Most of us remember the first movie witch that freaked us out. From the green-skinned Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, to the evil Maleficent of Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Honestly, for me the thought that you could ride a broom and turn people into toads was a turn on. There have been great movies about satanic cults and vengeful witches, and I'm not talking about Charmed or Practical Magic, The Craft, The Witches Of Eastwick or Hocus Pocus. Unfortunately I couldn't include two perfectly wonderful romantic comedies about witchcraft: I Married a Witch and Bell, Book & Candle but these 10 will definitely cast a spell.
Suspiria (1977) Italian master of the macabre Dario Argento's masterpiece. The lovely Jessica Harper plays a ballet student who arrives at a dance academy in Bavaria and finds it overrun with witches. Shot in three-strip Technicolor, it's a terrifying, expressionistic, shocker with a great hard rock score by Goblin. Supposedly a new Blu-ray of this brilliant film from Synapse is in the works.
Burn Witch Burn (Night of the Eagle) (1962) This fantastic thriller based on Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife and smartly directed by Sidney Hayers is about a British professor (Peter Wyngarde) whose life and career are going along splendidly until he sets fire to his wife's (Janet Blair) protection charms and frightening supernatural attacks begin to happen to him. A scene with a stone eagle coming to life is especially creepy. This was just released this week in a stunning looking Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. The incantation to protect the audience from evil in the beginning of the film is a riot.
The Witches (1990) A wildly entertaining film directed by Nicolas Roag (Don't Look Now) and based on a book by Roald Dahl. A young boy and his grandmother stop at a hotel and discover to their horror it is overrun with a convention of witches. Anjelica Huston is fiendishly fun as the Grand High Witch who plans to rid England of all children and transforms the little boy into a mouse.
Rosemary's Baby (1968) Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Ira Levin novel is just a perfect movie, beginning with the unsettling open shots hovering over NYC's Dakota apartments where newlyweds (Rosemary) Mia Farrow and her ambitious actor husband (John Cassevetes) move into. But when Rosemary gets pregnant she suspects something sinister is afoot. Ruth Gordon rightfully won an Oscar as the weird overly friendly elderly neighbor. A great paranoid nightmare right to the end, this gets better every time you see it. Criterion recently came out with a loving restoration on Blu-ray and DVD.
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) A surreal documentary by Benjamin Christensen about the origins of witchcraft- mixing documentary footage with animation and fiction. Charting the historical with bizarre sequences of black masses, the inquisition, witches flying in the moonlight, it's really strange. The disturbing imagery is right out of Hieronymus Bosch, Criterion put out a great DVD of this. Pure nightmare fuel.
Black Sunday (1960) A condemned witch rises from her grave, along with her henchman servant, to take vengeance on the descendants who put her to death. The opening scene, where they pound a spiked metal mask into her face, is still shocking. The great director Mario Bava does so much with light and shadow to create a masterfully chilling gothic horror film. This film also launched the fright career of saucer-eyed beauty Barbara Steele ("8 Â½"). Kino Lorber released this recently on Blu-ray & DVD this in both the European and American version and it looks spectacular.
Horror Hotel (City Of The Dead) (1960) A college student travels to the Massachusetts town of Whitehood to study about the Salem witch trials. Unfortunately the entire town is a practicing coven of witches presided over by an ominous Christopher Lee who delights in necromancy and human sacrifice. Excellently directed by John Llewellyn Moxey this is a really intelligent, wonderfully moody chiller. VCI puts this out on DVD in a version supposedly with extra footage.
The Devil's Own (The Witches) (1966) Still haunted by voodoo rites she witnessed in Africa, Joan Fontaine plays a headmistress of a private school run by a creepy brother and sister. She soon suspects that one of her students in earmarked for sacrifice by a group that worship the devil. The finale when the demon-loving coven gathers, wildly dancing, and rolling in mud, with the head witch wearing antlers on her head is hilariously fabulous.
The Initiation Of Sarah (1978) I know, this is a TV movie, but it makes me insane. The sublime Kay Lenz plays Sarah a shy, ostracized, student at a college who is shocked when she is asked to become part of a strange sorority of other misfits. The possible reason she is selected is because she has psychic powers. Morgan Fairchild plays the nasty member of a rival sorority. Sure, this is a Carrie rip-off but come on, it's Shelley Winters as the headmistress mother and supreme witch. Winters, God bless her, is about as subtle as a bubbling cauldron. Shout Factory put this out under a double bill of "Scream Factory TV Terrors".
Witching & Bitching (2013) Alex de la Iglesia's deranged, fantastical, film about a bunch of jewelry thieves on the run from the law along with their high-jacked cab driver; passenger in the trunk; and even one of the crook's young son. They unfortunately drive through a town loaded with witches and get abducted. The divine Carmen Maura (Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown) is the lead witch who delights in chatting on the phone while upside down on the ceiling. The finale with hundreds of evil acolytes drinking down toads and waiting for their demonic spiritual mother to show up is just outrageous. This will fry your brain.