Blu-ray Review: Häxan | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 7th, 2020  


Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jan 08, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Benjamin Christensen's 1922 silent film Häxan, more than most of its era, still has the ability to shock and surprise audiences with its craft, visual adventurousness, and remarkable depictions of witchcraft and devilry. It's a formal anomaly for its time, all but inventing both the visual language of horror and the structural basis for essay films (how many films, really, can claim to cast a shadow over the work of both Clive Barker and Chantal Akerman)? It's hard to watch the film without the scope of its influence coming to mind.

Of course, it wasn't influential for nothing; Häxan is a remarkable film isolated from its impact. In its exploration of witchcraft and Satanic rituals, it is a spooky visual marvel, a slapstick comedy, and an educational documentary all rolled into one. If its pace feels a bit phlegmatic at times, its transfixing inventiveness makes up for any demands on one's patience.

The biggest joy of this particular set, aside from the exquisite restoration, is the inclusion of Witchcraft Through The Ages, a 1968 recut of the film. This version replaces the standard silent film intertitles with narration by William S. Burroughs, and the original classical soundtrack with a jazz score composed by Daniel Humair, featuring Jean-Luc Ponty on violin. Without losing either its visual splendor or essential information — Burroughs hems pretty close to the original text — this version of the film trims a full 45 minutes off the runtime. There are surely purists who will think me a charlatan here, but I personally prefer this version to the original cut. Having Burroughs' strident southern grumble lecture us about witches "kissing Satan's ass" is a stroke of timeless genius. Nonetheless, it's important to have both options, and Criterion (as is their way) offer all this or more on this stuffed edition. There are the usual ample notes and essays, commentary by scholars, the works.

Häxan is quietly pervasive in its reach; every year, countless hipsters sneak it on as a backdrop to their Halloween parties, musicians clamor to reimagine the score, and film students make obvious paeans to their newly discovered "like, best silent fim ever". As with the early work of likely Häxan disciple Alejandro Jodorowsky, the film is most exciting when it's discovered either by accident or word of mouth. In one sense, then, it's a shame that such a beautiful edition of it exists, since it makes it less of an open secret. In every other sense, though, that's dumb as hell; this is a blu-ray every serious cinephile should have.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.