Wednesday, 18 November 2015

DVD review: Häxan

Original poster
You may feel I'm running a little late with this, since the movie Häxan (silent, B&W, Swedish intertitles) was released in 1922. And promptly banned in the USA for sex, torture and perversion scenes.

Their standards were quite low.

Take my word for it, there's no reason it should be a 15.
Technically I could have watched it upon its re-release (with a narration by William Burroughs) in 1968, now entitled Witchcraft Through the Ages - but I don't think my Mum would have approved.

It is a brilliant film.

It starts off as a staid documentary trying to explain how the witchcraft superstition and subsequent persecutions arose in Europe. The depictions of medieval scenes are actually quite creditable, though I don't dare pronounce on the mad hats.

The movie then veers off into wild fantasy sequences depicting sabbats and visitations from the devil, utilising the absolute cutting edge of SFX available at the time - prosthetics, animated drawings, stop-motion, puppetry ... and these are all actually pretty good, if quite charmingly unfrightening and tame by modern standards.

OMG - a nude scene!
Then it comes back to earth and spends some time trying to show how superstition, spite, sexual repression and ruthless church corruption combine into a poisonous cocktail that can wipe out entire communities - starting with the wrinkly old ladies, moving on to the young and beautiful, and eventually taking everyone down.

It does star some incredibly wrinkly actors:

What's most heartening is its cynical, scientific approach after all the uber-enthusiastic and very stylish fantasy - it attributes the hallucinations to herbal potions and Hysteria - a diagnosis of mental illness that, interestingly enough, they thought they could establish by its physical symptoms in the 1920s.

Numbness in the back, to be precise
(Of course "Hysteria" is no longer in medical vogue. My social worker mole tells me that nowadays it's "emotionally unstable personality disorder -" and either "impulsive" or "borderline" type.)

But it's the visuals that are most enchanting...

Here's a taster:

You can actually watch the whole thing on Youtube but I do recommend buying it. The DVD I got has both the (longer) original and the narrated 1968 version, with several alternate musical scores.

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