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4.5 2
Director: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Astrid Holm, Oscar Stribolt

Cast: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Astrid Holm, Oscar Stribolt


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Considered by many to be one of the truly great (and peculiar) silent films ever, Häxan is part documentary, part horror film, part social commentary, and always fascinating. Originally directed by Benjamin Christensen, the film regained a whole new audience in 1967 when British filmmaker Antony Balch recut the film and had beat novelist William Burroughs


Considered by many to be one of the truly great (and peculiar) silent films ever, Häxan is part documentary, part horror film, part social commentary, and always fascinating. Originally directed by Benjamin Christensen, the film regained a whole new audience in 1967 when British filmmaker Antony Balch recut the film and had beat novelist William Burroughs record narration (voiced in Burroughs' typically droll and ironic manner) and included a new avant-garde jazz score. The Criterion Collection has made both versions available on this DVD, which is great considering the many strengths of either cut. Christensen's longer 104-minute version has been beautifully restored by the Swedish Film Institute, utilizing a fine-grain master print taken from the original camera negative. New Swedish intertitles with optional English subtitles have been added, as well as a fantastic new orchestral score (available in robust 5.1 surround) that replicates the film's original music when it premiered in 1922. A wide variety of different scores (some orchestral, some using an organ) have been used for the film for its various video incarnations over the years, so it is a great delight to have the original music cues reinstated. The film, which is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full screen), has also been re-tinted to its former glory. The film is also equipped with an optional commentary track by noted Danish silent film historian Casper Tybjerg. The track is informative (giving detailed accounts of the director's career, as well as the peculiar originality of the film itself and how it incorporates many disparate film styles into a cohesive whole), but the track occasionally grows turgid in spots. Overall, the track is worthwhile and Tybjerg's obvious enthusiasm for the film is commendable. Also available on the disc is the 76-minute version of the film called Witchcraft Through the Ages. This version is most notable for its acerbic narration and its sometimes inappropriate jazz soundtrack (featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty). An interesting version (and one useful for comparisons with the original), but an inferior cut of the film nonetheless. The black-and-white image is acceptable, though it does not compare to the beautiful appearance of the longer version. The disc also contains a very brief selection of outtakes, an optional introduction to Haxan by the director himself (taken from the 1941 re-release of the film), an excellent overview of many of the historical sources which Christensen used for the film, a great stills gallery, and useful liner notes. An overall excellent disc for a film which continues to cast a strange cinematic spell upon its viewers even after all these years.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Richard Gilliam
Häxan is a fictional horror film in the form of a documentary, featuring crude black-and-white cinematography, a nonlinear structure, and grotesque imagery. If this reminds you of The Blair Witch Project (1999), it's no coincidence -- the makers of that film named their production company "Haxan" as a tribute to Benjamin Christensen's film. Häxan's inconsistent production values and rough visual motifs enhance its effectiveness, adding a sheen of authenticity to the film's passively voyeuristic approach. Multiple versions exist, including sound releases in the 1940s and 1960s. The latter features narration by Beat generation icon William S. Burroughs, though his interesting commentary is somewhat offset by a distracting and inappropriate modern jazz score. Despite censors' efforts to ban it, Häxan was a persistent influence on 20th century filmmakers, in particular on the works of Val Lewton.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
[Dolby Digital, stereo]
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Special Features

Both versions of the film: Häxan, a new speed-corrected digital transfer of the 104-minute 1922 version, tinted and restored by the Swedish Film Institute and Witchcraft Through the Ages, a 74-minute version from 1968 narrated by William Burroughs with a Jean-Luc Ponty soundtrack; music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by film music historian Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra; audio commentary by Danish silent film scholar Casper Tybjerg; director Benjamin Christensen's introduction to the 1941 re-release; outtakes; Bibliothèque Diabolique, a photographic exploration of Christensen's historical sources; stills gallery; new English translation of the intertitles

Cast & Crew

Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Chapters
1. Chapter 1: Sources [6:13]
2. Hell [1:58]
3. Witches [5:23]
4. Chapter 2: 1488 [8:08]
5. Grave Robbers [3:03]
6. Deeds of the Devil [9:27]
7. Chapter 3: The Trials [3:54]
8. The Evil Eye [6:37]
9. Chapter 4: Torture [6:27]
10. Satan's Sabbath [2:57]
11. Rituals [4:14]
12. Chapter 5: Sinful Thoughts [4:45]
13. Bewitched [2:12]
14. Trickery [6:46]
15. Thunder from Water [3:10]
16. Chapter 6: Techniques [5:56]
17. Sister Cecilia [4:06]
18. The Mad Nuns Dance [1:04]
19. Baby Jesus [:00]
20. Chapter 7: 1921 [1:28]
21. Hysteria [10:46]
22. Color Bars [6:26]
0. Commentary Index
1. An Introduction to Benjamin Christensen
2. Earlier Films
3. Blind Justice and Sing Sing
4. A Fictional Documentary?
5. An Artistic Argument
6. Historical Sources
7. The Witch Trials
8. The Hammer of Witches
9. Special Effects
10. 75 Broomsticks
11. The Cast
12. "Much Nakedness"
13. International Reaction
14. The 1941 Re-release
15. Surreal Episodes
16. No "Plot"
17. An Early Auteur
18. Later Films
19. Later Films Continued
20. Jean-Martin Charcot
21. "Just Once in a Lifetime"
22. Color Bars
0. Score Index
1. Unfinished Symphony, First Movement, Franz Schubert
2. Aladdin Overture, C. F. E. Horneman
3. Florentine Serenade no. 1, Benjamin Godard
4. Tannhäuser Overture, Richard Wagner
5. Stabat Mater (Cujus Animam), Gioachinno Rossini
6. Rosamunde Overture, Franz Schubert
7. "Kol Nidrei," Max Bruch
8. "Danse Macabre," Camille Saint-Saëns
9. Titus Overture, W. A. Mozart
10. Symphony in B Minor (Pathetique) no. 6, op. 74, First Movement, Adagio and Allegro non Troppo, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
11. The Oxford Symphony in G Major, Joseph Haydn
12. Iphigenia in Aulis Overture, Christoph Gluck
13. Iphigenia in Aulis, The Slave Dance, Christoph Gluck
14. Meditation Sur le 1er Prelude de J. S. Bach, "Ave Maria," by Charles Gounod
15. Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig van Beethoven
16. Adagio from Sonate Pathetique, Ludwig van Beethoven
0. Chapters
1. Incantation
2. Mythologies
3. "The stars shine bright..."
4. Love Potion
5. Grave Robbers
6. The Devil's Plaything
7. Witch Trials
8. Torture
9. Satan's Sabbath
10. Sinful Thoughts
11. The Judges' Reaction
12. The Magic Knot of Impotence
13. The Krazy Konvent
14. 1920
15. The Hysteric
16. Coda

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Witchcraft Through the Ages 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Almost every special effect known to man had its birth somewhere in this film, but unlike today, there was also a philosophical underpinning and a great understanding of when man does to man and what men do to women.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unlike other silent horror/fantasy films which are based novels,folklore or original screenplays, this film was made as a documentary about the withcraft mania in western Europe.Costumed renenactments & dramatizations of witch lore, black sabbaths,& witchcraft trials are portrayed based upon medieval paintings, woodcuts, and literature. There are many unforgettable & nightmarish images rendered quite artistically. The Director appears as the Devil himself. Haxan is a fascinating interpretation of the witch phenomenon and is a must see & must have for the serious film scholar, social scientist, or student of the occult.