Movie Review: Haxan

Haxan, the movie where the emphasis is on DARK arts, dark to the point where you can’t see what’s going on.

Before I started the 1001 quest, I had a feeling that I had seen some of it before, especially with the one picture featured in my copy (for those keeping score, it’s the Black Swan hardback). After seeing it, it turns out that I was right.

Told in chapters, this is like a documentary with most parts dramatized. Given the time period as to when this was first viewed, it was quite shocking, especially with some scenes in Chapter IV. But with the print I saw, it came off more as someone trying to touch all the bases but not giving enough attention to each one.

Chapter I presents some information about the beliefs of the time and how life was. Using models and other demonstration aids, the narrator points out certain aspects of the beliefs involved. The way the print looked, I could not see in great detail what he was pointing at, let alone get a reasonable chance to look within the shot’s duration. It ends with “To be continued,” a phrase which will be seen quite often at the end of each chapter.

The best chapter is Chapter IV where we finally see the demons. In terms of make-up, it’s well done for the time period and serves the purpose of making said demons frightening. It is in this chapter that I saw some footage that was used in The S from Hell. Viewed in the original context, I can see why it was used (uncredited, I might add) in the short. I should mention that a baby is used as an ingredient for the demon’s meal.

As to the print’s score, there was a moment of dissonance in terms of mood. As the film showed some dark and serious subject matter, the music provided a cheery, perky accent in contrast to the visuals. That, and my exposure to the music used did not help much as I kept thinking about “Return, My Love” from “What’s Opera Doc?” and the terribly shoehorned and earwormy lyrics from any given Little Einsteins episode.

As to the physical darkness of the film, it turns out that scenes were filmed with as little light as possible. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to at least pick a lighter color for the tints, namely the blue tint.

The narrator/lecturer/whoever even breaks the fourth wall a few times, namely the use of the thumbscrew. The story is a narrative up until the point where he describes the actress trying the thumbscrew, using the term “actress” and then says how the pain was unspeakable before returning to the story. An interesting aside, but it does not carry the dramatized story forward.

For 1922, it’s amazing to see how off-putting content could be depicted. Granted, this had to be toned down considerably for a US release but it’s a chance to realize that some horror conventions are older than we think. I thought it would be an engaging silent film with interesting subject matter, seeing as how Halloween is soon; not so much. If you do choose to see it, stick with the full version at 104 minutes and do some of your own research regarding the film and the subject matter in real life.


1001 MYMSBYD selection


3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Haxan

  1. The original score from the release in 1922 can be a bit off-putting, but there are numerous scores available including one with narration by William Burroughs. That adds some zest to it.
    Technically and budgetwise this was the Avatar of the early twenties and some of the scenes even stand up today. Too bad that the focus of the film is a bit scattered and a bit too impressed with itself.

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