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2 Ratings: 5.0
An atmospheric 1922 silent film documenting the rise of superstitions and witchcraft hysteria.

Häxan (English title: The Witches or Witchcraft Through The Ages) is a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen. Based partly on Christensen's study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century German guide … see full wiki

Genre: Classics, Documentary, Drama, Fantasy, Foreign, Horror
Release Date: September 18, 1922
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Häxan

Best. Witchraft. Documentary. Ever.

  • Apr 1, 2011
**** out of ****

"Haxan", a certainly controversial, at-the-time graphic, and flamboyantly intellectual documentary/horror film, appeals to me for so many reasons. For one: I like films that challenge the audience. "Haxan" is brilliant because not only does it want to provoke through imagery; but it also wants to challenge our beliefs with its unbeatable sense of stylistic intelligence. Being the most expensive Scandenavian Silent film production, you'd think that "Haxan" would have had a bigger impact on horror films and documentaries alike. For some, it never stopped being disturbing, while for others, it never stopped being effective. "Haxan" is divisive, disturbing, scary, smart, and unique. There will never be another documentary like it, perhaps because nobody is quite as daring as the filmmakers involved in the production. For haters, all I can say is: Well, I loved it. And yes, I did love "Haxan". It's one of the best documentaries ever made. It blends the documentary style with my favorite genre; the horror film. This means that the film gets to be scary, stylistic, and unique in its own little ways. It's good to see that even though to many, it's not memorable; the flame never gets blown out to early whilst watching the film. I mean, it really is something. I don't think it's a film for everyone, and Christians will probably want to steer clear from such cinematic depths, but any cinephile worth his salt should see "Haxan" for its craft, its atmosphere, and its mastery of both the horror film and documentary filmmaking. The film deserves every bit of the controversy that it garnered, which is part of its raw charm, as well as part of its minor put-off. It's best to think of "Haxan" in whatever ways you want. I can't tell you to watch it; and I will by no means tell you to avoid it. It's a fine piece of daring, classic filmmaking that will linger with you for long after you've witnessed it. It may even take more than one viewing to appreciate what the filmmaker, Benjamin Christensen, has done here. Even I don't quite know all of what he was aiming for. Was he attempting to change our views, as many documentaries do? Did he want to impact us with his own? I'm not completely sure. But I do know this: "Haxan" is awe-inspiring, thus making it "awesome", and there will never be another documentary quite like it. I think that's food for thought, friends.

"Haxan" takes us on a journey straight into the history of witchcraft. It begins basically enough, and the film eventually goes on to speculation. With speculation, of witchcraft in particular, comes talk of the devil; and "Haxan" is not afraid to say whatever it wants when it comes to the matter. And it does, which is just down-right admirable in my book. Like all documentaries, "Haxan" has a point; and it does not get it through by telling a straight-forward story. What we get is something far more unique, challenging, and memorable; something that's not easy to forget. For all it says of witchcraft, religion, and possession; "Haxan" is actually quite powerful. It doesn't try hard to be, but it does the job anyways. "Haxan" has enough brains to satisfy as only the best documentaries can. It's entertaining, intelligent, and unlike anything I've seen before. How many documentaries (that's right, NOT mockumantaries) can blend horror with the genre as well as this one? If you're still thinking, then your mind is in the right place, because "Haxan" does what it does so impeccably well that it's almost impossible for a cinephile/horror fan such as me to pass up such a great opportunity. So why, oh why, would you?

Maren Pedersen plays "The Witch" in the film. The interesting thing about this actress is that she's not really an actress at all; but rather an elderly flower-seller. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say "Pulling people off the streets to make a movie", but in this case, it was a damn good move. The director, Benjamin Christensen, plays none other than the Devil himself; covered by impressive make-up and costume-design to make the act believable. Basically every-one in this film, REAL actor/actress or not, is very good at playing whichever character they are portraying. I stated those two important names because I find them particularly meritorious, among others. That's about it.

"Haxan" is more visually-focused than it probably should be. The whole thing is like a disturbing, intelligent surrealistic gem that rests somewhere among those few "surrealistic horror documentaries". It's a fun movie, as long as you find visually repulsive, and as I said, at-the-time-controversial stuff "fun". I know that I do, and I know that "Haxan" is made with intelligence, craft, and a sense of humanity. Many films are graphic, but without much artistry. The difference between THOSE films and "Haxan" is that here is a film made with art on its mind, and I can definitely admire that for what it is. So if you like art-films then see "Haxan". It's a diabolic experience with an abundance of intelligent life-forms, interesting visual inspiration, and that good ol' "one-of-a-kind" feeling. True, I can enjoy a documentary, but only if it's well-made, interesting, and insightful. But few can be as good as "Haxan" is; and this is as good as documentary filmmaking gets. I like the message of the film, and I like how the film does not seek to be influential. As a result, it didn't do a whole lot for horror films or documentary films, if only because it was banned in most places for its content. But now, we can admire it, on its prestigious Criterion Collection release, for what it was meant to be seen as; a unique, and overall quite good film. And to end this section, I will add that like all good silent films, "Haxan" has a nice, mellow soundtrack. Sometimes, it amounts to a darker, more-suspenseful feel. It creates a sense of dread; if not peaceful dread, in "Haxan". Oh, what the hell. Just see the thing already.

So if you want witchcraft - documentary - filmmaking done right, "Haxan" is where the fun (and the intelligence) is at. As I said, it's not for everyone. But it was definitely a film that I enjoyed, if only for its understanding of the subject matter and unforgettable imagery. If only more horror films were this non-pretentious; and if only more films about witches and witchcraft could be so undeniably entertaining. "Haxan" is, like the Devil that plays as its villainous entity, seductive in its dark whimsy. You can't resist it, and you know it; but you may still want to steer clear if you are easily disturbed. No matter, there is much to like here. I can't find one thing wrong with the film, and while some will say it looses its merit after a while, it's consistently artistic and flamboyantly interesting. So once again, I've dug into the past and pulled out a rare gem. And I am going to be one of the first to tell you, assuming that your friends aren't as flamboyantly weird as I am, that "Haxan" is worth the time that you invest in it. Now, imagine how LONG the thing was, by the 1920's standards. I imagine that part of the controversy came from how long we were required to watch these images for. I think that "Haxan" was misunderstood, and required someone like me. I can appreciate, admire, and be entertained by these films. I've seen some daring pictures, and this is, luckily, one of them. And that's what I love about it.

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April 01, 2011
I saw parts of this but have yet to see the whole thing. Your review here is positively enthralling! Amazing review, Ryan! "Haxan" is, like the Devil that plays as its villainous entity, seductive in its dark whimsy." Holy sweet Moses! those are pretty powerful and descriptive words.
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