My first meeting with this amazing piece of film history was at a screening at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo at the All Ears festival in 2003. The screening was accompanied by live improvised music by some of Norways most interesting experimental musicians at the time. Needless to say, this was a cinematic experience outside of the ordinary.
But the film holds up very well on it’s own as well. I have seen it numerous times since this first meeting with the film.
It is an early attempt at what we today would call a documentary. Beginning with plaques, illustrations and tableaus depicting what it claims is a medieval world view, and easing it’s way into superstition around witches and witchcraft. This part is charming enough, but the real gold comes when it flips into staged scenes where actors play out the witches workshop, the witch sabbath (complete with the devil played by the director Benjamin Christensen himself), and of course a tentative witch trial.
The reenacted scenes are surprisingly well done. Not only is the staged setup elaborate and well done, but the performances of the actors are well beyond what is common for films of the time. The version I have from the Criterion Collection is also beautifully tinted in brownish red or blue depending on the scenes atmosphere.
As a documentary it may not have much value today, if it ever had, but as a quaint and entertaining piece of early film history Häxan is gold. Definitely worth watching!