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Häxan - Witchcraft Through the Ages [1922] [DVD]

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  • Directors: Benjamin Christensen
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: Swedish
  • Subtitles: English, Swedish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Tartan Video
  • DVD Release Date: 24 Sep 2007
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,999 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Since its premiere in 1922, Benjamin Christensen's exploration of the role of superstition in medieval minds has caused outrage and protest from both the general public and religious groups. Dramatizing satanic activities and rituals including the ways in which suspected witches were tortured and killed, Haxan is a deliriously imaginative masterpiece. Not until its re-release in 1941 did the director earn belated fame and respect, proof that this genre-defying documentary was far ahead of its time. In 1968 the film won further praise and a whole new audience when it was re-released with a William Burroughs narration, under the title 'Witchcraft through the Ages'. This release includes both the Burroughs-narrated shorted version and the original film for which two new scores have been created, one by composer Geoff Smith performed on hammered dulcimer and the second offering a dynamic score by UK electronic group, Bronnt Industries Kapital. Special Features :

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By thomas12321 on 15 Mar 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Part horror movie (years before that term came into use), part documentary, this has to be one of the strangest films ever made. Benjamin Christensen was a Danish actor and director who had previously made two thrillers, Det Hemmelighedsfulde X and Haevnens Nat, which both showcased his remarkable sense for lighting, framing and editing - and his adventurousness in moving beyond the established basics.
Yet, nobody could have been prepared for Haxan (Danish title: Heksen). Many of the scenes were profoundly disturbing for contemporary audiences - and may still be so today. But what strikes the modern viewer is how cinematically exciting it is all done.
The camera has yet to move (Murnau's "floating camera" is still a couple of years away), but Christensen's expert framing and editing lends every sequence an exceptional dynamic quality. When choosing a subject for the camera, angle, and size, he is invariably right, giving an incredible flow to the film as a whole. There is not a dull moment - partly because the subject is so unflinchingly handled, partly because every scene is thoroughly composed.
There is some magnificent "special effects" work using double exposure and very believable models - including a broomstick ride to Bloksbjerg and the witches' sabbath (compare the flying sequence in Murnau's Faust!)
The acting is very fine with very little of the mannerisms we associate with silent films. Some of the actors were to have long and distinguished careers in Danish film and on the stage - among them Poul Reumert, Ib Schoenberg, Elith Pio, Clara Pontoppidan.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Basileus on 10 Aug 2009
Format: DVD
"Häxan" is one of the strangest films I have ever seen. Produced in 1922 by the Danish film director Benjamin Christensen, this film is a dramatized documentary about the history of witch craft up to the present day. Without any background knowledge, I watched the film and for a long time I was puzzled as to why this film was made. Now I understand that Christensen wanted "to create a whole new film rather than an adaptation of literary fiction", making it so out of the ordinary.

Although the acting is natural, a number of scenes seem to be a straight from a fairytale (the broomstick ride), while other scenes seem almost random at first glance (the somnambulist). Yet, in hindsight the film was worthwhile watching, even if it was only for the fantastic devil character played by Christensen himself. It seems odd for viewers today, but the film was banned for many years in a number of countries, because of its explicit and blasphemous nature.

From a technical point of view, I was impressed with the sharpness of the film and the usage of (what looks to me) colour filters in a number of scenes. Even after 90 years, I think "Häxan" would stand the test of HD TV without a problem. This sharpness combined with the usage of colour filter gave me the feeling I was actually watching a colour film. This was the case especially with the scenes of the kleptomaniac. Amazing!

In my opinion, this is not a film for a casual viewer, but only for people genuinely interested in silent films or film historians. Whatever your reasons for watching "Häxan", prepare yourself for one of the strangest films ever made.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Willett Richard on 10 Nov 2007
Format: DVD
A film which would have been to audiences in 1922 (fresh from the collective hysteria of World War I) what Kubrick's "2001" was to the 60s generation-- if there had been the same desire by audiences of the time to be enlightened by the still new cinematic art after confronting the world's woes. Instead, the film was maligned, banned, protested against by thousands of nuns in the streets, championed by André Breton, and finally rediscovered by William Burroughs and his circle in the 60s. Light years ahead of its time in terms of technique (Goddard did not invent the jump cut) and sincerity. The jazz music accompanying the Burroughs version fits beautifully.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gabor Lux on 18 Aug 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is an odd beast of a movie, and rather hard to classify. It treats its subject matter; witches, devils and witch trials in the Middle Ages in a way that's part documentary, part dramatisation and part exploitation. The framing is documentaristic, discussing old world views, beliefs in magical practices, and the methods of the Inquisition. However, the extended live action sequences - mostly short, but one forming a longer story arc within the movie - entirely abandon this neutral pretence, and revel in the grotesque and often disturbing imagery of black magic, physical deformity and torture. In portraying mediaeval prejudices, the film's approach is entirely exploitative, transforming its sources into lurid entertainment. This is Häxan's great draw today - as a freakshow or pseudo-horror, it is a precursor to the exaggerated "Satanism" of black metal. Was it a coincidence that this movie was conceived in Denmark and produced in Sweden?

We are shown a little carnival of bloody horrors. Old crones brew foul concoctions in their cellar lairs, or fly to satanic witches' sabbaths in the woods. Young women cavort with grotesque devils. Superstitious townsfolk denounce their own as witches and sorcerers. The monks who run the witch trials (who could be the villains of the film) are conniving, rotten scumbags, played by the actors with relish, and the rest of the "mediaeval" figures - superstitious, ugly and weirdly dressed folks - are also simple caricatures instead of realised personalities. In fact, Häxan is less horroristic than hilariously, although sometimes disturbingly funny. Its devils with their wagging tongues and grimacing faces are lovingly-made rubber-and-fur monsters, and as we look on the actors, we sometimes have the feeling they are having the time of their lives.
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