30 For 31: “HÄXAN”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Samuel Zimmerman
The Season of the Witch is upon us, ye ole FANGORIA Readers! To many, Halloween means candy, costumes and creepshows of all sorts. But to the staff at FANGORIA, Halloween can mean something more entirely. Therefore, we present 30 FOR 31, in which FANGORIA recounts the cinema that most strongly represents what Halloween means to us.
My mother is a witch. I don’t care to elaborate on that statement more than say it’s likely directly the cause of my endearment and fascination with all things occult, mystic, pagan and folkloric. But I am of many minds, one which recognizes and admires those who contemporarily identify as witches, more often than not sweet-natured and overwhelmingly positive individuals; one which recognizes the demonization of witches both in historical tragedy, and fiction and myth, yet still adores said fiction and myth; one which, even when witches are clearly the antagonists of such fiction, appreciates the agency and authority with which these (mostly) women go about their business.
I’m inclined to believe Danish director Benjamin Christensen (1879-1959) felt much the same, thanks to his immortal silent HÄXAN. The audacious, subjective “doc,” states early on that a belief in witchcraft and the like is naïve, only to go entirely insane with alive, wicked and, to this day, some of the most inspired depictions of past sorcerous misdeed. At the same time, it somberly acknowledges the crimes perpetrated on those accused of witchcraft and attempts to link witchery and demonic possession to the then popular (and similarly accusatory) notion of hysterics. It’s a contradictory, metatextual affair—Christensen addresses behind the scenes discussions with actors that tie to witch confessions—that wants to state its case, but mostly have its fun.
With stunning, shadowy and painterly presentation of black magick ritual, HÄXAN—like Halloween—revels in the folkloric and superstitious. Its silent nature and concentration on visual construct often renders it pure cinema that’s—again, like Halloween—captivating and mischievous and timeless.