Häxan – Benjamin Christensen – 1922


Häxan CoverOriginal title: Häxan
Rating: 4 Stars
Year: 1922
Directors: Benjamin Christensen
Duration: 91 min.
Genres: Horror

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Häxan is a weird silent film, justly labelled horror by IMDb. It could also have been labelled documentary (edit: they did). Or random creepy stuff about witches, if that were actually a tag. Häxan is a Swedish film from the silent era by a not very well known director. It kind of delivers what you would expect from the title. However, it is not a very conventional horror film. In fact, I can’t really think of any film – in any genre – that this could be compared with.

As with 1922’s Nosferatu and 1920’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it is among the very first in its genre. I would actually recommend watching Caligari one first, as it is truly a pioneering film when it comes to several aspects of directing. One could say it is the mother of all horror films, and it is credited for introducing the plot twist to cinema. Both have been beautifully restored and, depending on the copy, have been given some colour. They also come with a plethora of different music scores to choose from.

Häxan

Häxan actually means “The Witch” in Swedish and is found in German (Hexe), Dutch (Heks) and several other Scandinavian languages. But back to the film. It is a story told in seven chapters. The first chapter is much like you were in class and the teacher was pointing at things to explain what they were. We see paintings and images of things related to witchcraft and the devil. They are accompanied by some text explaining what it is we see, and a pointer with which the director points at the interesting parts.

But don’t be alarmed, the first part doesn’t take more than a dozen or so minutes. Then it says ‘To be continued…’ and it immediately continues. Oh well. Part two starts around the year 1500 AD. There are finally some moving images of actual people. In the parts to come, the director occasionally switches back to the style used in the first part, but not that much. It is mostly people acting out different aspects of things related to witches. Sometimes the director even takes a step back and starts talking about his actors, but not much of that either.

Häxan

We get to see extensive footage of medieval torture devices, witch trials, boiling babies, kissing the devil’s ass – literally – and giving birth to demons. All accompanied by super creepy sounds and music in my case. But again, that depends on the copy you’re watching. I’m also thinking that for today’s viewers, not a lot of what is told is new to us, but it must have been seriously creepy for people back in those days. For us I think the explicit images are what does it. Even though the film is close to a hundred years old, it still gives a creepy vibe when watching some of the more visual scenes.

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