Häxan (1922)

Denmark, Sweden,
77m [US 1968 version], 87m, 104m [DVD version], 1800 metres
35mm film, black and white, 1.33:1
silent

A Danish/Swedish horror film directed by Benjamin Christensen. Director Benjamin Christiensen filmed a special introduction to the film for its 1941 Danish re-issue. The intertitles were also changed for this release and a new score written. In 1968, the film was re-issued with a newly written jazz score and a narration by author William S. Burroughs.

Plot Summary

A fake documentary about the history of .

Credits

Crew
Director: Benjamin Christensen
© 1922 AB Svensk Filmindusri (1968 version)
Aljosha Production Company, Svensk Filmindustri
Producer [1968 Version]: Antony Balch
Script: Benjamin Christensen
Continuity: Alice O'Fredericks
Director of Photography: Johan Ankerstjerne
Editor: Edla Hansen
Music: Launy Grøndahl; Emil Reesen [1941 version]; Daniel Humair [1968 version]
Sound Recorded at [1968 Version]: Newsreel and Dubbing Services
Art Director: Richard Louw

Cast
Benjamin Christensen ()
Ella la Cour (Karna, the witch)
Emmy Schönfeld (Marie, Karna's collaborator)
Kate Fabian (lovesick maiden)
Oscar Stribolt (the gluttonous monk)
Wilhelmine Henriksen (Apelone, a poor woman)
Elizabeth Christensen (Anna, bookprinter's wife's mother)
Astrid Holm (Anna, bookprinter's wife)
Karen Winther (Anna's younger sister)
Maren Pedersen (Maria, the witch)
Johannes Andersen (Pater Henrik, chief inquisitor)

Alternative Titles

La brujería a través de los tiempos – Spain
Häxan – A Feitiçaria Através dos Tempos – Brazil
O Haxan – Norway
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages – USA (DVD)
Heksen – Denmark
Hexe, Die – Germany
Hexen – Germany
Sorcellerie à travers les ages, La – France
Stregoneria attraverso i secoli, Le – Italy
Witchcraft Through the Ages – English language title
, The – USA

Press

1968
Monthly Film Bulletin vol.35 no.419 (December 1968) p.193
Christensen would probably have been delighted by the spoken commentary which has been added to the present version of his film: culled largely from the original titles (the rest are retained as silent film titles), and spoken by William Burroughs in the orotund and slightly absurd tones used in the days of Fitzpatrick travelogues, it maintains exactly the right distantiation, never allowing the audience to become more involved in these mysteries and manifestations of witchcraft than Christensen is himself. And Christensen, of course, is sceptical, arguing through the film that “witches” are simply what the 20th century would call hysterics, suffering from delusions. Hence the consciously absurd, pantomime ribaldry of much of the imagery: witches riding off to the Sabbath on their broomsticks, giving birth to fantastic monsters after copulation with the Devil, giving the ritual kiss to Satan's arse, etc. etc. What makes the film genuinely chilling is that these excesses are staged (again with superb lighting which turns much of the film into a chiaroscuro equivalent of Bosch and Breughel) amid an astonishingly real imaginative evocation of the medieval landscape in all its filth and squalor, its repressions, perversions, intolerances and cruelties: old crones tortured on the rack; young suffering the ecstasy of flagellation, old ones prancing the witches' sabbath in obscenely naked corpulence; young girls burned to save their souls by a self-righteous, monstrous Inquisition. Although time and familiarity with even greater horrors on the screen have undoubtedly blunted the shock effect much of the imagery must have had fifty years ago (babies dropped into boiling cauldrons, and so on), the film has lost little of its essential charge, especially in the modern sequence with its sudden, arresting analogies between past and present. To some, Häxan may seem little more than a bizarre period curiosity; to others, a remarkable attempt to analyse the mythologies and mysteries of witchcraft. Either way, if one remembers the date it was made, it is a remarkable piece of film history, fully deserving its present revival; but someone ought to remove the strident, irritatingly mannered and highly unsuitable “interpretative” jazz score which has been added. – from a review by Tom Milne

References

Periodicals

  • Art et Essai no.46 (2 May 1968) p.33 – review
  • Classic Images no.279 (September 1998) pp.43-44 – review (by Robert Klepper)
  • The Daily Cinema no.9598 (11 November 1968) p.6 – review
  • Empire no.224 (February 2008) p.132 – Illustrated DVD review (At home/DVD new: Dungeon breakout: Häxan by Kim Newman)
  • Films and Filming vol.15 no.5 (February 1969) p.48 – review
  • Flesh and Blood no.3 (1994) p.17 – illustrated note
  • Focus no.7 (Spring 1972) pp.9-12, 33 – review
  • Image et Son no233 (1969) pp.175-179 – review
  • Kine Weekly no.3186 (2 November 1968) p.17 – review
  • Kosmorama no.220 (December 1997) pp.42-59 – illustrated article (Et lille lands vagabonder by Casper Tybjerg)
  • Metro no.116 (September 1998) p.52 (USA) – credits
  • The Missing Link no.4 (October 1995) pp.8,9 – review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.35 no.419 (December 1968) p.193 (UK) – credits, synopsis, review (by Tom MIlne)
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.45 no.532 (May 1978) p.107 – note
  • Revue du Cinéma, La/Image et Son no.468 (February 1991) p.35 – illustrated credits, review (Les sorcières by Yves Alion)
  • Sight and Sound vol.4 no.11 (November 1994) p.62 – video review
  • Wide Angle vol.19 no.2 (April 1997) pp.98-102 – programme notes (by Gideon Bachmann)

Books

  • 100 Cult Films by Ernest Mathijs & Xavier Mendik pp.108-109 – illustrated review by EM [Ernest Mathijs]
  • After Dracula: The 1930s Horror Film by Alison Peirse p.99
  • The Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Horror (2nd edition) by Phil Hardy (ed) pp.30-31 – credits, review
  • BFI Southbank Guide December 2022 p.21 – illustrated listing
  • The Devil on Screen: Feature Films Worldwide, 1913 Through 2000 by Charles P. Mitchell pp.298-300
  • English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby p.189
  • Euro Gothic: Classics of Continental Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.62, 303, 343
  • Film Review 1969-70 by F. Maurice Speed (ed.) p.222 – credits, review
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.435
  • Horrorshows: The A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre by Gene Wright p.151 – credits, review
  • Kine & TV Year Book 1970 p.116
  • Movies of the 20s and Early Cinema by Jürgen Müller pp.130-135 – illustrated credits, review (by PLB [Petra Lange-Berndt])
  • by Walt Lee pp.544; 545 – credits; still
  • Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies by Robert K. Klepper pp.245-246
  • The Stop-motion Filmography by Neil Pettigrew pp.314-315
  • Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema by Philip Hayward (ed) p.225