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Happy 100th Birthday to ‘Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages’

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Released in Sweden on September 18th, 1922, the movie Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is officially a century old.

Broken into seven parts, the film looks at how witchcraft has been viewed over time, starting from the dawn of humanity’s belief in the fantastical, navigating from the pious 1600s to the then-present day 1920s. Despite its light-hearted score and dark humor, this film paints a grim portrait of humanity’s flaws. Rampant with unfounded paranoia, unfair accusations, elder abuse, and objectifying women, the film does not stray from delivering an intelligent take on the lack of common sense which ruled the witch trials of the past. Haxan covers this topic in a way that is still remarkably relevant today.

For the 100th anniversary of this classic film, we’ll look at the competition and controversy that plagued its emergence, along with its references, ratings, and resonating themes that culminated in creating a creepy time capsule.

The History of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, Haxan is part documentary, part fiction. Penned between 1919 and 1921, Christensen drew references from the book Malleus Maleficarum also known as “Hammer of Witches.” This fifteenth-century tome was utilized by German witch hunters.

The film cost approximately two million SEK to make, making it the most expensive silent film in all of Scandinavia. Though, the movie unfortunately never turned a profit.

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Competing Releases

Competition at the time of release was the first hit against Haxan. As discussed by Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers in Realizing The Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible, there was a plethora of films, and horror films specifically, that vied for the public’s eye at the time Haxan was being released, including F.W. Murnau’s classic horror movies Nosferatu and Phantom.

Though competition had marred its release, another force worked against the cinematic masterpiece.

The Haxan Controversy

The film covers various topics that ensured its controversial content was disallowed from becoming a part of the 1920s mainstream. While today the film may seem relatively tame, the depictions of witchcraft, devil worship, torture, butt cheeks galore, and demons feverishly churning butter were not welcome by many of the religiously staunch “powers that be” of the 1920s. The film was heavily censored in some European countries and outright banned in the U.S.

As explained by Baxstrom and Meyers, Haxan coincided with the emerging standard of the 1920s, where art preferred to side with science over religion. The 1920s were a peak time for Modernist writers. These classic creators, such as T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway, were considered nihilists of literature as they created stories that did not follow the typical format and used science and philosophy to express individual thinking, altogether rebuking religion.

Many of these writers were met with political censorship in the United States and chose to create works in places that were more open to these free-thinking secular ideals, such as Paris.

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Given that many were creating works in the same rebellious vein as Haxan and that more institutions were keeping an eye out for these nihilistic writers, Benjamin Christensen’s film came at a time that was simultaneously perfect and wrong.

Although governments worked diligently to stop the film from becoming widespread, Haxan made a lasting impact on audiences worldwide.

Haxan References and Reviews

The film’s excellence can be measured in love it has received and still receives today. When Louis B. Mayerscreened the film, he was quoted as saying, “Is [Christensen] crazy or a genius?” and signed Christensen to a deal with MGM.

Today Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages boasts a 91% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes with an 81% audience score and has received coverage on television series such as Eli Roth’s History of Horror and Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema. Even the company responsible for Blair Witch Project drew inspiration from the classic, aptly titled Haxan Films.

Despite its ability to overcome a beleaguered beginning, today, the movie remains potentially controversial, but for a completely different reason than it was one hundred years ago.

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Hysteria and Historical Mistreatment of Women

Because Christensen created the film with a scientific explanation in mind, the director tried to connect witchcraft accusations to women suffering from a term that was widely used in medical society at the time: hysteria.

In the memorable words of Moira (Frances Conroy) From American Horror Story: Murder House (S1: E8):

“Since the beginning of time, men find excuses to lock women away. They make up diseases like hysteria. Do you know where that word comes from? …The Greek word for uterus. […] It was a hundred years ago, but we’re no better off today.”

The idea of hysteria being an actual medical disorder has been rightfully abandoned since 1980. Though the incorporation of hysteria in Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages is intriguing because it is presented in conjunction with the unjust persecution of women. It fits into the sexist, patriarchal theme that resides within the first six parts of the film, closing on a note that even if they aren’t being subjected to the literal fires of persecution anymore, women still suffer from the ignorance of men.

Women were not the only ones who received mistreatment in history and in the movie. Neither age nor appearance, nor gender, could keep one safe from the dreadful actions of mankind.

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Creating a Creepy Time Capsule

Though compared with today’s standards of realistic violence, CGI monsters, and jump scares, Haxan is basically a movie for children; this comparably tame film has several unsettling qualities that make it genuinely frightening.

Watching a movie about the past, which is now an artifact of a century passed, gives an eerie feeling independent of the subject matter presented. When viewed this way, combined with ancient depictions of evil and the cold disposition of man, the film is disturbing in a way that sinks into your bones.

