Benjamin Christensen presents a series of recreations based on historical accounts of witchcraft throughout the ages. The film is told in a documentary format with a scholarly narration, and is accompanied by stills, etchings, and staged re-enactments of the occult, devil-worship, and witchery. While many of the vignettes are extreme exaggerations of true events, they are portrayed as the realistic social stereotypes associated with the practice of witchcraft from the Middle Ages to the present. The performances are convincing if not a bit theatrical, and they lack the eccentric overacting common to the German Expressionist films of this period. In addition to the incredible Gothic and Expressionist set designs, HAXAN produces haunting images of an array of ghouls and devils, using impressive costuming and make-up work to bring the creatures of the Medieval etchings into a terrifying reality. Scenes where Satan tempts supple young virgins, a coven of witches takes flight over the city, demons dance by firelight, ghouls feast on the blood of babies, and props from the torture chamber are demonstrated on willing participants leave a lasting impression on the audience. Christensen and his crew also experiment with early forms of reverse photography, stop-motion animation, overlays, and numerous other techniques that were decades ahead of their time. Pacing is the greatest fault found mostly in the final third of the film, where comparisons between Satanic possession and modern hysteria fall flat. Few films have painted the occult in such surreal and nightmarish terms, making HAXAN a unique and frightening experience.
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