effective. There are a few different versions available, some with subtitles and an orchestral score. Maybe one of these days they'll come out with a version featuring the Burroughs narration along with a more appropriate orchestral score. That would be perfect. As it is, this an impressive, compulsively watchable film that still goes further than most dare to go, even in these much more permissive times.
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