The Art of film in 1922 was not as structurally or narratively rigid, and the large battles with expectations would not be begun until the 60s. Yet, Benjamin Christensen has created a macabre oddity. Haxan is once again close to a docudrama, but this label is uncomfortable and does not suit the esoteric and unique creation. This is an attempted synopsis – Haxan: Witchcraft through the ages is part historical investigation and part drama on the subject of witchcraft, it both informs and demonstrates witchcraft practice and hysteria in seven parts with final summation in a modern day setting.
It is a rather confusing narrative because it is not essentially a narrative, though there are character struggles and plights in one major timeline of the Middle Ages. The opening documentary segment is very informative though not visually exciting, though it is quite a charming segment because it is directed much like a lecture. However, Haxan bewitches during parts two until the final seventh.
In weird and wonderful styles, Christensen creates hypothetical instances of accused witchcraft and the ensuing horrors of torture and trickery by religious authorities to gain confession. Haxan delves deeply into religious fanaticism, nuns inflict pain for their supposed sins and friars back away in fright from sightings of the Devil (played by Christensen himself). Christensen pursues his belief of logic firmly, each scene demonstrating otherworldly horrors are grounded by title cards explaining why belief in demonic creatures was so powerful. Christensen does not view objectivity and rightly so, persecution of supposed witches is a pure evil practice. Accusation of witchcraft was the ultimate catch-22, the accused is bound and pushed out to deep water, if she floats she will be burnt at the stake, if she drowns she will go to heaven a pure woman. Chrtistensen develops this madness wonderfully as the town is desecrated by a single accusation.
Haxan is brutal and enlightening, able to withhold the inherent tension and disturbing atmosphere whilst dropping out of the fictional story to demonstrate torture instruments close-up, even joking with cast and crew wishing to test some devices. If this humour seems odd placed, I can assure you it is a relief, Haxan is a morbidly oppressing film.
The final segment draws the information and dramatic episodes together for a modernistic analyses. Christnesan concludes, or theorises, that Witchcraft is a form of hysteria. The physical impacts of a misunderstood physiological disorder are only recently realised and would have sent a woman to her death in the dark ages. Less informed than the historical segments, but nonetheless intriguing, it is an excellent finishing touch to Haxan. Christensen successfully leads us through documentary to drama and back to documentary in a fluid experience.
Dizzying is the only way to describe the visual experience of this piece, easily the most attractive quality of the film. Christensen’s cinematography is a dazzling nightmare. With detailed and imaginative sets for unnerving demons to play in, Christensen clearly delights in exploring a totally fictional though repulsively evil world. Camera trickery and expertise breathes life into satanic rituals of cooking newborns and enticing pure women. Witches flock to the skies and cover the night in excellent camera trickery and stop-motion allows the Devil’s tricks to be brought to the screen. No words can aptly describe the magic of such horror. Haxan is an occultist oddity. Dangerously dark and sinister, yet enlightening and engaging. An enchanting beast.
Classic Moment… Maria, the Weaver, endures horrendous torture. A frail elderly lady at the mercy of religious authorities patiently awaiting a confession. Maria finally gives in, haggard face twisted in agony. However, Maria will not face persecution alone, in a vivid nightmare, Maria paints a bleak canvas of satanic ritual participated by her accusers… The madness and illogical evil of the dark ages encompassed in a thoughtful, visually stunning piece.