At some point in your life as a horror fan, you’ll start to hunt down some of the odder, more obscure genre offerings. I recall stopping at a friend’s apartment once during the Halloween season and catching my first glimpses of HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES, the 1922 semi-documentary/horror/fantasy flick helmed by Benjamin Christensen. What blew my mind initially from seeing fragments of it was the fact that here is a silent film from the early days of cinema that featured a devil and witches and some of the most nightmare-inducing images I’d ever seen on film. And I’ve seen a lot of horror movies before, but this… this was truly the stuff to cause sleepless nights!
HAXAN was a fictionalized documentary illustrating the evolution of witchcraft through the ages, while also showcasing the mass hysteria it caused through elaborate dramatized segments. The imagery itself is mesmerizing, in particular the depiction of the devil as played by the director himself, Benjamin Christensen! But there really is some bizarre stuff thrown at you, including witches formulating love portions for those they desire, various depictions of torture and one scene where people line up to kiss the devil’s butt, literally! You can read Bekah’s more extensive take on the movie itself, but I wanted to tell you about this special, unique event that just transpired at the Cinefamily here in Los Angeles.
HAXAN has been issued on DVD by Criterion in the past. That disc sports a few versions of the film. There’s a condensed 76 minute version narrated by famed author William S. Burroughs, featuring a soundtrack by Jean-Luc Ponty. There’s also a restoration of the 87 minute version with music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by film music specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra. For this special screening as part of the Cinefamily’s month-long “All Of Them Witches” programming, the longer cut of HAXAN was presented with a live score being performed by the musical artist known as WHITE MAGIC, consisting of Mira Bilotte with special guests Nora Keyes, Jimi Cabeza de Vaca & Carisa Bianca Mellad.
But first came an introduction from THE SOURCE FAMILY director Jodi Wille, who went on to explain the long and torrid history of the movie, including the fact that 8,000 Catholic women protested it outside of a single theater in France upon its release, and UK reviewers demanded that theaters “take it off the screen immediately!”
Then came the film itself, complete with a live score by WHITE MAGIC.
Once the lights went down and the ambient sounds and vocals began, I was immediately teleported to the bizarre, surreal cinematic terrain that the movie was set in. I’m not sure which version of the score they were performing – it either was a reinterpretation of the Danish score, or more than likely, their own original take. All I know is that I kept getting lost in the combination of their eerie sounds as it matched the visuals flickering on the big screen. I’ve been to various movies with live scores before, but this one truly felt a bit unsettling and “off,” which only made the movie all the more creepy.
Before and after the presentation, out back there was an art exhibit of “witch” themed movie posters, paintings, collectibles and books. I myself scored a pre-comic code graphic novel titled WITCHCRAFT: TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL. (Stay tuned for more on that at a later date!) Here’s a quick video snippet of what it looked like:
And if you’re bummed that you missed out on this unique experience, fret not! If you’re in the Los Angeles area, there will be an encore performance of HAXAN with live score by WHITE MAGIC on Tuesday, June 7th at 7:30PM. You can obtain tickets right here. Definitely worth checking out.
*All photographs by: Nathalie David