Zombies, vampires and demons may be all the rage but for my money witchcraft is still one of the eeriest concepts put to screen. Historically, witchcraft and pagan ritual has always been an uncomfortable subject. It questions our basic Christian moral values and creates the unnerving sensation that there are those who can control us with mere thoughts. With this in mind, let us delve into what I would argue are some of the best cinematic witch stories ever put to the silver screen.
Season of the Witch (1972)
When you think Romero, you think zombies, but he is certainly not a director who is shy to branch out into other ideas. Not to be confused with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, this film it set in the humdrum world of US suburbia and follows a discontented housewife as she tires of her existence. In frustration, she delves into black magic and begins to embrace the dark ritualistic world of witchcraft. The main character’s descent into the world of the occult is a dramatic experience and , as her perceptions of reality and fantasy begin to bleed into one-another, the film delves into the inevitably tragic consequences.
The Witch (2015)
A self proclaimed New England folktale, this film plays more with the very real fears of witchcraft during the early 1600s and gives us a convincing period piece with some genuinely terrifying moments. The devout Christian lifestyle of a small family unit is compromised when their small, isolated rural farm becomes the plaything of demonic forces, culminating in some dire consequences. The Witch is a chilling portrait of the paranoia, fear and evil within a family unit and the themes of family, morality and purity all give this film an edge that transcends it above your basic witchcraft horror romp.
Anyone who claims that old movies were tame in comparison to modern day examples clearly has not experienced Haxan. Technically a documentary, the film delves into the very real world of medieval superstition and Germanic mythology presenting an intriguing yet shocking insight into the reality of witchcraft practices. With depictions of nudity and torture, the film met heavy censorship and was banned in the USA yet is still makes a fantastic addition to this list.
The Crucible (1996)
Based on the phenomenal play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible follows the events of the Salem witch trials and the madening hysteria that they caused. With stand out performances from the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Joan Allen and Winona Ryder, this film strays away from the supernatural and instead relies on the very real fear and paranoia that surrounds the myth of witchcraft.
The Devils (1971)
If you’re seeking graphic excess in your witchcraft then The Devils will certainly answer your cries. With scenes of worms eaten skulls, gibbering courtiers and masturbating nuns, the film doesn’t disappoint on shock and yet it maintains a grand creative integrity. It is incredibly visually engaging and a totally interesting and unique cinematic experience.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Admittedly, in this the witch herself is never revealed yet that makes it all the more eerie. Despite how divided modern audiences are on the film, there is no doubt that the idea of three lost students being haunted by the curse of an unknown force in the woods is a horrific concept. Thankfully. the shoestring budget and improvisational style of the film combine to maximise the effect of this totally realistic fear and dread.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
From two of the brothers that brought us the Evil Dead trilogy, Drag Me to Hell is another fine entry into our list. After a loan officer evicts a seemingly harmless old lady from her home she finds herself tormented by a particularly insidious supernatural curse. With the assistance of a psychic she attempts to free her soul, but the demons are not giving up without a fight. Though not clearly a film about witches, the suggestions of Witchcraft and curses within the film make it an interesting and worthy film to watch.
The Wicker Man (1973)
A quintessentially British perspective take on witchcraft, The Wicker Man is based in an isolated isle in rural Scotland where a band of heathens perform strange pagan rituals, much to the concern of visiting construable Sergeant Howie. The film is rough around the edges but communicates a very unique and unsettling tone to the audience. It is supported by a fantastic script and some amazing performances from Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Anyone who has ever driven through the British countryside will certainly identify with the strange sense of alienation that this film creates.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
From the original text by Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a young woman who gradually becomes aware that her pregnancy has been under the control of a coven of satanist witches so that she may birth the Antichrist. The film is chock full of terrifying and strange events and is executed to tremendous effect by the mind of director Roman Polanski.
Suspiria is the magnum opus of the Italian master of horror Dario Argento and tells the tale of an unfortunate young American woman who unknowingly encounters a sadistic coven under the guise of a dance academy. The film is a real feast for the eyes with a stunning palette, great cinematography and fantastically creative design. By far one of the most incredible and haunting films to cover the subject of witchcraft.
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