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Remind Me

CRITIC REVIEWS OF "HAXAN"

"For more than half an hour, sadistic orgies are conducted on the screen. Meter after meter, you stare into the tormented mummy-like hag face which glowers right at you in fully shameless closeup until nausea rises dankly in your throat...There is much nakedness in Benjamin Christensen's picture. The screen flashes with white backs and nude silhouettes wander about in a mysterious glow of enchantment. But it is not this nudity which is most offensive about the picture. It is the satanic, perverted cruelty that blazes out of it, the cruelty we all know has stalked the ages like an evil shaggy beast, the chimera of mankind. But when it is captured, let it be locked up in a cell, either in a prison or a madhouse. Do not let it be presented with music by Wagner or Chopin, to a swanky audience in comfortable seats, or to young men and women, who have entered the enchanted world of a movie theatre."
-- Berlingske Tidende, Copenhagen, 1922

"Swedish and Danish pictures easily hold the palm for morbid realism, and in many cases for brilliant acting and production. Witchcraft Through the Ages, made by Benjamin Christensen, leaves all the others beaten. It is in reality a pictorial history of black magic; of witches, of the inquisition, and the thousand and one inhumanities of the superstition-ridden Middle Ages. Many of its scenes are unadulterated horror... Wonderful though this picture is, it is absolutely unfit for public exhibition."
-- Variety, 1923

"The picture may be informative but it is not entertaining, nor was it meant to be. It is another example of the difference in the psychology of the American and European peoples. In the United States, where we have conquered nature by science and invention, we are optimistic, and like our entertainments to be a portrayal of our dream life, a beautiful picture of our fondest imaginings."
-- Hollywood Daily Citizen, 1930

"This film of the supernatural delves into the mechanics of sorcery, revealing the devious machinations of the devil from a steam model of hell to an orgy of Satan's disciples...The picture is, for the most part, fantastically conceived and directed, holding the onlooker in a sort of medieval spell. Most of the characters seem to have stepped from primitive paintings."
-- The New York Times, 1929

"Haxan, first released in 1922, is one of the first - and perhaps only - films of its kind. The unfortunate problem with this is that it makes Haxan difficult to judge. There are almost no comparisons to be made with other films around at the time, and few accepted standards for commenting on a one and half hour high velocity blast of dramatised stories constructed from diary entries and historical reports (with a fair amount of artistic license), interspersed with semi-weighty academic posturing, mechanised montages of old paintings and real-life real-time clips of contemporary living. And that's before considering the content of the film. This includes the publiciser's dream of filmmaker Christensen dancing around in a devil costume (no doubt to get the young witches to kiss him on the ass - the osculum infame - it's what they all did at witches' sabbats), a none-too-implicit accusation that the medieval Church was led by power-obsessed impotent tyrants, torture scenes, floating pieces of silver and psychotic nuns. And not being able to say anything about the film en bloc is what makes Haxan so beguiling and yet so frustrating. Viewed as a simple documentary about the history of witchcraft, it lacks the sweep of vision necessary to do justice to the topic. There's no mention of the Salem witch trials, of alchemy or paganism and no discussion of the role of the witch figure in mythology and fable. Viewed as a work of fiction meant to provoke and entertain, the film has too many scholarly parts to sustain a proper narrative and its multiple surrealist gaffs can become wonderfully unfunny. Haxan could be viewed both as factual documentary and as creative fiction, when really it's neither, or else it's both."
-- Sarah Boyes, Culture Wars (The Institute of Ideas, UK), 2007

"Director Benjamin Christensen apparently intended his film as a serious study of witchcraft (which he diagnoses, in an early pop-Freud conclusion, as female hysteria), but what he really has is a pretense for sadistic pornography. The film has acquired impact with age: instead of seeming quaint, the nude scenes and scatological references now have a crumbly, sinister quality--they seem the survivals of ancient, unhealthy imaginations."
-- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader, 2007

Compiled by Bret Wood

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