Archive for haxan

No Volume Needed November: Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

Posted in Denmark, movies, Sweden with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by goregirl

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On Halloween night I went to see the full 104 minute version of Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages. Besides being special simply for the fact that it is the original version of the film shown with lovely color tint it was also accompanied by live music. The music was performed by Vancouver’s Funerary Call. I actually recorded some of the screening to give you an idea of what the music was like but there was coughing and talking in it that I could not edit. A real shame as my words can not really do the fabulous musical accompaniment justice. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ haunting live score was extraordinary accompaniment that really added to my enjoyment of an already wholly fascinating and hypnotic film. Below are a couple of shots of Funerary Call

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Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages is more or less what its name suggests; a documentary about witchcraft through the ages. More accurately it is a documentary about how superstition and fevered religious beliefs poison the mind and cause human beings to act irrationally. There was certainly nothing rational about the witch hunts. Under torture a person could be provoked to agree to just about anything. The medieval instruments used in this torture were horrifying beyond comprehension. Every woman accused of witchcraft would finger several more. The middle ages were not easy on us ladies. The film ends with some thoughts on the medical condition “female hysteria”. Häxan is, “A presentation from a cultural and historical point of view in 7 chapters of moving pictures.” Benjamin Christensen wrote the script and produced this film between the years 1919 and 1921 with help from Johan Ankerstjerne who did the photography and Richard Louw who handled the art direction. Häxan was heavily edited or outright banned in just about every country in the world. My viewing of the full version on the big screen with live musical accompaniment prompted me to re-watch the truncated version with narration by author William. S. Burroughs. I really love Burroughs narration; I think the man has the most unusual voice that lends itself to the subject beautifully. I definitely prefer the color tint of the original; it isn’t unappealing in black and white it is just a bit lacklustre. I really dug the jazzy score by Daniel Humair in the Burrough’s version but I didn’t think it was the best choice for the material. Personally, I much prefer the longer version, but restless types may want to check out the shorter Burroughs version (which evidently is still awesome). The first six black and white images to follow are from the 1968 truncated re-released and re-titled Witchcraft Through the Ages (77 minutes) narrated by William S. Burroughs.

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Christensen spent two years pouring over countless manuals and other documents to learn as much as possible about witches. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages consists of a series of images in the form of illustrations, models and re-enactments. The two images above are examples of some of the still imagery included.

The following are the accompanying subtitles for the above pictures from the Criterion print of Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages.

Top Picture: “Deep down in the earth’s core lies hell, where those tempted by the devil shall suffer forever. In the upper part of the picture (from the French historian Lacroix) the devils are stuffing the damned into large pots. A sinner is thrown straight into the fire burning under one of the cauldrons. A devil pours the nasty sulfur oozing from a horn down a man’s throat. Two monsters torment some of the damned with their sharp teeth.”

Bottom Picture: “Women who wanted to participate in the Sabbath sneaked away to the sorcerer where they could have their backs smeared with witch ointment. The witchcraft of the ointment would allow them to fly through the air.”

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Much of Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ runtime is made up of reenactments which are all extremely well done and beautifully shot. The film’s strange, amusing, horrific and haunting visuals really are quite spectacular. The above two pictures feature a woman who seeks the aid of a witch named Karna to concoct a love potion to win the heart of a friar.

“Karna can you perchance get me a love potion that has power over a pious man of the church?”

“Here young maiden, take a potion of cat feces and dove hearts boiled in the moonlight. A drop of this in a man’s drink will soften his heart at once.”

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The above two pictures are from one of my favourite scenes in the film. Director Benjamin Christensen plays Satan and what a fantastic Satan he is! I love his horns and long gnarly claws! What I love best about him though is his hugely cheeky attitude. The makeup and costumes is just another thing to admire about Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages. In this scene a young maiden licks her lips hungrily and awakes to the devil who is motioning at her to come hither. Next thing you know the two are embracing. The following is the accompanying subtitles for this scene…

“So it happens with witchcraft as with the devil; people’s belief in him was so strong that he became real. The devil is everywhere and takes all shapes. He shows himself as a nightmare, a raging demon, a seducer, a lover and a knight.”

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See the difference the color tinting makes? I think it livens the film up so awesomely. Satan is red and all is right with the world. I certainly have no issue with black and white; I really love black and white photography. But the color tinting adds a lot to the atmosphere as well as the visuals of this particular silent film.

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This re-enactment is the lengthiest of those included and focuses on the sick-bed of Jesper the Printer. Jesper the Printer is dying and the family are told that the cause is “atrocious witchcraft”. When an elderly lady called Maria the Weaver shows up minutes later one of the women of the house suspects her of being the culprit who cursed Jesper.

