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Cult Vault #30: Guy Maddin on Haxan

Canadian director Guy Maddin chooses an experimental documentary exploring the darker world

Taken from the October 2012 issue of Dazed & Confused:

Guy Maddin’s shadowy, phantasmagoric films draw on silent-era moviemaking and usually look like they’ve been shot in a snow globe. From the surreal psychodrama Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) to 2003’s The Saddest Music in the World, which starred Isabella Rossellini as a beer baroness with glass legs, his films form a mini-genre of their own, one characterised by woozy dream logic and violent melodrama. This year’s Keyhole reunites the Canadian director with Rossellini for a “gangster ghost movie” that depicts the history of a single house and all the lingering memories sunk into its walls. For Dazed’s Cult Vault Maddin selects Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922), an experimental documentary investigating graverobbing, possessed nuns and satanic Sabbaths. 

“Häxan is a strange little silent history of witchcraft out of Denmark, fashioned in the Intolerance (dir. DW Griffith, 1916) shape and featuring incredibly chiaroscuroed mise-enscène and plenty of pornish coven action. Being evil never looked so sumptuous. I like the alternate version, Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968), narrated by William Burroughs – his voice seems to have been created to discuss any matters supernatural. You can’t tell for sure how much he believes in it, yet he still manages to be equal parts hilarious and menacing.”