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In Appreciation Of Häxan, The Only Witchcraft Movie That Really Matters

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Black magic looks sexy as hell in Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages. The 1922 Swedish-Danish silent film classic, directed by Benjamin Christensen, explores history's witchiest and most Satanic moments, offering lush and lurid depictions of demonic possession, witch-hunting, and torture -- scenes that were graphic enough to lead to the film being banned or censored outside of Sweden and Denmark. The film, however, is just as devoted to dispelling misconceptions about the dark arts and the persecution of those accused of witchcraft, which Christensen posited, was merely a misunderstanding of mental illness. "Hysterical" women, he dubiously noted, simply needed time in a lunatic asylum, not to be burned at the stake. 

Christensen studied countless treatises on witches prior to making Häxan, and the film depicts every arcane detail you could possibly ask for: witchy art historical engravings, possessed nuns and covens, demons and hags, broomstick rides, potions a-brew, and some good ol' grave-robbing for good measure.

Notable for being the most expensive Scandinavian production to date, at a cost of between 1.5 and 2 million Swedish kronor, the film's exquisite sets were clearly crafted with care and fastidiousness -- and the cinematography is to die for.

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Haxan is made all the more spooky with a delightfully sinister classical score featuring Schubert and Beethoven. In 1968, a shortened English version was released, accompanied by a bizarre experimental jazz soundtrack and narrated by no other than William S. Burroughs. While the original film shouldn't go unwatched, the Burroughs-narrated version is seriously a treat; the man's voice was seemingly made to talk about anything demonic or mystical. Who else is capable of such a dramatic, deadpan delivery of "All the witches had to show respect to Satan by kissing his ass" when describing this image?

In spite of the narration, the English release of the film still includes intertitles, which are both theatrical and hilarious, preserving the film's classic silent horror sensibility.

 
If you have yet to join the cult of Häxan, now is the time to begin your initiation. And lucky for all of us, the film is in the public domain and on YouTube.
 


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