Though the movie is comprised of scenes created by production crews and acted out by performers, the inspiration behind these scenes is palpably apparent. Running constantly in the foreground of the film is the historical basis. Real people died due to these grave, ignorant injustices. That alone can create a haunting impact on anyone who views the film.

To add to the already aberrant creepiness, Haxan’s age all but guarantees that every single person involved in the making of it is now long since deceased, as they live on as ghosts flickering on the screen.

(That is unless the immortal Lisle Von Rhuman from Death Becomes Her and her magical potion of eternal youth is real. In which case, these actors could be hanging out in a mansion in Hollywood Hills, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Haxan).

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Although it was created generations ago, the black and white silent film is still just as captivating and resonating today. It was not always received well, yet it continues to receive high ratings, despite its potentially problematic conclusion and beleaguered early development. The clever commentary the film makes, and its no-holds approach to depicting historical injustices and dark subject matter while maintaining a light and humorous tone is impressive in its duality. It has culminated into a creepy classic that has withstood time. Happy 100th Birthday, Haxan!

Watch it now on HBO Max.

A writer by both passion and profession: Tiffany Taylor is a mother of three with a lifelong interest in all things strange or mysterious. Her love for the written word blossomed from her love of horror at a young age because scary stories played an integral role in her childhood. Today, when she isn’t reading, writing, or watching scary movies, Tiffany enjoys cooking, stargazing, and listening to music.

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Editorials

Black Witches Exist.

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If you ask any Black woman horror fan who their favorite Black witch is, I’d bet all the money I don’t have, that most—if not all—of them would say Rachel True’s Rochelle in The Craft. And what’s not to love about Rochelle? She’s delightfully weird, supportive of her friends, and perseveres in the face of racism much like we do in similar predominately white spaces.

But The Craft is 26 years old. Even though we were blessed with a reboot in 2020, I expected the beloved cult classic to produce more Black Witches to bring into our Coven of Black Girl Magic.

Hell, I don’t even think the two Black actresses that portrayed Angelina Johnson in the Harry Potter movie franchise ever had any lines. And while the Broadway production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child made history by casting Black actresses to play Hermione, I do take issue with a beloved (and Black-coded) character being depicted as a cruel time-warp-multiverse version. (I’m sorry, but I came here to fight and tell you there is NO universe in which the only character committed to emancipating the magical slaves/house elves would ever turn out to be a cruel professor in her worst subject!)

Even most of the magical Black characters I’ve tried to include in this piece actually practiced Hoodoo or Voodoo.  There’s been a dearth of Black witches on the silver screen and in the horror genre, and it leaves me wanting more. White witches have depth and complexity to them. They can be good or evil, sensual and alluring, motherly, or even cycle through all of the above. Black witches are either nonexistent, relegated to a mammy role to aid a white protagonist, or their witchcraft is conflated with Hoodoo or Voodoo.

Voodoo is actually an organized religion with deep ties to African culture and American slave practices. Hoodoo is considered to be a folk magic that is also connected to the African Diaspora. Hoodoo is more similar to how witchcraft is depicted and is known for spells connected to practical needs, like love and money. Both Hoodoo and Voodoo are incredibly nuanced and highly regarded practices in Black culture, but in less diverse production spaces, depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo from a colonizer’s gaze can be, well, racist and reductive.

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One could argue that Black witches have representation through depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo on the silver screen, my favorite being the beautiful southern gothic film Eve’s Bayou. But overall, we deserve to see more expansive and nuanced Black Girl Magic on screen.

So here I am wondering, where are all the Black witches?

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WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF CHUCKY: Chucky Season 2 Full Trailer Breakdown, Theories & Predictions

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Forget the Season of the Witch. It’s the Season of the Dolls again.

I mean it might as well be, September is the new October, which means Halloween is basically tomorrow. And with the arrival of the spooky season comes the second season of SYFY’s instant hit and continuation of the Child’s Play series, Chucky. Since it’s returning on October 5th, this is pretty much all I’m going to be talking about for a few months, so why don’t we speculate on the incoming eight episodes of bombshells Don Mancini will be hitting us with soon?

BLOODY REUNIONS

The teaser trailer that premiered at San Diego Comic Con and the full trailer above that just recently dropped all but confirms this leaked list of episode titles that has been floating around, given they’re laden with religious references we’ll cover soon. The titles give a rough idea of what might happen with the Chucky and Tiffany dolls back on the saddle.

While the episode “Doll on Doll” could be about the myriad of Chucky dolls running around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an episode focused on Doll Tiffany going up against Chucky. Since the schism between Team Ray and Team Valentine from season 1’s gnarly decapitation, Tiffany’s plastic iteration would probably find herself in conflict with her old lover after kidnapping Nica and cutting herself out of their deranged master plan to attack all of America.

