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Thursday, October 19, 2006


Directed by Benjamin Christensen

This is the kind of history lesson that would've made college more interesting. The movie starts off in a purely educational vein with a twelve minute slideshow of various representations of witches and demons from ancient art to medieval woodcuts accompanied by commentary. The skeptical tone of this commentary leads the viewer to believe that they are in store for a scientific debunking of superstitions regarding sorcery but what emerges instead is true cinematic black magic with director Benjamin Christensen bringing to life the strange old depictions of the supernatural used in his recurring slideshows. The 15th Century skits are given a heightened sense of realism by the sheer ugliness of the actors and no one with a phobia of bad teeth should watch this movie. For those of you who aren't particularly bothered by that sort of thing, a treasure of silent cinema awaits. We have grave robbing, evil witches making brews with severed hands and toads, re-enactments of Inquisition trials and torture (including a helpful section explaining torture devices using the old slideshow routine), broomstick flights over a medieval town, scenes from a witches sabbath that include witches kissing the devil on the ass, sacrificing babies and dancing on a crucifix, and a convent full of lunatic nuns letting loose all of their repressed energies and blaming it on Satan. One of the images that still rattles in my brainpan shows a woman getting her naked back rubbed down with an ointment while straddling a broom as the draped skeleton of a horse meanders by. This esteemed effort officially and forevermore attained cult status when re-released in 1966 with William S. Burroughs providing a voice-over in his wonderful junky drawl.


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