BY LEZA CANTORAL
CURATED BY PATRICIA GRISAFI
Depictions of witches in movies and pop culture in general can be frustrating. They never seem real. They are cartoonified, demonized, sexified. The witch embodies all of the patriarchy’s fears of the powerful feminine in women and nature, so perhaps these depictions reflect that anxiety. But you cannot tame nature, nor can you tame a witch. A witch does what she wants. She cannot help it—it is her nature to be wild and free.
Some movies get it right, though. These movies about witches have one thing in common: female characters who struggle with their inner demons; as they awaken to their powers, there are consequences. Thou shalt not suffer another excellent witch movie to be unseen, so break out the Absinthe and have some witchy fun!
1. The Love Witch (2016)
Sultry, eerie, campy, and an utter delight. Samantha Robinson stars as a lovesick beauty bent on male sexual domination. This film is a living tapestry of mystical symbolism. Pay attention to the colors, the Tarot cards, and the gorgeous imagery. This movie straddles self-aware irony, social commentary, and full on witchy camp with grace and craft that convinces me that director Anna Biller is the real deal. Look out for her next project, a classic horror fairy tale of the quintessential nightmare husband in Bluebeard. You can bet it will be anything but ordinary.
2. The VVITCH (2015)
Dark, quietly unsettling, atmospheric. This film by Rober Eggers is less film and more a pastiche of collected folklore about witches throughout New England’s dark history. It is about the stories we tell each other and how they shape our realities. The eye of the storm is Thomasin, a girl who is crossing over into womanhood (played naturalistically and evocatively by Anya Taylor-Joy). Becoming a woman is a frightening transformation in a household where fear of the devil is the emotional focal point. Paranoia begets paranoia, as madness and sickness claim Thomasin's family one by one. Also featuring Black Phillip, the goat that would topple the patriarchy, one dropkick at a time.
3. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Rob Zombie pays homage to 1970s witchy fare such as Simon King of the Witches (1971), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Wicker Man (1973), and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) with this offbeat exploration of depression, satanic spells, and the mysterious power of music. The film stars Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi, a radio DJ struggling with her inner darkness. This is not a glamorous darkness—it is a sadly familiar one. Heidi is always tired. She sleeps in. She goes to work. She goes to AA meetings. Her life is repetitive and predictable until she becomes haunted by a song that changes her life. She begins to see visions of witches, monsters, and strange rituals. She hears voices and has blackouts. This movie is unsettling as all hell. If you are in the mood for a good mindfuck, I highly recommend it. By far, Rob Zombie’s classiest film.
4. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Look no further for sleepy enchantments than this foggy and spooky reimagining of the classic tale by Washington Irving, directed by Tim Burton. Atmospheric and perfectly scored by Danny Elfman, this movie will pull you right into the quaint and gothic world of Sleepy Hollow circa 1799. It stars Christina Ricci as the enchanting Katrina Van Tassel and Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, an idealistic detective bent on solving the mystery of the headless murders. Veterans from the golden age of horror such as Christopher Lee, who, in my opinion, is the sexiest and scariest Dracula of all time, round out the cast. This film is an homage to that time in the 1970’s when bosoms heaved, blood flowed like wine, and Hammer Studios was churning out delightfully gothic horror films that were feasts for the eyes and the senses alike. Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman, a bloody tree of death, dark family secrets, witch wars, eerie flashbacks, and a love story woven through it all—this is the perfect movie to watch while you drink some hot apple cider by the fire with a lover and some ghosts.
5. The Craft (1996)
This is THE quintessential witch movie. Friends don’t let friends not watch The Craft. It is a rite of passage, especially for anyone from and after Generation X. Neve Campbell (Bonnie), Fairuza Balk (Nancy), Robin Tunney (Sarah), and Rachel True (Rochelle) are average teenagers struggling with typical problems like bullying, asshole guys, and the temptations and consequences of the left-hand path. Each character has a dark secret, some damage they want to be erased or a social stigma they want to overcome. When Sarah moves into town, the three friends find the power they had been missing in their Magick circle. Dreams manifest and they rejoice until their spells begin to backfire with terrifying consequences. Fairuza Balk is riveting as the teen witch from hell. This movie is spellbinding, thought-provoking, and just really fucking fun. Hail Manon!
6. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Based on the John Updike novel, directed by George Miller, starring Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson, this modern take on the witchy woman shows what the power of sisterhood can do. On a dark and stormy night, three friends make a wish for their perfect man. He comes—but not in the form they expected. Through facing the dark realities of their fantasies made flesh, these women realize the power they hold. This movie is empowering, fun, and surprisingly profound. It is a feminist battle cry from the 1980s that still rings true today. These women face sexual harassment, manipulation, and the dirtiest trick of all: being pitted against each other in their quest for male approval. This is a coming-of-age tale for the witch in us all.
7. The Witch’s Mirror (1960)
This Mexican horror movie by Chano Urueta, starring Isabela Corona as Sara and Dina de Marco (Elena), is spooky and tragic. After Elena's husband murders her, Elena's godmother, Sara, pledges to make him pay. She makes a dark deal with a daemon and, along with the ghost of her goddaughter and the aid of a magic mirror, they enact their brutal vengeance upon him and his new wife, Rosita Arenas (Deborah). They haunt the new bride who has unwittingly entered a house of horrors. This dark tale of lost love is brutal, evocative, and surreal. Incredible visual effects create an atmosphere of witchy wonder.
8. Black Sunday (1960)
This Italian gothic classic is a must-see for the cinephile and lover of all things witchy. Directed by Mario Bava and starring Barbara Steele as the spirit of Asa, a witch burned at the stake, this film is both lush and grotesque. Originally called The Mask of Satan, this film lives up to its name. Barbara Steele is terrifying as she transforms from a meek beauty to a thing that is neither living nor dead. The spooky atmosphere engulfs you in the forest, the spiderweb-covered crypt, and the vast and gloomy castle, where the dead haunt the living. It is the perfect marriage of beauty and horror.
9. Bell, Book, & Candle (1958)
This film, directed by Richard Quine, starring Kim Novak as Gillian Holroyd and Jimmy Stewart as Shep Henderson is jazzy, zany, and romantic. It makes you nostalgic for the NYC of the time. Greenwich Village was apparently popping with jazz clubs as well as witches (if this movie is to be believed). There is a beautiful, boisterous camaraderie between the various witches, but Gillian has a sadness hanging over her that she cannot shake. Despite her powers, she feels something is missing from her life. The curse of the witch is that she cannot fall in love. Gillian has rejected love until she no longer can. This whimsical and gorgeous movie still feels fresh and fun, even after all these years. Kim Novak dazzles as a witch. This is the part she was born to play.
10. I Married a Witch (1942)
This wickedly hilarious indictment of puritanism, directed by René Clair and starring Veronica Lake as Jennifer, ages very well. In 1672, Jennifer was burned as a witch. In 1942, a bolt of lightning splits open the tree that imprisons her and her father’s souls, leaving them free to wander the world of the living once again. This movie is playful and darkly comic, poking fun at social repression throughout history. It is a story about love, politics, the karma of family curses, artifice, anarchy, and bourgeoisie shackles. Witch as rebel. This film is ultimately about the nature of power, whether corporate, political, or gendered. This movie is fun, funny, and totally irreverent. There is nothing more delightful than Veronica Lake as the manic pixie dream girl of your nightmares messing with a stiff-collared politician and throwing his entire life upside down.
Leza Cantoral is a Mexican artist living on the internet. She is the Editor in Chief of CLASH Books and CLASH Media, host of Get lit With Leza, and the author of Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. Her work has appeared in A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault, Baum-Ass Stories: Twistered Tales of Oz, More Bizarro Than Bizarro, Luna Luna Magazine, Entropy, and CLASH Media. She spends way too much time on social media and slays cyber trolls with her bare hands. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @lezacantoral.
Patricia Grisafi, PhD, is a New York City-based freelance writer, editor, and former college professor. She is currently an Associate Editor at Ravishly and a contributing writer and editor at Luna Luna. Her work has appeared in Salon, Vice, Bitch, The Rumpus, Bustle, The Establishment, and elsewhere. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Tragedy Queens (Clash Books). She is passionate about pit bull rescue, cursed objects, horror movies, and designer sunglasses.