If the year 1922 still remains in the memories of film buffs today, it is not only for the Nosferatu of Murnau, tells the BBC website. A hundred years ago, a Scandinavian horror film created fascination; and if it has remained relatively in the shadows, that’s no reason to forget to celebrate it today – especially since it is visible in high definition on certain well-known VOD sites, or on DVD .
Häxan, witchcraft through the ages is a Swedish production, but its director, Benjamin Christensen is Danish. It is a film which, even today, dazzles with its graphic qualities and its innovations. Half documentary, half reconstruction, it foreshadows a whole section of horror cinema, many films on exorcism or witchcraft being more or less consciously inspired by it.
Comprised of seven chapters, Haxan retraces the Western history of occultism, from antiquity to the beginning of the 20th century.e century, focusing particularly on the witch hunts that took place in the Middle Ages. One could say of Benjamin Christensen’s feature film that it is a non-narrative filmwhich the person himself confirmed: “My film has no continuous story, no ‘plot’ – it could be classified as a historical retelling in moving pictures.”
The restored version is amazing, showcasing Benjamin Christensen’s sense of frame perfectly. All the special effects possible at the time are used brilliantly by the filmmaker: jump cuts (those directing effects made to make you jump), overdubs, stop-motion… As a matter of fact, Haxan looks like a 2022 movie whose goal would be to look like a period work in every way.
inhabited by the devil
Christensen’s film is truly terrifying. “As soon as the film strays from its trial status, Haxan hits as hard as any horror movie of its time. His imagery is the most disturbing ever produced during the silent period., writes Adam Scovell for the BBC. Pacts with the devil and child sacrifices: Haxan goes far, and does it convincingly.
Described as “weird” and “visceral” by the various witnesses interviewed, the viewing experience leaves a lasting mark as well as a pronounced taste of unease, like other horror films disguised as documentaries (from Cannibal Holocaust to Blair Witch Project) did it after him – moreover the directors of Blair WitchDaniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, produced it through their company named Häxan Films. “There has been a lot of talk about supposedly ‘cursed’ or ‘devil-inhabited’ films, but with this one, you could almost believe it”says Stephen Volk, screenwriter of horror films. “I don’t believe for a second that the director had any other objective than to shock.”
As early as 1923, one could read in Variety, the authoritative American film magazine, that“as great as this film is, it is absolutely not suitable for public screenings”. If we broadcast it in a big room in 2022, it’s a safe bet that some fainting and other anxiety attacks could occur. The frightening reputation of Haxan has also played against him, explaining why he has partly disappeared from the radar instead of being celebrated. The film was censored everywhere it went, says the BBC article, including in Sweden, a country which at the time had never produced such an expensive film.
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This horror movie continues to terrify a hundred years after it was made
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