Of Wolf-Men and Witches…


Ready for some super-classic-horror flicks to get you in the mood for All Hallows Eve? Well step right up and enter the dark world of throw-back horror cinema.

First up for the appetizer we have the 1942 classic B horror flick The Mad Monster. In it Dr. Cameron experiments with a serum he has concocted and turns his sweet innocent gardener, Petro, into an evil homicidal wolf-man monster.

From the silent film era through the mid 1940’s the independent film studios were generally grouped together in an area of Hollywood known as “Poverty Row.” Directed by Sam Newfield and starring Johnny Downs, George Zucco, and Anne Nagel The Mad Monster is claimed to be the longest “Poverty Row” film ever made, weighing in at 77 minutes.  Typical of the low budget independents that came out during this period The Mad Monster often gets worked over by the critics. But I personally find it charming and a nice break from what the “Saw Generation” calls horror these days.


Now taking the time machine back even further we enter the silent film era with the main course a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent Häxan (The Witches). Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen (who appears as an awesome Satan in the film for the first time at 25:57) this groundbreaking film was praised in its own countries of origin, but banned in the US (go figure) and faced heavy censorship in other countries.

The film is actually a very early documentary exploring how misunderstandings of mental illness and disease, coupled with a good dose of suspicion and hysteria could eventually lead to something like the European witch hunts. How striving to understand how disease and the body worked could be misinterpreted as the work of witches and the devil. How thinking something was true, believing it with all your heart, makes it in some ways manifest. Part 1 utilizes mostly pictures to tell the history and lay the groundwork for the later parts. Parts 2 to 7 resort mostly to live dramatic scenes to illustrate the story. This curious mixture of educational documentary and lurid dramatizations is sure to stay with you for a very long time.

The mechanical depiction of hell around 7:29 is incredibly striking. The sloppy and boorish man of the cloth suddenly lusting after the lady serving up his meals and chasing her around the table around 19:57 is good for a giggle. At around 31:11 is a super sweet bit of early stop motion action using some coins. Around 32:13 be sure to look for the brief appearance of a wonderful animated (clay animation?) creature. The flying witches scene starting around 50:58 is awesome and unbelievable considering when this was made. Part 4 alone has way too many good scenes to mention. The frolicking nuns in part 6..genius.

Häxan is definitely worth investing your time in watching in its entirety. Careful however, even though the film was made in the 1920’s it pulls no punches. For the same reasons it was censored–scenes involving slight-nudity, implied sex, and torture–you should exercise caution if you have somewhat delicate sensibilities. However, it being certainly mild in its depictions compared to today’s slash and snuff horror films, I think most will be fine with it.

(Oh and I must confess that rather than horrify me, whenever Satan made an entrance I was given to fits of giggles. That tongue action…hilarious!)

Enjoy this cautionary tale (if you can…muuuhahaha)!