I have always had a passionate love of witch movies. Going all the way back to an adolescent infatuation with SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH and HOCUS POCUS, the magical ladies have always been one of my fave sub-genres of horror, possibly because they were one of the few to feature a female monster/hero, but also because they are so heavily varied in concept and execution. Aside from the inclusion of magic and the female gender, there is no formula or set list of “monster rules” that witch films follow, no precise mythology to dictate how the world and actions must be played out.
With the fantastic new film THE WITCH opening in theaters today (possibly one of my fave movies of all time), it seemed the perfect moment to look back on my 10 other favorite witch films through-out time.
HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922)
This often forgotten example of early filmmaking is rather startling in the inclusion of nudity, orgies, and some mighty fine demon special effects. Told part as a documentary and part as a fictional film, it sets out to explain the history of witchcraft, common misconceptions, and how mass frenzy lead to the witch trails. For more on HAXAN, check this out.
BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
This is an Italian gothic horror film directed by the iconic Mario Bava and starring the equally iconic Barbara Steele. Considered way too explicit for the time period, BLACK SUNDAY was regularly banned during its initial release, but it is now regarded as a horror movie classic that helped to shape the genre’s future films.
BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962)
This British film is not just a statement on freedom to practice witchcraft, but also on feminism. A husband finds out his wife has been practicing magic and destroys all of her magical merch. This seems to set in motion a supernatural series of events that call into question if the witchcraft was real or just a coincidence.
GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY (1971)
This highly overlooked Eurotrash art film is not so heavy on the “witchcraft side” as much as it is just a gorgeous film. Witchy woman Morgan Le Fay runs a vast castle where she entrances and imprisons other nubile young ladies. Yes, this is some major soft-core lesbian exploitation, but the cinematography and soundtrack are absolutely divine.
SEASON OF THE WITCH (1973)
George Romero’s witch flick was largely over-looked in comparison to the success of his zombie epics or even his vampire tale, MARTIN. But I have always had a soft spot for SEASON OF THE WITCH. Trapped in her swinging early 70s housewife role, Jack’s wife (which is the only name she is ever given) feels stifled and unfulfilled. She turns to witchcraft for self-empowerment. But as elements in her life start changing, some good and some bad, it poses questions of magical powers versus her own self-actualized strength. Go woman power…and maybe witchcraft too!
Of course Argento’s hyper-color tale of ballet-teaching witches makes the list. Yes the story is a tad nonsensical, but visuals and soundtrack easily make this one of my favorite films of all time. The inclusion of witchcraft is just an added bonus.
THE CRAFT (1996)
This was one of my favorite movies when I was in high school, focusing on a group of teenage female outcasts who bond over their magical practice. This movie was a rite of passage for misunderstood teen girls in the 90s. Oh, the endless hours I spent in Trigonometry trying to balance a pencil on its point. Sadly, I have yet to perfect this otherworldly skill.
THE WOODS (2006)
Lucky McKee’s interpretation of SUSPIRIA was not exactly well received by the majority of horror fans, but I always found something very compelling about it. Starring the fantastic Agnes Bruckner, in 1965 a young girl is sent to a New England boarding school and encounters unnatural events and a very peculiar teaching staff. Horror legend Bruce Campbell also makes a brief appearance as the girl’s father.
DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
I have heard arguments that this technically is not a witchcraft film in a sub-genre sense because the old woman’s nationally is more Romanian gypsy. But with a creepy old woman, curses, and fortune telling, this fun Sam Raimi gore-fest is still glorious witchcraft in my eyes.
LORDS OF SALEM (2012)
I must admit, I’m not a huge Rob Zombie fan. I appreciate the bulk of his films, however they just aren’t my first choices viewing wise. That said, I deeply enjoyed LORDS OF SALEM. It was the first time in decades that I found witches to actually be scary!
Runner-up- TEEN WITCH (1989)
I was a child of the late 80s so this movie simply must be included. A geeky high school student discovers she is actually a witch and uses it to gain popularity. Plus there are ample musical numbers and Zelda Rubinstein from POLTERGEIST. It also proved the most important thing you can do with witch powers is win rap battles!