The trouble with classic silent movies is that they can be a bit of a schlep. If you’re not down to read title cards and accept nearly 100-year-old conceptions of cinematic pacing, silent film may not feel like leisurely entertainment. This is why when I suggest folks watch the 1922 Swedish/Danish documentary, Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, I strongly recommend they go for the 1968 William S. Burroughs-narrated version.
For one, the Criterion Collection version is 104 minutes long to the ‘68 version’s 77 minutes, cutting out some “fluff.” Bigger doesn’t always mean better, film buffs! Second, you get Burroughs’ genuinely spooky-as-hell voice perfectly setting the mood. Third, the new soundtrack is absolutely amazing! We’re talking weirdo jazz and early groovy synth work. I like a little camp in my horror, but it in no way relegates this classic to kitsch.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages was the most expensive Swedish film ever made at the time, and the movie itself is absolutely beautiful. The high production values are apparent in the elaborate scenery, costumes and props. While the film itself is nominally a documentary chronicling the hysteria surrounding the occult in Europe (primarily during the Middle Ages), most of the actual footage is reenactment of these superstitious delusions. We’re talking satanic masses, sex with the devil, broom rides, and all kinds of black magic.
Based largely on the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th century German guide to witch and demon identification, director Benjamin Christensen makes it perfectly clear that the mass delusion of witchcraft was the true horror, and the inquisitors the real monsters. My favorite part is the depiction of witches cursing the clergy with lust; isn’t that convenient? That way, anytime a priest couldn’t keep it in his pants, he could blame a woman for seducing/bewitching him! I guess some things never change!
It was producer Brian Butler who suggested doing a piece on these comically feuding “Satanists,” some whimsical characters he found on the Internet. They called themselves “The Syndicate of the Five Points,” a reference both to the pentagram and also that they were five Satanic covens who were joining their membership together. Each component part of the Syndicate was a “cult” consisting of a “leader” and no followers.
Initially these would-be cult leaders were all friendly towards each other and would meet and hang out and bullshit about the Dark One, evil and stuff, at shopping mall food courts and so forth, but wouldn’t you know it, one of them had to go off and marry his Christian girlfriend (on Richard Simmons’ Dream-maker TV show, no less!). Then there was “The Cartoon” that tore them apart.
I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll just have to watch it. The less said beforehand, the better.
One thing I will mention is that if you watched one of the earlier clips I’ve posted here, Brice Taylor: Mind Controlled Sex Slave of the CIA, Bob Hope and Henry Kissinger, you’ll already be familiar with the late Ted Gunderson, who was a special agent of the FBI in Southern California and at one time had about 700 agents under him. That’s actually true. How a complete idiot like Gunderson—an amusing, total nut-job of the conspiracy theory set who believed any darn thing he was told—ever got in a position of power like that is a question I’ve mused about elsewhere. From the time between his earlier on-camera interview in the Brice Taylor piece and when this one was shot a month or two later, the number of “practicing Satanists” in America had dropped by one million. Remarkable, don’t you think, unless of course, Ted was just making this shit up off the top of his head, which was exactly what he was doing.
It’s also why we brought him into the piece as we couldn’t figure out how to make it work with just the Satanists alone—they were too boring, funny but not really funny enough—and we knew he’d be good value as their onscreen nemesis. Gunderson’s ridiculous paranoia elevated the piece to an entirely different, weirder place. How could we have done this without him? The man was was a genius of unintentional idiocy, a real-life Fred Willard character with a strong opinion on everything. Comedic gold for a show like mine.
Incidentally, Ted Gunderson is not the only one of this crew who is dead. “Spook,” the guy who claims to have strangled a dog, is burning somewhere in Hell. No great loss there, I’m sure most of you will agree.
I’m not quite sure what happened to Magister Nalls, but I have heard that he’s not really a Satanist anymore. The dude who calls himself “Desecration” was, I believe, the limo driver of former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan (who obviously surrounded himself with the finest security experts that money could buy if this “evil” wackadoodle passed the fuckin’ background check!).
Yet another segment from my UK TV series of 2000-2001, Disinformation. Produced by Brian Butler. Shot by Nimrod Erez. Edited by Nimrod Erez and Doug Stone. Music by Adam Peters and Brian Butler.
Thank God for Satan, as more than 60 Catholic clergy (66 perhaps?) gather in Rome for a 6-day (another 6!) conference on “Exorcism”, this week, at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Rome. The event will examine how the web has made it easier than before to access information on Devil-worship and the occult, reports the Daily Telegraph:
“The internet makes it much easier than in the past to find information about Satanism,” said Carlo Climati, a member of the university who specialises in the dangers posed to young people by Satanism.
“In just a few minutes you can contact Satanist groups and research occultism. The conference is not about how to become an exorcist. It’s to share information about exorcism, Satanism and sects. It’s to give help to families and priests. There is a particular risk for young people who are in difficulties or who are emotionally fragile,” said Mr Climati.
Organizers of the event say the rise of Satanism has been dangerously underestimated in recent years.
“There’s been a revival,” said Gabriele Nanni, a former exorcist and another speaker at the course.
Over the course of 6-days, the exorcists will scrutinise the phenomenon of Satanism with “seriousness and scientific rigour”, avoiding a “superficial or sensational approach.”
In theory, any priest can perform an exorcism – a rite involving prayers to drive the Devil out of the person said to be possessed.
But Vatican officials said three years ago that parish priests should call in professional exorcists if they suspect one of their parishioners needs purging of evil. An exorcist should be called when “the moral certainty has been reached that the person is possessed”, said Father Nanni, a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. That could be indicated by radical and disturbing changes in the person’s behaviour and voice, or an ability to garble in foreign languages or nonsensical gibberish.
While the number of genuine cases of possession by the Devil remained relatively small, “we must be on guard because occult and Satanist practices are spreading a great deal, in part with the help of the internet and new technologies that make it easier to access these rituals,” he said.
The Vatican’s chief exorcist claimed last year that the Devil lurked in the Vatican, the very heart of the Catholic Church.
Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron, scream, dribble and slobber, utter blasphemies and have to be physically restrained.
He claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries, were proof that the anti-Christ was waging a war against the Holy See. He said Pope Benedict XVI believed “wholeheartedly” in the practice of exorcism.
The church’s International Association of Exorcists was set up in 1993, and meet in secret every 2 years, with the aim “of increasing the number of official exorcists worldwide.”
Since 2005, Catholic priests can sign up to learn how to cast away evil spirits from the possessed at the Vatican-backed college, the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
It runs a two-month course to teach the “spiritual, liturgical and pastoral work involved in being an exorcist.”
According to Father Giulio Savoldi, Milan’s official exorcist, requirements include “the supernatural force – the presence of God – and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God.” The Roman Catholic’s new Exorcism RiteThe Roman Catholic’s new Exorcism Rite, which was updated in 1999 for the first time since 1614, stresses the importance of distinguishing who is really in need of an exorcism.
Father Savoldi said: “Those studying to become exorcists should also study psychology and know how to distinguish between a mental illness and a possession. And, finally, they need to be very patient.” He said the priest who undertakes the office should be himself a holy man, of a blameless life, intelligent, courageous, humble. He should avoid in the course of the rite anything resembling superstition and he should leave the medical aspects of the case to qualified physicians.
If that doesn’t turn your head, then you may enjoy Mark Kermode’s fascinating BBC documentary, Fear of God: The Making of ‘The Exorcist’, which examines the story of classic 1973 horror movie, with cast and crew, and discusses the true events inspired William Peter Blatty’s original novel.