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Häxan / Witchcraft Through the Ages: The Criterion Collection

Officially banned outside of Sweden for decades due to graphic imagery and an unabashed anti-clerical theme, Häxan (1922) has grown into a cinema curio one hears about but rarely gets a chance to actually see. Is it true that it displays witches cavorting naked with lusty devils? Is a baby really drained of blood before it's tossed into a stew pot? What's this about women lining up to kiss Satan's bulbous ass? And is there really a version narrated by Beat generation writer and hipster icon William S. Burroughs, complete with acid jazz soundtrack? It's all true. Häxan (pron. "hexen," meaning "witches") was long available only in rare, diminished forms, the most well known being a 1968 re-edit given the title Witchcraft Through the Ages. That edit, also included here, sports the add-on Burroughs' narration and an anarchic musical score by Jean-Luc Ponty.

Criterion offers a strikingly beautiful print of the fully restored and re-tinted Häxan and again pairs it with the Burroughs version. Häxan is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with audio in Dolby Digital 5.0 or DD 2.0. On board is a scene-specific audio commentary by Danish silent film scholar Casper Tybjerg; an eight-minute Director's Introduction made for the 1941 re-release; Bibliothèque Diablolique, an annotated click-through tour of centuries-old woodcuts, church wall paintings, and other illustrations found in the film; a click-through stills gallery; a look at the restored score; a four-and-a-half minute collection of outtakes; and an additional booklet with liner notes. The shorter Witchcraft Through the Ages is here with a lesser print and DD 1.0 audio. Keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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