History Channel // 2008 // 320 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // January 21st, 2009
The real stories behind the horrors.
Haunted Histories Collection: Dracula, Witches, Voodoo, and Exorcism brings together various episodes and specials devoted to the spookier parts of history, like Dracula, exorcisms, and witches, and more exorcisms and voodoo. It's kind of like a chocolate sampler box, where some episodes are filled with creamy nougat and others are filled with small, uncooked frogs ("Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil"). There are one or two problems, however, so let's move right along, because I've got a couple of bones to pick.
Rather than taking episodes from one series, the History Channel has gone through its vast oeuvre and collected thematically similar episodes from various shows and specials. This creates a spectrum of quality and styles, which should only bother the obsessive compulsives in the audience.
But here's the problem: each episode has its own disc. Five episodes on five separate discs. If the episodes were five hours long apiece, this might be reasonable, but seeing as some of them are barely an hour long, it seems a bit excessive to give each one its own DVD. Worse yet, there aren't any extras. I'm assuming History had printed up a couple of single shots, didn't sell them, and then had to get rid of them by throwing them into a box set. Whatever the reason, there's a lot of plastic for very little material.
* "Bloodlines: The Dracula Family Tree": A modern-day family with ancient ties to the Dracula clan digs deep into their past to learn the truth about this ancient, bloodthirsty (not literally) tyrant.
* "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil": This is the bad episode of the bunch and you should just avoid it and go straight to "Exorcising the Devil."
* "Witch Hunt": An intimate look at the Salem Witch trials.
* "Exorcising the Devil": A much better, more balanced look at exorcism is presented here. Skip the other one at all costs. Please.
* "Voodoo Secrets": The history of voodoo as it makes its way from Africa to the New World is revealed in this documentary.
I've had a love/hate relationship with History recently. They seem to have given themselves over to the great god Sensationalism and do their very best to forgo unbiased documentaries and instead devote themselves body and soul toward the more gruesome aspects of history, disregarding such annoying trivialities like "facts" or "reason" or "common sense."
"Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil" is a case in point. It delves into the subject of exorcism with little or no attempts at appearing unbiased. Demons are real, exorcisms work, and viewers shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about it too much. The whole episode spends a great deal of time talking about blood and guts and how evil is on the rise and we're all doomed and the demon armies are advancing, and spends very little time talking about the other side. It's only toward the end that scientists and psychologists get a chance to speak and it goes by so quickly that you barely have a chance to blink before the doomsayers are back on screen.
This is even more striking when "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil" is set next to its companion, "Exorcising the Devil." "Exorcising the Devil" is much more balanced, much more reasoned, and focuses more on the history of exorcism. It focuses on similar cases, such as the Georgetown boy demoniac who inspired The Exorcist, but presents them in a much more unbiased way. Supernatural explanations are presented next to natural explanations. Psychology is shown next to parapsychology. There are facts and insights in "Exorcising the Devil" that aren't even mentioned in "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil."
What's more, since "Witch Hunt" and "Exorcising the Devil" extensively cover topics that are featured (badly) in "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil," it becomes redundant and tiresome. When all is said and done, the entire set could greatly have benefited from the removal of this overlong and unbalanced episode.
The other episodes are much better and far more interesting. Aside from exorcism, the other three episodes feature the Salem Witch trials, Dracula, and voodoo.
Personally, I could live the rest of my life never hearing another thing about the Salem trials, but this show managed to bring some new things to the table that I hadn't heard before. They also used actual court transcripts from the trial, giving the reenactments a touch of realism. The whole thing managed to breathe new life into what I had long considered a worn-out subject.
Dracula does a similar thing by switching the focus of Dracula from the man himself, to a family that had long lived in his shadow. While it also tends to spend too much time with the supernatural rather than the historical, the personal flavor added by the Florescu family adds a new dimension to the legend of Dracula.
There are absolutely no extras here, and while "Witch Hunt" and "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil" look very pretty, the others show their age, coming from the era before television got all hi-def and widescreen.
While the majority of this set presents an interesting collection of spooky history themed shows, the lack of extras, the overabundance of discs, and the inclusion of "Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil" make the whole thing feel very thrown together. I'd say rent it, except that the damn thing would take up five slots on your Netflix queue.
"Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil" is guilty of witchcraft and consorting with the Devil and should be burned at the stake, hanged, pressed, and impaled. History is guilty of sloppy presentation.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dylan Charles; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 320 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated