HÄXAN (1922) [Swedish Film Institute print] FULL MOVIE
Enjoy!Subtitles: ENG (burned-in), GER
re-recorded musical score by The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra (Rats&PeopleMPO)
Häxan (Danish title: Heksen; English title: The Witches or Witchcraft Through the Ages) is a 1922 Swedish-Danish documentary-style silent horror film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen. Based partly on Christensen's study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century German guide for inquisitors, Häxan is a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. The film was made as a documentary but contains dramatised sequences that are comparable to horror films.
With Christensen's meticulous recreation of medieval scenes and the lengthy production period, the film was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made, costing nearly two million Swedish kronor. Although it won acclaim in Denmark and Sweden, the film was banned in the United States and heavily censored in other countries for what were considered at that time graphic depictions of torture, nudity, and sexual perversion. It is now considered to be Christensen's finest work.
Directed by Benjamin Christensen
Screenplay by Benjamin Christensen
Cinematography: Johan Ankerstjerne
Edited by Edia Hansen
Production company: Svensk Filmindustri
Distributed by Skandias Filmbyrå (Sweden)
Release date: 18 September 1922 (Sweden)
Running time: 74 minutes (1968 version), 104 minutes (Swedish Film Institute print)
Country: Sweden, Denmark
Language: Silent film with Swedish intertitles
Budget: SEK 2 million
A scholarly dissertation on the appearances of demons and witches in primitive and medieval culture, a number of photographs of statuary, paintings, and woodcuts are used as demonstrative pieces. In addition, several large scale models are employed to demonstrate medieval concepts of the structure of the solar system and the commonly accepted depiction of Hell.
A series of vignettes theatrically demonstrating medieval superstition and beliefs concerning witchcraft, including Satan (played by Christensen himself) tempting a sleeping woman away from her husband's bed and terrorizing a group of monks. Also shown is a woman purchasing a love potion from a supposed witch, and a sequence showing a supposed witch dreaming of flying through the air and attending a witches' gathering.
A long narrative broken up into several parts; set in the Middle Ages, it concerns an old woman accused of witchcraft by a dying man's family. The narrative is used to demonstrate the treatment of suspected witches by the religious authorities of the time. The old woman, after being tortured, admits to heavy involvement in witchcraft, including detailed descriptions of a Witches' Sabbath, even going so far as to "name" other supposed witches, including two of the women in the dying man's household. Eventually, the dying man's wife is arrested as a witch when one of the clergymen accuses her of bewitching him.
The final part of the film seeks to demonstrate how the superstitions of old are better understood now. Christensen seeks to make the claim that most who were accused of witchcraft were possibly mentally ill, and in modern times, such behavior is interpreted as a disease. His case revolves around vignettes about a somnambulist and a kleptomaniac, the implication being that these behaviors would have been thought of as demonically-influenced in medieval times whereas modern societies recognize them as psychological ailments. There is heavy irony, however, in the observation that the "temperate shower of the clinic" i.e. the treatment of "hysterical women" in a modern institution, has replaced medieval solutions such as burning at the stake.