Witches may not be as popular a subject of horror movies as vampires or zombies, but their creepiness cannot be denied. If anything, they just might be too unsettling for the average horror movie lover.
This February comes The Witch, a horror movie about a 17th century Puritan family slowly succumbing to madness and black magic. The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch has already been critically praised at Sundance, and looks to capitalize on that with a much buzzed-about premiere this week. We took its release as a perfect excuse to write up Screen Rant’s list of the 13 Best Witch Movies Of All Time.
13. The Witches (1990)
Admittedly, The Witches isn’t really a horror movie, which is why it’s at the end of this list. Why, it’s just a harmless movie for kids! But try explaining that to your crying children after they see how horrible the witches really look.
There’s plenty to recommend in The Witches. The movie is based on a children’s novel by Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl comes from that wonderful story-telling tradition that enjoys scaring the children rather than coddling them. The true monstrous appearance of witches was lovingly designed by the legendary Jim Henson, who already proved how creepy puppets can be in the movie Labyrinth and in the TV series The Storyteller. Anjelica Houston gives a great performance as a children-hating Grand High Witch. Finally, The Witches was made by Nicolas Roeg, who in 1976 directed David Bowie in the sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
12. Season of the Witch (1973)
Nowadays, Season of the Witch is mostly interesting because it was made by the legendary zombie horror film maker George A. Romero. It is a horror movie about a suburban housewife Joan (Jan White), who is married to an abusive husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst). After Joan meets Marion (Virginia Greenwald), a new neighbor who practices witchcraft, she begins to cast spells herself to attract attention of her daughter’s lover Gregg (Raymond Laine). But then Joan begins to have frightening nightmares.
Known also under its alternate titles of Jack’s Wife and Hungry Wives!, Romero’s movie still divides critics four decades after its release. Most of them criticize Season of the Witch for its low production values, lack of subtlety, sluggish tempo and poor acting. Others praise the film for its effective, even extreme positions regarding feminism, comparing it to such movies as The Stepford Wives.
11. The Witches (1966)
Made by Hammer Films, that purveyor of classic British horror, The Witches (known in the USA under the title The Devil’s Own) is a 1966 horror thriller about an English schoolteacher Gwen (Joan Fontaine) who, after a traumatic experience in Africa, accepts a quiet teaching job in rural England. But as strange events begin to unfold around her, Gwen learns about the existence of modern day witches and starts to question her own sanity.
The Witches was adapted from the novel The Devil’s Own by the novelist Norah Lofts (working under a pseudonym Peter Curtis). It was adapted into a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, veteran British screenwriter who excelled in writing thrillers mixed with horror and science fiction elements, especially in his Quatermass series. Directed by Cyril Frankel, The Witches marked the last role of Joan Fontaine, an actress who won an Oscar for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and also starred in Hitch’s Rebecca, his only film to win a Best Picture Oscar.
10. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Goth rocker Rob Zombie made a name for himself as a cult filmmaker with his early horror films House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005). In The Lords of Salem, he tackles witchery and Satanism in a story about Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict working as a DJ at a radio station in Salem. One day, she receives a music record by a band called The Lords of Salem that puts its listeners into a trance and gives them disturbing visions. As is often the case with movies about witches, all this is a part of a complicated plan to usher in the end of the world.
The Lords of Salem was one of the first three films produced by Haunted Films, the others being Paranormal Activity (2007) and Insidious (2011). The Lords of Salem was met with mixed reactions: while some reviewers praised its nightmarish visuals, others criticized its thin plotline, sluggish tempo and lack of any real scares.
9. Night of the Eagle (1962)
Known in the US under the title Burn Witch Burn!, Night of the Eagle is a 1962 horror film about a college professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), who learns that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) uses witchcraft to advance his academic career. Angered, Norman forces her to destroy all of her charms, but, soon, other witches try to advance their own agendas at Norman and Tansy’s expense in this dark, fantastical twist on the campus politics.
Night of the Eagle was directed by the British film maker Sidney Hayers. It was based upon the horror novel Conjure Wife by the American sci-fi, horror and fantasy writer Fritz Leiber. The novel was turned into a screenplay by horror and sci-fi writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, who both worked on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. At least two other movies were loosely based upon Leiber’s novel: Weird Woman, released in 1944 and a dark comedy Witches’ Brew, released in 1980.
8. The Craft (1996)
The Craft sets its tale of witchcraft in the American high school. Sarah (Robin Tunney) is a troubled teenager who just moved to Los Angeles. She meets three school outcasts rumored to dabble in witchcraft – Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). Sarah joins their coven and, as a result, four teenagers gain access to dark powers. At first, they use them in a most teenage way possible, from exacting petty revenge to attracting school hunk Chris (Skeet Ulrich). But things take a darker turn as people start dying, spells backfire and the coven’s leader, Nancy, becomes more and more unhinged.
