(Svensk Filmindustri) 113mins. BW. Silent. Sweden. Aka: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH
Credits: Dir., Prod. & Sc: Benjamin Christensen; A.Prod: Ernest Mattison;
Ph: Johan Ankarstjerne; Sets: Richard Louw.
Cast: Emmy Schoenfeld, Oscar Stribolt, Benjamin Christensen,
Astrid Holm, Holst-Jurgensen, Karen Winther, Maren Pedersen, Elith Pio, Johs Andersen, Ib
Schonberg, Aage Hertel, Clara Pontoppidan, Tora Teje.
Written and produced from 1919 to 1921 by
Denmark's master of silent horror Benjamin Christensen, HAXAN, or to use
the fully anglicised title, WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES is a bizarre
curio that was decades ahead of its time. Indeed the film was banned outside of Sweden for
many, many years and only appeared in a severely truncated form in America during 1929, a
time when Christensen and a multitude of other European filmakers had succumbed to
Hollywood's feverish bid to import foreign talent. Christensen decribed his brief time in
America as a most unpleasant experience.
HAXAN, Christensen's most ambitious and stylised film,
traces the history of witchcraft from the Middle Ages up until the present in a
quasi-documentary format that begins with a series of illustrations and models to explain
the acts of diabolism and the extreme penalties the practitioners received at the hands of
religious zealots. Dramatisations include a scene set in 1488 when a witch named Karna is
seen preparing a potion to help a woman win the affections of an obese man of the church.
The Devil also makes an appearance as played by Christensen himself donning rough shaggy
hair, extended talons and pointed ears.
A witch is forced to confess through the use of "spiritual torture", that
includes the use of stocks and a strong whipping, that she had indeed given birth to
several misshapen children of Satan. What follows are scenes of a Devil's orgy that
depicts evil behemoths performing human sacrifices, food being prepared from unbaptised
children, witches kissing the Devil's behind, nudity, masturbation and fornication. Strong
stuff even for the jaded tastes of today.
The witch also implicates others who have attended Blakulla, the legendary annual meeting
place for those who practice the cursed arts.
Also depicted are a gruesome collection of so called "confessional aids"
including the footpress, a spiked neck bracelet and the thumbscrew. Not only did the god
fearing witch hunters who used these devices condemn over eight million men, women and
children to be burnt at the stake over the course of three centuries, they also inflicted
themselves with virtuous acts of self-torment to prove to others that they would attempt
to exorcise any demons in themselves with a bracing session of the whip.
The film's final segment demonstrates that Satan is alive and well in the Twentieth
Century with a large amount of psycho-twaddle explaining acts of thievery, hysteria,
sleepwalking and pyromania.
One grisly scene that remains memorable is when a witch attempts to obtain a ring from the
finger of a man who has been hanging on the gallows for some time, and instaed of just the
ring, the witch rips off his entire finger.
Despite some of the film's ramblings, HAXAN
is beautifully photographed by Svensk Filmindustri's resident camera operator Johan
Ankerstjerne who makes full use of Richard Louw's superbly detailed scenery. However, it
wasn't until 1969 that the film was restored to its original 113 minutes with a full score
and a running commentary by William S. Burroughs.
other works are yet to be fully appraised, and due to the scarcity of the majority of his
films, this would seem to be virtually impossible. The apparant loss of all but two of his
films is deeply lamentable. By all accounts, The
Haunted House (1928) and The House of Horror
(1929) made for First National, would, if found, prove to be on par with Roland West's The
Bat (1926) and Paul Leni's acclaimed The Cat and the Canary (1927).
Presently a copy of Christensen's Seven Footprints to Satan is housed at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York and a fine, tinted copy of HAXAN was available on
the Redemption video label in Britain.
We strongly recommend you try to find a copy.
DVD available click here