"Hide witch, hide - the good folk come to burn thee. Their keen enjoyment hid behind a gothic mask of duty."
Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen's 1922 silent documentary, Häxan is the kind of movie that probably works best watched late in the evening while the viewer is under the influence of some kind of illicit drug - or very strong alcoholic beverage.
Presented as a serious look at the ancient belief in demons and witches, and the subsequent hysteria that ensued resulting in the deaths of thousands of (mostly) females during the middle ages by pious church leaders, Häxan depicts a nightmarish world populated by hideous daemons, and equally hideous priests, monks and judges; all with one goal in common: the denigration of women. To be sure, we witness Satan beckoning sleeping maidens from their beds, or tormenting nuns with heretical commands - while on the other hand we witness mean spirited witch hunters who seemingly take delight in the torture and execution of women accused of the black arts.
Filled with archaic wood cuts and statuary to illustrate the narrative (eagle eyed viewers will note, very early in the proceedings, a drawing of The Exorcist's own, Pazuzu) and then dramatizations, Häxan seduces the viewer with its imagery. The vignettes are hypnotic, disturbing, and deeply, darkly gorgeous - whether we are watching witches standing over a cauldron making potions, or spectral boogey men attempting to seduce a naked woman, everything works perfectly.
What is most fascinating is how Christensen wraps up his film by explaining away the devil-madness of the past and equating it to the recent (recent for 1922) epidemic of "nervous hysteria" in women. While his heart was probably in the right place, it all comes off rather condescending ... but that's a very small complaint. All in all, Häxan is a gem of a find, and if you have not seen this one, then by all means, seek it out ... and if you have some stash laying around from that Black Sabbath concert you went to back in 1974, well, roll up a fat one, sit back, and prepare to have your mind blown !