Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is one of those silent cinema era movies that helped influence and define the genre when it was still in it’s early years. It also reflects on the fact that man is the biggest monster of all, although this movie shows the Devil a lot. This movie’s version of the Devil inspires the witches that the movie covers and discusses, and he looks pretty much like you would expect, or at least the heavy metal version, anyways. Witchcraft has a long history and usually involves people accusing others of being witches, thus resulting in the local religious authorities torturing and murdering people. Often people were completely innocent, swept up in the mass hysteria of the time and condemned to awful and inhumane fates. The movie treats all of this as a quasi-documentary, and is framed as a long standing history lesson, which is fascinating and sometimes enlightening to those who were unaware of such things. Most of the time people who had mental disorders were thought to be witches, which makes things even worse.
There are several gorgeously shot and marvelous appearing set pieces, the one where the witches have a mass coven meeting after flying through the night being very remarkable. The movie has some great practical effects, many of which still hold up a century later. I viewed this classic on Halloween eve, which may have been the most opportune viewing time. It’s also notable that with few exceptions the victims of witch hunts were usually women, and thus sexism and misogynistic views reigned heavily during the periods where witch hunts were at their highest.
Christensen even ties this into the modern era with the final act, noting how the witch hunt never really died, it just changed it’s shape and purpose. For a silent cinema era movie to note this is outstanding, and I may view this movie again at a later date just to see how it holds up still in my eyes. Which will be easy to do since I own it on Criterion, and the Criterion Blu-ray is a gorgeous transfer. If people watch this on YouTube or via TCM that’s fine too, if you get the chance you should totally check this one out.
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