7. Witching & Bitching (2013)
Fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series should take note of Witching & Bitching. This horror-comedy follows José (Hugo Silva) and Tony (Mario Casas) – a hapless pair of robbers who, while on the run from police, end up in the village of witches. Once a site of the largest witch trials in the history of Spain, the village of Zugarramurdi is still populated by witches. Led by dangerous-yet-sexy Eva (Carolina Bang), the cult of witches plans to sacrifice the robbers to their goddess in order to bring in the end of the world.
Álex de la Iglesia is a Spanish film director, best known in the USA for his 1997 crime film Perdita Durango. Released in 2013 under the title Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, Witching & Bitching is silly, offensive and over-the-top in its depiction of violence, religion, male-female relationships and Satanism – the last being a recurring theme in the movies of de la Iglesia.
6. Häxan (1922)
Häxan is a sole movie on this list that was actually banned in the USA due to its depictions of nudity and torture. Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, the movie was inspired by an old copy of Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century German manual for witch hunters that Christensen found in 1919. He then spent two years studying medieval superstition and adapted his research into a feature-length documentary film using historical re-enactment of torture and Satanic rituals for the maximum shock value.
Häxan (known also as Witchcraft Through the Ages) explores various aspects of medieval beliefs about witches and how they might have originated in a misunderstanding of mental illness. Heavily censored, Häxan was nevertheless quite popular at the time of its release, leading Christensen to a short-lived career in Hollywood. What used to be the most expensive silent movie ever made in Sweden is now freely available online.
5. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
It may be more of a dark comedy than a straightforward horror, but no one can deny the amount of talent involved in The Witches of Eastwick. Its protagonists – three women deeply dissatisfied with their lives in a quiet town of Eastwick – are played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon who all previously either won or were nominated for Academy Awards. This trio of witches inadvertently summons up Devil who is magnificently and hilariously played by Jack Nicholson in one of his career-defining roles. The movie was directed by George Miller, who was brought to Hollywood after the worldwide success of his Mad Max movies.
The Witches of Eastwick was based on a novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet and art critic John Updike. Movie was nominated for two Academy Awards, and though it failed to win any, it remains well liked by the critics and viewers almost three decades after its release.
4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Despite its title, there are practically no witches in the The Blair Witch Project. The movie presents itself as a true story about three student filmmakers – Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams – who get lost in the forests of Maryland while filming a documentary about the local legend of the Blair Witch. As they go deeper into the forest , they begin to experience eerie and increasingly threatening events.
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 horror film written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Although not the first found footage horror – that honor goes to Cannibal Holocaust, released in 1980 – it was The Blair Witch Project that popularized the concept. Viral marketing presented the story as a real event, which drew in the audience. With a budget of a mere $60,000, the movie earned almost $250 million at the box office. The Blair Witch Project was later turned into a media franchise including several novels, computer games and a failed sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
3. Black Sunday (1960)
Black Sunday is a gothic horror film by the cult horror film maker Mario Bava about a beautiful witch (Barbara Steele) who gets burned at the stake, only to return centuries later to exact revenge on the descendants of her murderers. Morbid and gruesome, Black Sunday was banned in Great Britain for years due to its depictions of violence, in scenes like the one where the metal mask is being nailed into a witch’s face. In the USA, American distributor AIP deliberately censored some parts of the movie to avoid wider controversy.
The movie was based very loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy. Black Sunday is known under several other titles, including The Mask of Satan, Revenge of the Vampire and its original Italian title La maschera del demonio. Despite the censorship, Black Sunday was an international critical and box office success, launching careers of director Mario Bava as well as its main star Barbara Steele.
2. Suspiria (1977)
Directed by the Italian film director Dario Argento, Suspiria is a disturbingly surreal giallo horror about an American student discovering that the school she attends is a mere front for the coven of witches. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives to a dance academy in Germany, only to be confronted with a series of grisly events and gruesome murders. When Suzy meets psychologist Dr. Frank Mandel (Udo Kier), she learns the dark truth about the academy.
One of Dario Argento’s most famous movies, Suspiria is the first film in his “The Three Mothers Trilogy”, followed by Inferno in 1980 and by The Mother of Tears in 2007. Written by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, the film uses anamorphic lenses, vivid colors and an unsettling score by the progressive rock band Goblin in order to create a hallucinatory experience. Critically acclaimed even at the time of its release, Suspiria remains a cult classic.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Based upon a best-selling novel by Ira Levin (who also wrote The Boys From Brazil and The Stepford Wives), Rosemary’s Baby tells a story of young Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) who starts to believe that her pregnancy has been orchestrated by a coven of witches and Satanists in order to give birth to an Antichrist. Throughout the increasingly unsettling events, Rosemary grows distrustful of her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) and their friendly, yet eccentric neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet (played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer).
Rosemary’s Baby is the first fully-American film by the Polish film maker Roman Polanski. It forms a loose “Apartment Trilogy” with his movies Repulsion (1966) and The Tenant (1976), all of which deal with apartment dwellers driven insane by the strange and frightening events. Rosemary’s Baby was a great success with the critics and audiences. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and won one for Ruth Gordon as the Best Supporting Actress.
What are your favorite films featuring witches? Share them with us in your comments below!