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Maria the Weaver is accused of witchcraft and the regular methods are used to evoke a confession. Every woman accused of witchcraft gives away several more.

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Pictured above are the implements of torture used to evoke a confession. This section pulls no punches with demonstrations of what each heinous instrument was intended for. There is no graphic crushing of thumbs or the like but it is nonetheless disturbing. For more images of torture devices in Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ click here.

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I am a total sucker for people in animal costumes. there is just something particularly disturbing about people in animal costumes. How fantastic is this image? I mean seriously! Best Halloween costume EVER! I don’t think enough good stuff can be said about the costumes in this film!

“There are witch confessions that are totally insane. Many woman for instance confess that transformed into cats they soiled the altar during the night while two devils in the shape of animals stood guard at the church door.”

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“Do you remember maiden that Jesper the Printer’s child is all alone in the world without relatives besides you?”

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“In the Convents during the middle ages, fear of the Devil escalated into an almost hopeless despair. The pious gave themselves up to many a regrettable self-punishment. Often a single nun was seized and suddenly thereafter the whole convent was overtaken by insanity; a mysterious, contagious insanity.” For more nun images click here.

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The devil bashes a nun with a bat!!

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Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ ends with a shoplifter and a sleepwalker; both ailments that might have been interpreted as devil possession or witchcraft in the middle ages. Christensen draws a connection between witchcraft and female hysteria which was a commonly diagnosed disorder when the film was made in the early 1920s. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ is actually quite brutal at times and shocking even by today’s standards. At one point they bleed an unbaptized baby and throw it in a pot! The costumes, sets, props, art work, performances; everything about Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ is first-rate, not to mention incredibly informative. Häxan is without a doubt one of the most interesting and visceral documentary/docudramas I have ever seen. It was a one of a kind treat seeing Häxan on the big screen with live musical accompaniment. This is actually my second silent horror film I have seen with a live score; the first being Nosferatu. I can not recommend more highly checking out any silent film with a live score if you are lucky enough to have one play at your local theatre. Häxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages’ gets my highest of recommendations; a perfect score.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Benjamin Christensen

Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Elisabeth Christensen, Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt, Tora Teje, John Andersen, Poul Reumert, Karen Winther

That Sly Come Hither Stare…It’s Witchcraft!

Posted in horror, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2012 by goregirl

Don’t forget November is Psycho-Delic 60s month! I will be reviewing only horror films from the 1960s and posting a top ten list for each year of the decade. I have watched a spectacular amount of films from the 1960s in the past few weeks. I’ve seen well over half of the decade’s horror films thus far. As well as watching titles I have not seen, I am re-watching films that I have not seen since starting this blog (going on almost 4 bloody years!). I will go into specifics on the stats when I post my first top ten list in November. It turns out films about witches and witchcraft were kind of a popular subject in the 1960s. Six titles on this list are from the decade! I would say there is a better than average chance you will see these six films on my top ten list for its corresponding year. A special mention to Witchfinder General which is a film about a witch hunter who doesn’t actually kill any witches. I highly recommend Witchfinder General but I figured I would stick to films that actually had a witch (or witches) in them. Let us begin the bewitching!

VIY (1967)

Directed By: Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov

I just posted a review for Viy yesterday! To read my review of this fabulous and funky folklore tale click here.

NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (aka Burn Witch Burn) (1962)

Directed By: Sidney Hayers

My first and so far only viewing of Night of the Eagle was just last week! I rather like its alternate title Burn Witch Burn; but having seen the film really either name is appropriate enough. A teacher ripe for a senior position and well liked by his peers discovers his wife is practicing black magic. She believes she has been responsible for her husband’s success. When hubby insists on burning all her black magic trinkets she fears the worst. Night of the Eagle has an intriguing well-written story, good performances, and great visuals that kept me bewitched throughout.

HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922)

Directed By: Benjamin Christensen

As its name suggests, Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a documentary about witchcraft through the ages. It is a series of artistic interpretations and reenactments of rituals and witch hunts and the like. The Devil played by the film’s director Benjamin Christensen looks convincingly creepy and the witches cavorting with the dark lord whilst performing all manner of sacrilege must have caused quite the controversy in 1922! Haxan is downright fascinating, visually arresting and utterly hypnotizing.

BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

Directed By: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez

Blair Witch Project is the story of three film students who set out to make a documentary about the titular “Blair Witch”. It isn’t like a film had never been made with a hand-held camera before, but the success of the Blair Witch Project certainly started a trend of nausea-inducing handheld camera work. I have read several reviews tearing Blair Witch Project a new asshole, but I actually liked this film a lot. I mentioned in my intro that I was going to include films with witches actually in them. You could argue this film does not qualify, but I think whether or not you actually see the “Blair Witch” is left up to the viewer. The film has a nice steady build up and a great mood and tension. I must admit, my home viewing of Blair Witch Project did not live up to my theatre experience but I enjoy it nonetheless.

SUSPIRIA (1977) & INFERNO (1980)

Directed By: Dario Argento

Suspiria’s plot revolves around Suzy a new student at a dance academy. The prestigious dance academy is of course run by a coven of witches. Suspiria has appeared on many lists on this blog. I am a huge fan of Suspiria! Suspiria is an incredibly beautiful film. Inventive camera work, beautiful colors, and of course impressively staged death scenes, an excellent cast and epic soundtrack are the icing on the cake. Suspiria is a bonafide horror masterpiece and is the first in Dario Argento’s “three mothers” trilogy. The second section of the “three mothers” trilogy is Inferno. The story moves from a prestigious dance school in Germany to an apartment building in the USA. An architect named Varelli built separate dwellings for the three mothers in Rome, Freiberg and New York. Inferno is a brilliant although pretty convoluted follow-up to Suspiria. The cinematography, lighting, fantastic surreal sets and beautifully bizarre and nasty images are a feast for the eyes. Mother of Tears is the third part of the trilogy. I am hesitant to recommend Mother of Tears; although it has its moments I found it rather disappointing.

BABA YAGA (1973)

Directed By: Corrado Farina

This is not the child-eating Baba Yaga of Slavic lore. Director Corrado Farina’s film Baba Yaga was inspired by the comic strip art of Guido Crepex’s surreal and sexy adventures of Valentina. In this adventure the sassy photographer has a run-in with a witch. Wild dream sequences, Nazis, executions, a kinky doll-lady; it is not surprising that the lines between dream and reality become blurred for Valentina! Baba Yaga is a stylish, surreal, strange, sexy and beautiful 70’s pop art time capsule.

THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1963)

Directed By: Rafael Baledón

There was quite the surge of horrors films that came out of Mexico in the 1960s. There are some damn fine gems among them too. The Curse of the Crying Woman is one of two entries on this particular list. Amelia accepts an invitation to visit with her Aunt Selma who she has not seen in many years. Amelia notices a change in her aunt and soon finds out that she may have had sinister reasons for inviting her. The Curse of the Crying Woman is a rich but simple folklore yarn of witchcraft, curses and evil. Beautifully gothic visuals, wonderful sets, interesting characters, creative effects, and a sinister mood that will keep you mesmerized.

THE WITCH’S MIRROR (1962)

Directed By: Chano Urueta

The Witch’s Mirror is the second horror film hailing from Mexico. Mad science, a vengeful wife, possessed hands and the black arts makes for one spirited watch! I love it! Director Chano Urueta includes elements of several other horror films into his story; the final result of which ends up being something quite unique. The second half of this film is a wild ride, and there is plenty to keep you occupied getting there. The Witch’s Mirror has one of the most entertaining finales ever! Some of the effects are a little on the hokey side but they are pretty damn fun and they certainly are creative! This great, black and white gothic tale of witchcraft is a serious shitload of awesome!

CITY OF THE DEAD (1960)

Directed By: John Llewellyn Moxey

City of the Dead is about a college student prompted by her professor to do research in a tiny village and discovers a coven of witches. City of the Dead is a beautiful, atmospheric black and white horror film that is effectively eerie. From City of the Dead’s outstanding witch hunt scene to its exciting and intense finale the film is truly a gothic delight. Top notch performances and an engrossing well-written story. Although Christopher Lee receives top billing on my copy of the DVD, he actually has a supporting role and limited screen time. Lee is super fantastic but Patricia Jessel sorta steals his thunder with her dual roles and wonderfully mad cackle. A gem.

BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

Directed By: Mario Bava

Black Sunday is yet another film that has appeared on several lists on this blog; and it will not be the last. I absolutely love everything about this film! It is the story of a witch put to death by her own brother who returns 200 years later to seek revenge on her descendants. The stunning Barbara Steele takes on dual roles as Princess Asa Vajda and Katia Vajda and she is simply stunning, sweet and terrifying. One of Mario Bava’s best; Black Sunday is deliciously gothic, well-acted, beautifully filmed, eerie and atmospheric.