Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922)

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Ah, yes, a silent horror movie that has nothing to do with Dracula. All you silent movie haters may now flee or stay and be educated.

Haxan examines the nature of witchcraft, witches, and those who sought to destroy both. It’s a bit odd as it’s part documentary, part dramatization. The first is done through a series of ways including images, models…

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…diagrams…

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Some diagrams come complete with helpful pointy-stick.

…and even an animated sequence.

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This isn’t actually the sequence. I just couldn’t find a
decent picture of it.

The movie often shifts perspective as it moves through the ages of man while addressing the varying notions of ‘the witch’, what they were believed to be doing at the time and how they operated. This is usually accomplished by showing old wood carvings and then having actors play out the events depicted in those wood carvings. In this case, how they would stand in line to kiss devil ass:

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I wouldn’t kiss that wrinkled butt even if you promised to make me Supreme Ruler of All the Land.

Admittedly, some of these depictions venture into the realm of the absurd

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It’s an evil pig demon….or, something. At least they’re wearing
sensible shoes.

But that’s less the films fault and more the fault of the people of the 16th century who believed in some of these things so adamantly that they felt the need to write them down.

And not all the depictions of the witchcraft are so bizarre. Some of them are downright creepy (Demon ass-kissing not withstanding).

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Reminds me of dreams you wake up from because you think something’s
grabbing you in the f*&%#@* night!

The Devil is also featured prominently in these scenes. I don’t know who they picked to play the guy, but he can be both horrifying…

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Say what you will, but this film had a fabulous makeup budget.

…humorous…

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Behold the mighty Devil Gif! Get Over Here!

…and in some cases downright disturbing.

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I say disturbing because in two scenes he churns this
butter….vigorously….Like, really vigorously. It creeped me
out.
 I thought about finding a gif for it, but that probably
make it NSFW.

The later, more interesting scenes focus on the prosecutors of the so-called ‘witches’, examining religious intolerance, fear, or just corrupted dominance. One section in particular focuses on a household of women who call in the local monks/judges….

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They’re willing to whip each other? That’s never a good sign. Actually, that little guy looks like
he kind of likes it.

…to take away an elderly woman from their home who they accuse of being a witch. The old woman is tortured, forced to confess her treachery….

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But then also implicates the women who turned her to be witches as well. Obviously retaliatory motivations went right over the bald heads of the monks of yore and all the woman of the household are executed.

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The film also takes some time to show off several ye ole torture devices in detail, examining the different types and various uses of the torture devices that were used to extract confessions.

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I don’t know what it is, but please don’t pick the round, spiky thing.
Please don’t pick the round,
spiky thing…..

Even going so far to explain how one of the actresses wanted to experience the thumb screws for herself

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Ouch! Who the fuck thought this was a good
idea!

Released in 1922, Haxan was banned in every country in Europe. It’s not hard to see why. What with love potions created with, amongst other things, human fingers, the devil sexually attacking women, people digging up corpses, babies thrown into cauldrons, women giving birth to demons, and half naked or fully naked women walking around in silhouette, it’s amazing that the film made it out of 1922 unscathed. The prominent violence and sexuality in the movie is surprising considering when it was made in and was probably even more shocking to anyone who viewed it in the theatre at the time.

There are many a draw back to silent films, it can not be denied: the over acting, the broken narrative, the poor image quality, the obvious special effects, or lack thereof (Hello pointy-stick!). However these are products of the limits of the times. If the viewer can look past them than Haxan is a movie to be viewed not only by those interested in history, but also the history of cinema.

Haxan is available to stream via Amazon.

It has also received a DVD via The Criterion Collection.

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