haxan 2

I’m glad you already talked about those close-ups, which are so full of pain and anguish. They’re amazing. Häxan also has feels like a cousin to some of the great German silent horror films, but so much of its imagery is stuff that modern culture has packaged and commodified and made safe. Witches flying on broomsticks and witches stirring potions in big cauldrons feel like jokes today, but they’re treated very seriously by Häxan and very seriously by your film. How do you go about making that stuff frightening again?

It was a challenge, but it was fun. It was really fun. Basically, the thing is that [most people] don’t know where that stuff comes from. We don’t know that the witch’s black cat is her familiar, which was like a demon in an animal form who sucked from extra teats on the inside of her labia. We don’t know that that’s what the black cat is about! It was really interesting to find out that kind of stuff.

Because of how we are taught to understand the witch holocaust in Europe and the Salem Witch Trials, it feels like these are superstitious people and people who, for political reasons were killing innocent women. This is very true. But…and I’m not saying that the mass persecution of witches had to do with a male-dominated society’s misunderstanding of female power, because that’s what it is. But it was manifesting itself in this idea that there were these anti-mother ogresses who could steal your children and use their entrails to help them fly on their sticks. So that’s a very scary thing, you know?

It makes for a really cheeky double feature, because Häxan concludes that witchcraft isn’t real that women suffered for no reason, while there is a literal, evil witch in the second scene of The Witch.

[Laughs.] I’m not saying that the witch trials were a good thing or anything like that —

Oh, I know! I’m just saying that they make for a twisted little double feature. 

Cool.

Shall we jump over to Cries and Whispers now?

***

Come back tomorrow for our third and final chapter of this series, where we discuss Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.

The Witch is in theaters February 19.

the witch poster

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