|Also, the director.|
As it turns out, pretty weird.
|The pointer indicates details of interest.|
|A diagram of the universe. Gary Gygax would have been proud.|
Satan (played by the director), naked, invades dreams, presides over sabbats full of capering witches and grinning devils; and then he causes demoniac chaos in a convent by whacking a mad nun across the head with an enormous stick, and – sorry, I do realise what I've just written. Yes, it sounds completely ridiculous. Comical, even.
|The Inquisition, gone to spread madness elsewhere.|
|Only a few seconds ago, this was a lark.|
|"Satan is real."|
The diagrams and models at the beginning are a different manner of unsettling. Like the moment when that person with the haggard eyes gets up and locks the door and sits back down again, and you realise you're not going to get out until they've had their say (which I admit, doesn't sound all that traumatic if it's never happened to you. Trust me on this). This director, who literally tortures someone on screen. Who wheels out the old line about eight million people killed for witches during the witch hunting craze.1
|Actually Taweret, loving goddess of fertility and childbirth.|
|The corpse of a child.|
While Benjamin Christensen's actual mental health is a hundred per cent irrelevant, I've never seen a film that so expresses from start to finish what it's like to experience – and, from my own personal perspective, to live with – psychiatric illness. It made me intensely uncomfortable, because it reminded me of conversations with people I have known who have been ill. That whole sequence at the end where Christensen draws comparisons with "modern" delusions feels too close. Too real. The crazed woman's husband was killed in the Great War, and Christensen was making his film in a time when everyone in Europe know someone who'd died in the fighting, and that grounds it. It feels real.
It shouldn't do that. It's four years off its centenary. Silent movies shouldn't do that. They're safe and mannered and distant. They're not pathologies. They're not the delusions of the schizophrenic or the obsessive laid bare for the world to see.
1The whole Burning Times thing, then. Margaret Murray (in 1921, so not all that likely to have been read by Christensen before he'd made Häxan) reckoned it was nine million, and think that's where Gerald Gardner got it from. I tried to find an estimate of how many people were in fact killed for witches from the 13th to 18th centuries, but the only consensus I could find was that there's no way it's even one million, with the highest estimate I saw being 600,000 and the lowest 20,000. 20,000 is still an awful lot of innocent people. (back)
2And that's not even taking into account the cut-down American release from 1968 which has William Burroughs doing the voice over.
Lock them out and bar the door!It brings the strangeness to another level again. (back)
Lock them out forevermore!
Nook and cranny, window, door,
Seal them out forevermore!