Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in Eastern Europe.Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in Eastern Europe.Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in Eastern Europe.
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.
- Aug 5, 1999