Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Equal parts horror movie, documentary, and exploitation film, Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan is a one-of-a-kind endeavor. The 1922 exploration of the history of witchcraft was banned and censored in multiple countries for its lurid depictions of the occult, but does this landmark in the cinema of the fantastic still hold the power to shock-and-awe the 21st century viewer? Grab your scorecards and let’s find out!
  • Naming the sources for your film in your theatrical program is a big help to those of us streaming this on the internet nearly a century later. = -1pt 
  • Pretty sure some of these examples of “evil spirits” in pre-Christian times, are actually those peoples’ gods. =-6pts 
  • Gangly demon appears to be taking a dump on a vain woman’s floor. = +4pts 
  • Not sure if the woman in that last illustration was being harassed by a devil, or just a grabby old drifter. Either way, = +2pts 
  • I think whoever designed the moving models of the medieval cosmos is the real star of this show. = +10pts 
  • Never mind, it’s actually whoever is handling that pointing stick. = +13pts 
  • OH, MY GOD! Where can we get our own “strange, old mechanical representation of hell?” = +30pts (It’s like an ancient, mechanized Terry Gilliam cartoon!) 
  • Image of woman milking an axe handle. =+8pts 
  • Image of witches’ council looks pretty innocuous. Are you sure that’s not just three women sitting down for a medieval brunch? = -2pts 
  • Calling our attention to the fact that the person lying sick in bed is naked because that was the custom of the day. = +4pts 
  • Ceremonial banquet at Witches’ Sabbath looks surprisingly urbane. Remember to tip your demon waiter 20%. = +2pts 
  • Man, that lady in front looks really eager to show the devil respect by kissing his ass. The next guy in line, not so much. = +13pts 
  • The random little person that shows up during the first reenactment. = +3pts 
  • It’s a well-known fact that cat-feces-and-dove-heart potions have been used as aphrodisiacs for thousands of years. = +4pts 
  • That pious man of the church the woman wants to seduce with a love potion needs to lay off the roast mutton. = +2pts 
  • Table manners clearly not a big part of monastic preparation. = -5pts 
  • It would be another 40-some years before Black Sabbath would put out their first album, but that devil is metal as fuck (even when playing peekaboo with a studying monk). = +80pts 
  • Beckoning a naked sleepwalker into the woods and then disappearing before she gets there. Dick move, demon. = -6pts 
  • Dirtbag Satan knocking at the window shutter for the young witch to come and service him is my favorite incarnation of the Prince of Darkness so far. = +27pts 
  • “Is it due to your eternal fear of the pyre that you get drunk night after night, you poor old woman of the middle ages?” Feeling a lot of judgment here, all of a sudden, movie. = -3pts 
  • Satan vigorously jerking off a butter-churn. = +15pts 
  • Aging witch Apelone’s “secret wish” is apparently to be pelted with metal coins while she’s passed out drunk. = +2pts 
  • The Devil has only one facial expression, and it’s “puke face.” = +6pts 
  • All the meats at the Devil’s banquet come with a serving sword. = +4pts 
  • Are we not going to address the stop-motion bird-goat thing with boobs that just clawed through that door? = -8pts 
  • Demons enjoying a friendly game of ring-around-the-rosie with some of their favorite souls of the damned. = +3pts 
  • So, if that guy prays to Saturn and uses molten lead to help him divine whether a dead man was a victim of witchcraft, wouldn’t that make HIM a witch? = -9pts 
  • If the filmmakers got one thing right about the middle ages, it’s the teeth. = +4pts 
  • Beggar woman shows up at home of dead man and requests food from his wife. The old woman’s lack of table manners seems to be the only evidence of her witchcraft. = -1pts 
  • By the way, apparently this woman nourishes herself by rubbing food all over her face. = +2pts 
  • Getting one rough-looking old lady to play the unjustly accused beggar woman. = +10pts 
  • Monks going all Hostel on this old lady. = -18pts 
  • Old beggar woman confesses under torture to giving birth to giant, spike-covered monster babies. It’s like a clown car in her uterus. = +14pts 
  • The origin of “witch ointment:” A medieval man stumbles upon a woman giving another woman a sensual massage and decides that it’s witchcraft = -2pts 
  • Say what you will, the Prince of Darkness knows how to throw a picnic. = +6pts 
  • He also plays a mean trombone. = +11pts 
  • Demonic Jack Black provides a funky drum beat for the flagellation of an underperforming witch. = +10pts 
  • If taking a piss in a bowl and throwing it on your neighbor’s front door is a magic spell, then call us a coven of warlocks. = +17pts 
  • Old beggar lady takes the opportunity to roll over on everyone whose wronged her in her 80 (although, being that this is set in the middle ages, probably more like 30) years on the earth. = +8pts 
  • Okay, hold on Benjamin Christensen, we have to call bullshit on your portrait of the witch trials as a traveling plague of ecclesiastical judges. While the medieval Catholic church makes a convenient target for vilification, scholars generally agree that the most intense period of witch hunting took place during the early modern era, and was overseen primarily by secular authorities. In fact, the central text that you based your film on, the Malleus Maleficarum, was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church just a few years after it was written, so it’s not really a reliable source for the Inquisition’s standard operating procedure. Sorry, we got pretty serious there for a minute. Um… penisfart. =-100pts 
  • A helpful tour of antiquated torture devices. = +9pts 
  • An awfully light-hearted musical selection accompanying the physical and psychological torment of an innocent woman. = -16pts 
  • Your “8 million burned” is more like 200,000, tops (which is, admittedly, still a hell of a lot). In 1922 = +25pts. In 2013 = - 50pts. Total score = -25pts 
  • Scene depicting the aftermath of a church desecration by witches in cat form looks more like the wrap-up of a furry convention. = -7pts 
  • Satan goes Looney Toons on a nun. = +11pts 
  • Soon, the rest of the convent becomes possessed…with disco fever! =+14pts 
  • In the olden days, we would burn old women at the stake as witches. Now we put them in nursing homes. Who really had the right idea on this one? = -3pts 
  • Expressing incredulity that a person living in the 20th century could still believe in demonic forces. = -13pts 
  • Offering the enlightened viewpoint that women accused of witchcraft were most likely suffering from some form of mental illness. = +20pts 
  • Bundling somnambulism, pyromania, nerve damage, and kleptomania under one big umbrella diagnosis “hysteria.” = -40pts 
  • Instead of getting nocturnal calls from Satan, today’s mentally ill are visited by some guy who looks kind of like Woodrow Wilson. = +6pts 
  • “Hello, ma’am. I’m Woodrow Wilson, and I’m here to bone you.” = +10pts 
  • We kind of get what you’re trying to say about the psychological advances of the ‘20s not being that far superior to those of medieval man, but we’d take a temperate shower over burning at the stake any day. = -13pts 
  • The Danish word for “End” is “Slut.” = +5pts
Total Score: = +161pts
Viewed On: Hulu’s limited-time Criterion Collection stream

In a perfect world, this film would have ended with a final score of 666 points. As it stands, it’s faired respectably well. There’s a weird dual mentality at play here, as though Christensen were telling the audience, “Here’s a bunch of backwards, superstitious stuff that ignorant peasants used to believe, and LOOK HOW FUCKING COOL IT IS!” While the films’ attitudes towards psychology and the Middle Ages definitely show their age, Haxan’s stunning visual inventiveness make it a film well worth watching, especially with your scorecard.

Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling

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