Monday, April 10, 2017


Haxan (1922)

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The only film I've managed to watch so far for the History of Horror Challenge because I'm a lazy sack of shit, this movie is a really fascinating silent era documentary about witchcraft and the treatment of mental illness throughout history.

The first few minutes of the movie seem like they're going to be really boring coz it's basically just a history lecture power point with lots of text and pictures and nothing really going on on the screen, but after that it gets into dramatic reenactments of witch stuff and then it really gets going.

The movie is divided into four parts. The first part is the power point where they explain what people in the middle ages though the solar system looked like and a bunch of other bullshit. The second part is a bunch of loosely connected scenes about Satan himself luring women into his service with promises of wealth and other prizes. The third part is a story about an old woman who gets accused of witchcraft and horrifically tortured. The final part is about how what was considered to be witchcraft in the middle ages was probably just mental illness, and gets into a little bit how that is treated.

I watched this movie on youtube and really wish that I hadn't because the picture quality was garbage and it deserved crispness. There was so much detail in the sets an costumes that would have benefited from a higher quality version.

The witches in the second part are legit, like straight up Satan worshiping, no-nonsense witches, which is something I always like to see. The Satan costume was also decent and fun - again, this is Satan at his most over the top, tongue flapping, butter churning fun. Pretty much any time His Unholiness (played by the director, Benjamin Christensen) shows up he's pumping away on a butter churn and flapping his tongue around, just really making sure the viewer grasps the sexual tone. Oh yeah, also, there are breasts at one point.

The special effects for the time are great, with stop motion segments, and things vanishing and reappearing, making it basically the Avatar of 1922, only more fun to watch.

There's a pretty serious torture scene in there also - it's not really graphic, but it captures the spirit of the absolutely horrific things that were done to people accused of consorting with the Devil back in the day, as well as the sheer ignorance of the whole thing. In the third part, after the old woman gets tortured in order to extract the names of her co-conspirators, she names one of the women who initially accused her of witchcraft, Her accusation is backed up by a monk who had a sexy fantasy about that woman, claiming that she had bewitched him. It's so ridiculous but it rings so true - like, it seems like something that absolutely would have happened. It didn't really do a whole lot for my general pessimism about humanity, mind you.

There are a few parts that are kind of hard to follow coz it's just a bunch of really chaotic shit happening on the screen, but even that is fun to watch because the sets and costumes and props and everything is so nice to look at.

Finally, there's some heavy duty social commentary about how people treat other people, especially towards the end. Comparisons are made between a couple of women who suffer mental illness and the witches from earlier, and commends the improvement in understanding and treatment of psychopathology. Mind you, some of the treatments that get depicted as vastly modern and humane are outright barbaric by today's standards, but I guess it's a step up from the middle ages.

All in all this was a very entertaining and informative movie. Ten out of ten, would recommend.

Written and Directed by: Benjamin Christensen.  Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontopiddan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen.

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