Swedish and Danish pictures easily hold the palm for morbid realism and in many cases for brilliant acting and production. Witchcraft made by [Danish director] Benjamin Christensen [funded by a Swedish production company], leaves all the others beaten. It is in reality a pictorial history of black magic, of witches, of the Inquisition, and the thousand and one inhumanities of the superstition-ridden Middle Ages. Many of its scenes are unadulterated horror.
The story tells how a young man lies sick. A priest passes over his body a ladle full of molten metal. This is then cooled in water, and the shape the cold metal assumes proves the patient is under the spell of a witch. An old woman beggar is accused, and the girl-wife comes under suspicion. All are hawled before the Inquisition and torture is applied.
In her agony the old beggar confesses and implicates the other woman in the sick man’s household. They are condemned to the stake. The priest has conceived a guilty longing for the young wife, and submits to a ghastly flagellation. She is accused of bewitching the priest and forced into a confession. She is executed.
Many of the scenes are remarkable, especially those in which the girl wanders stark naked in a world of imaginative horror. Devils and other horrors rise around her. She awakes to find herself in bed, but nerve-shattered. Hysteria is mistaken for witchery, and she is condemned.
[Film was reviewed from a screening in London in August 1923, when it had not yet been taken up for distribution. Reviewer declared that ‘wonderful though this picture is, it is absolutely unfit for public exhibition.’]