|Written by||Oliver Stangl|
|Published on||February 24, 2011|
This silent film about „witchcraft“ and how society reacts to it was quite a scandal in the 1920’s – Germany and the US banned it and in many countries the [...]
This silent film about „witchcraft“ and how society reacts to it was quite a scandal in the 1920’s – Germany and the US banned it and in many countries the film was only shown in censored versions. Among the reasons were a critical approach towards the Catholic Church as well as the nudity and violence that are shown. Over the decades Häxan gained quite some following and is now considered a cult film.Danish director Benjamin Christensen mixes documentary scenes (for example, scale models illustrate how hell was imagined in the middle ages) with dramatization; seven chapters depict how „witches“ were treated by society and the inquisition from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. In the film’s most famous scene, director Christensen himself plays Satan, tempting a woman to be unfaithful to her husband; other scenes show a trial against a woman who is suspected to be a witch or – quite disturbing, though they aren’t shown in use – instruments of torture. The final chapter takes place in the 20th century and is an exploration of the psychological aspects of so called „witchcraft“. Christensen shows two cases – a kleptomaniac and a somnambulist that would have been thought of as witches in the middle ages. This is also the film’s conclusion: today’s analytic psychology deals with mental illness and unexplainable behaviour in a scientific way while in old times they were thought of as demonic forces. With its combination of dramatized scenes to illustrate the documentary parts, the film – by the way the most expensive Scandinavian film ever produced – was way ahead of its time; also Häxan’s strong and often dark imagery was a huge influence on horror films to come. In 1967, experimental filmmaker Anthony Balch released a re-edited version of the film with writer and underground icon William S. Burroughs as narrator.