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Temporarily, at least. Given their torrid romantic history and Tiffany’s obsession with starting and preserving a family, it’d be on brand that the episode “Goin’ To The Chapel” may just involve them renewing their vows, with the Bride and groom reuniting to cause terror once more.

SAINTS, SINNERS, AND SILICON

So, what about location then? Well, with all we’ve seen of Jake, Devon, & Lexy’s matching school uniforms, the episode titles, and all the religious décor/symbology all over the place, it’s safe to say the series is finally taking the leap and sending Chucky into outer space.

…Jokes people. I’ll be here all week.

The latest trailer tells us the school is called Incarnate Lord (Academy?) and seems to be a Catholic boarding school for reforming disturbed youth. This is likely an homage to Childs Play 3 but riffing on the humor of private schools rather than military academies. Mancini may have been inspired to use this location because he also went to a Christian prep school when he was younger, a lesser-known detail mentioned in an interview with Dread Central.

With legal custody of Jake & Devon up in the air following their respective parents perishing, and their dubious involvement in dozens of people dying a year prior, it looks like the trio is being sent to an institution by the state– possibly at the behest of Mayor Cross, Lexi’s mother, instead of seeing the kids jailed. Given the chaos caused by Chucky in the season finale, it’s fair that she’d send the boys and her distraught daughter to a boarding school for their protection, hoping to distance them from the massacre. On the topic of troubled daughters…

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PUTTING LEXY THROUGH THE RINGER

Maybe stating the obvious here, but Lexy is going through it this season, even more so than last. One of the shots in the teaser trailer heavily implies she’s doing drugs to cope with the stress and trauma of Chucky’s massacre. But I think there might be even more reason she’s down and out.

We saw younger sister Caroline opening the door for Chucky in the teaser, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chucky’s first act of retribution against the Hackensack gang would be taking her out, or at least attempting to. It would also make sense to get them out of town as an inciting incident if the one-year time skip they mention means something has to break the relative peace in Hackensack.

For anybody skeptical about this, given it’s a very dark train of thought, remember that one of the series protagonists, Nica Pierce, had all her limbs cut off in the Season 1 finale and is currently being wheeled around by Tiffany. A tonal shift seems like just the thing Mancini might have hinted at with Nica’s cruel entrapment.

…Bummer. How about a joke to lighten the mood?

HOW DO NONBINARY SLASHERS OFF SOMEONE?

They/Them! And the they & them slashing in question would be the doll in two persons, Glen & Glenda, who is back after a long absence in the series (and seems delighted at the updates in their mother’s love-life/murder sprees). Hopefully, I will finally get a serious answer to my question of whether G&G have an explosives dealer! It seems doubly likely now that we see Chucky using a (stolen?) chemical explosive in the final shots of the full trailer…

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Portrayed in a double role by Lachlan Watson, former Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star, these two are more likely than not going to be blending into the school as delinquents and aiding one or more of the Chucky dolls in their rampage. But I think that one of the two could also be a new protagonist in the making.

Though the plot point fell by the wayside for doll martial arts in Seed of Chucky, it was clear that a part of Glen/da has a distaste for killing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two halves of Glen/da ended up feuding and making enemies out of each other. One of the big themes of Chucky as a rare coming-of-age horror is that you’ve sometimes got to reject the roles placed onto you by your parents, so it’d track if Tiffany’s twin terrors end up against themselves.

Suppose one half doesn’t become wholly good, however. In that case, there’s the distinct possibility they might end up taking sides with their respective favored parents and getting dragged into a messy “divorce” and the couple’s endless doll wars. Speaking of people who got dragged into that war,

REST IN PEACE, KYLE…

But not really. At least, I don’t think so. Even though Andy screams “This is for Kyle!” while presumably facing off with an unseen Tiffany or Chucky in the trailer, she seemingly survived the bomb blast from “An Affair to Dismember” and was hinted to be watching over the kids, the final shot of the first season being her hand gripping a tree with the black leather gloves gifted to her by Andy at the gas station.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. With Christine Elise confirmed to be back for an unspecified number of episodes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle is another dormant victim of possession like Nica, and that Tiffany may have done another soul split bamboozle. Not only would it give Tiffany a leg up against Andy & Chucky, but it would also mean that the kids would have to deal with their former protector turning heel.

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Regardless of how many of these darts land on the bullseye, I’m unflinchingly hyped for Season 2 of Chucky. Until then, I ask the question: do you have any pet theories you’ve been sitting on? Tell us on Twitter & comment down below, and as always, stay tuned for more horrifying content from Horror Press.

Chucky season 2 will premiere on USA and Syfy on October 5th.

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