Title: Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
Director: Benjamin Christensen
So this film is about witchcraft during the medieval ages. Its based on the Malleus Malleficarum, which is basically a book handed out to inquisitors during the infamous Great Inquisition. You know the one where anyone who didnt like what the Catholic Church was preaching was burned at the stake, or worse. Often times non-believers, people with deformeties or people with mental problems were accused of being warlocks or witches. If they didnt confess their 'sins' and their devil worshipping, and accept god as their savior again, they'd get tortured until they did, or die in the process.
The Malleus Malleficarum is an interesting book. I cannot believe the catholic church would hand these things out to their Inquisitor Drones, but they did. In essence, this vile and evil book would go into detail as to how you could identify a witch, how you could accuse them of it, how the legal process would be and finally how you could torture them to squeeze "confessions" out of them. What would happend during thes witch trials was, they would torture these people until the person would finally say "yes! yes! Its all true! I was in cahoots with Satan! I repent! I love God now! Im sorry!" Of course, if you had a red hot poker about to be inserted up your ass you would say whatever the hell they wanted. Even if it werent true. But what happened with those poor souls who decided to keep their dignity? What about those who would remain true to themselves even in the face of death and torture? Well, those who didnt bend under the will of the Catholic Church's torture devices (and there were many of those!) would die in gruesome ways. You should see some of the ways these people were tortured during the Inquisition, horrid horrid things were done. And this happend, this aint no fantasy tale.
Sorry if I go in a rant about this right smack in the middle of my review of this film, but I consider this a great evil that occured and I feel a need to comment on it. To me all of this came as a result of The Church being scared of non-believers emerging through the masses. As a way to scare everyone into submission. To make them do what the church says...or else! Also, it seems Misogyny (the hatred of women) was rampant during the those days as well. Women were seen as inferior, as something less then man. Not worthy of having their own opinion. And Im willing to bet a lot of these "witches" that were burned at the stake werent witches at all, but women who had the daring to go up against all the hate. To stand up against the opression. It all stems from the church's fear of women taking over the world! Its so ridiculous to think this actually happened. Why cant we all just live happily on this earth? Both men and women? It seems that the Catholic Church had other plans for women. Thankfully, those plans fell through and today women are respected and applauded more then ever. But back in those days, it was different! I mean, you can even go as far back as the bible itself, you'll see just how low women are potrayed all the time. They are usually portrayed as the problem starters, the whores. Men where the leader of the people, the saviors of the world. Gods. Hell, it was Eve, the first woman, who gave the apple to Adam. Accoreding to the bible the original "sin" was started by a woman listening to the devil! Which has a lot in common with the witch trials, in the Malleus Malleficarum, it is said that women were more inclined to being witches because their lust was uncontrollable! Which is something that is portrayed in this film Im reviewing today.
The film basically takes all these witch fantasies and stories and plays them out. You see, when these women where being tortured into submission, they would say these tall tales about meeting Satan, and all these rituals they supposedly did, black masses and all that. They would say this so that the priests inquisitors would stop torturing them. And the priests wrote every single one of these wild stories on the Malleus Malleficarum. Benjamin Christensen took these stories and acted them out on the film with often brilliant results. Im thinking he decided to bring these images to life simply to show how silly and unrealistic they are! Theres this whole sequence where witches are gathered around a campfire with the devil and they have to literally kiss his asshole! Giant animal like creatures guarding the entrances of gatherings! The devil calling out women to have sex with them in the middle of the night. Things like that. I gotta say, all these fantasies make for truly awesome visuals! Benjamin Christensen, the films director plays Satan himself! The make up work was astoundingly good for the time this film was made! I was amazed at how cool Satan looked in this movie, almost rivaling in coolness with Tim Currys Darkness in Ridley Scotts Legend.
The movie has an element of schock to it. The stories that appear in the Malleus Malleficarum are really out there and even include child sacrafices! Some of the most schoking moments from the film come during these sequences where we see a bunch of demons holding a little baby as he bleeds and they drink his blood and then throw its dead body in a cauldron to cook him and eat him! Im sure that mustve shocked audiences back in 1922 cause it shocked the hell out of me when I saw it. Theres moments with nuns in a monastery going bat shit insane when they get possesed by demons. So be ready for some schoking images. The black and white, grainy element adds to the spookiness. Keep in mind, this is a silent film, dont expect a regular film with dialog. This was made during the silent days of film, I personally love these silent films because they relly so much on mannerisms and transmitting ideas through images rather then words. I now hold Haxan in as high regard as I hold F. W. Murnaus Faust and Fritz Langs Metropolis. You know, top of the line silent films with excellent art direction and visuals.
You can watch two versions of the film in the Criterion disc. One version is the 1922 one which lasts 104 minutes which is really the most complete version of the movie that exists. And then theres the other version which was released in 1968. This version featured an eclectic jazz score by Daniel Humair (played by a quintet including Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Daniel Humair on percussion) and dramatic narration by William S. Burroughs. This is the version that Ive been reviewing, and honestly, its the one I liked the most. Its the most concise one of all. Plus that jazzy soundtrack adds to trippy vibe the visuals have.
This is daring film because of the power of its images and the audacity of what its saying. Its shinning a light on one of the greatest evils that ever happend on our planet. And it was done by the ever growing Catholic Church, which probably doesnt want you to see this type of film, cause it shows their true colors. Whats most interesting about this film is that a lot of cuts were made by the studios in order for the film to be released. People couldnt take the truth of it all, some of its most shocking images were edited out. Christensen received a lot of opposition during the making and distribution of this film, for showing things the way they really happened, which is sad. Many religious individuals didnt want this film to get out because it lets us see that religion can be mean, it can be almost as evil as any dictatorship. If you dont think or do what they want, they can get pretty violent! Anyhows, thanks to the wonder of dvd and modern technology we can now enjoy this amazing film in all its shocking glory. Highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 out of 5