Part history lesson followed by re-enactments with actors, this film 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 kleptomaniac and the jeweler enter through a door on the right-hand side of the room. In the next shot, they are standing on the left side on the room, and the objects on the shelf behind them have changed position. The shot in which they enter is flipped (look closely at the buttons on the actors' clothes). See more »
Listen, Maria the Weaver, did you also see the devil put his mark on the witches' foreheads?
Marie, the Seamstress:
Oh, learned men, I saw the witches kiss the evil one on his behind. And the mother of Anna, the printer's wife, wished me a scalding death - that damned woman, I saw her kissing the evil one so tenderly...
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Re-released in 1941 in Denmark, with a filmed introduction by director Benjamin Christiensen, in which he explains the film. Though the reissued version does use some intertitles for the dramatic scenes, they use wording that is often very different from the intertitles of the original 1922 version. See more »
After many tribulations and false starts (including having my Order cancelled by the retailer due to lack of funds on my Credit Card and having the DVD stolen - by some stingy customs official, I presume when it was finally shipped!), I recently managed to sit down and watch in its entirety, The Criterion Collection's DVD of Benjamin Christensen's HAXAN.
What an amazing film! What a fabulous disc! Apart from featuring a beautifully restored, tinted version of the original, full-length semi-documentary and its 1967 'revamping' for US audiences (redundant perhaps, but it is still nice to be able to compare the images in black and white), it also contains one of the best Audio Commentaries I have ever listened to. It is the work of Casper Tybjerg who also recorded an equally impressive one for the Criterion DVD of Carl Theodor Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC.
I think it is opportune that I mention the Dreyer film at this point because there are undeniable similarities between Christensen's film (released in 1922) and Dreyer's 'symphony of faces' (from 1928) and also his DAY OF WRATH (1943). HAXAN features two lengthy interrogation scenes involving devious clergymen and an old crone accused of witchcraft, which accusations turn out to have been true (as in DAY OF WRATH) and another one where an innocent waif is trapped into admitting her guilt (as in THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC). This is not to say that Dreyer 'lifted' these passages from Christensen's film actually Dreyer is one of my favorite film directors and I consider THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC to be one of the greatest films ever made but rather that he admired his work enough to pay homage to him in his later films. HAXAN also features an extensive use of close ups in its interrogation scenes, which were of course the hallmark of Dreyer's entire Joan of Arc film. Its influence may also be traced to the narrative structure of Luis Bunuel's anarchic classic of surrealism, L'AGE D'OR (1930), which testifies that Benjamin Christensen is a major artist, one who was held in high esteem by his peers in his day, but whose work was subsequently unjustly forgotten and vastly under-appreciated, due in part to its utter unavailability for serious evaluation.
HAXAN contains several incredible sequences depicting devil worship in a very vivid manner which still retain their power to shock today eighty years later. I do not know how Christensen was allowed to get away with it back then and indeed the film was heavily censored in its initial showings around the world but I guess it was evident that the director's aim was not to wallow gratuitously in sensationalism but to portray as realistic a tableau of witchcraft through the ages as was possible at the time. There are some scenes which make you wince once in a while (like the slaughter of the child with blood pouring down its legs into a chalice beneath it), but there is enough going on visually to take your mind off its undercurrent of gore and depravity. One cannot underestimate the fact that without HAXAN there would probably never have been such horror film touchstones like Rex Ingram's THE MAGICIAN (1926), Edgar G. Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT (1934), Jacques Tourneur's NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), Mario Bava's BLACK Sunday (1960), John Moxey's THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960), Sidney Hayers' NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1961), Terence Fisher's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968), Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST (1973), Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN (1973), Richard Donner's THE OMEN (1976) and Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA (1976), all of which deal with diabolism or pagan worship.
It should be noted that Christensen himself gives a memorable performance as Satan, joyfully seducing a wife in bed next to her sleeping husband and gleefully terrorizing a priest during a moment of weakness. Unfortunately, HAXAN is the only film directed by Benjamin Christensen which is widely available today. But, if it is anything to go by, Casper Tybjerg's evaluation of the two movies which he directed prior to HAXAN, namely THE MYSTERIOUS X (1913; aka: ORDERS UNDER SEAL) and BLIND JUSTICE (1916) should dispel the myth that D.W. Griffith claimed the mantle of the first great film director when he made THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), although the latter was certainly the first great American film-maker. However the recent apparition of two major Louis Feuillade works, FANTOMAS (1913-14; on a superb two-disc Limited Edition DVD on Region 2) and LES VAMPIRES (1915-16; released by Water Bearer Films through Image Entertainment on Region 1) should go a long way in redressing the facts and giving this unsung, barely remembered master his due. Maybe one day, we will be just as lucky in being provided with the opportunity of evaluating on DVD Benjamin Christensen's work prior to and after HAXAN. At any rate, THE DEVIL'S CIRCUS (1926; with Norma Shearer), MOCKERY (1927; with Lon Chaney), the three films he made with Thelma Todd, THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1928), SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO Satan (1929) and THE HOUSE OF HORROR (1929) and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1929; co-directed with Maurice Tourneur and Lucien Hubbard) should be worth watching if ever they turn up on DVD. I guess there's a pretty slim chance of that ever happening, but who knows in these cases?
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