Continuing our post from the other night, this one of some of the Top “Witch” Films…
I wanted to go into further depth on the subject of witches and their portrayal in film by not necessarily exploring a “Best of” list as I think it’ll be more interesting to talk about ten films that have an innovative or unique look at the subject. Ten films that brought some new perspective will be hard enough to manage, as there are so damn many films with witchery all over them! But I’ll try, damnit, I’ll try!
Now earlier this month I’ve already discussed HAXAN, the classic silent docudrama exploring the history of witches throughout the ages, so I won’t be bringing it up here other than to say that you should see it if you haven’t. And I’ve already mentioned how SUSPIRIA is highly regarded among the list makers here on the web, so no need to bring it up in this discussion. And lastly, I’ll avoid THE WIZARD OF OZ as I did quite the in-depth post about the Wicked Witch of the West and how she has iconically shaped the look of witches since.
Now that we’re past all of the prelims, here we have it…
TOP TEN BEWITCHING FILMS
I MARRIED A WITCH (1942)
Just as she is about to be burned at the stake, Salem witch Jennifer (Veronica Lake) curses the family of her accuser, dooming all the men of future generations to marry the wrong women. Freed from her prison over 200 years later, Jennifer decides to make the most recent descendant of her accuser (Fredric March) even more miserable by using a love potion on him that makes him fall in love with her, a plan that has unexpected results.
Beyond being an average romantic comedy, the witch turned love interest idea would go on to be a theme picked up by the movie BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE and the hit television series BEWITCHED. In effect, it took the witch and put her in the heart of the family and thus more acceptable to the masses.
NIGHT OF THE EAGLE
aka BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962)
Based upon Fritz Lieber’s novel CONJURE WIFE and adapted by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson who were fans and wanted to work on it together, the two were paid $5,000 each by American International and they brought in George Baxt to work on the script.
Peter Cushing was originally meant to star, but left to make Captain Clegg instead. Janet Blair came onboard and eventually Peter Wyngarde was cast as the college professor husband.
The film centers on the wife of a Psychology professor who lectures on belief systems and superstitions. She is superstitious and regularly uses witchcraft to help her husband’s career and livelihood. He is a firm rationalist and is disturbed to learn of her irrational beliefs and forces her to destroy all of her magical charms. And that’s when all hell descends upon them.
Where this film is special is in it’s subtlety in that it depicts the use of charms or the supernatural in everyday situations and actively opposes it with the rationalist view. It is a method that leaves the viewer in wonder, questioning if the cause of events are natural or unnatural. And that unanswered feeling leaves the viewers suspense to grow as the climax of the picture approaches.
THE DEVILS (1971)
Father Grandier’s (Oliver Reed) views on sex and worship influence a passionate group of nuns, including the sexually addicted Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). When Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) discovers he must get rid of Grandier to have enough power to rule France, he declares Grandier a satanist using witchcraft to corrupt the nuns and leads a witch hunt against him.
Ken Russell’s controversial film gained harsh reactions due to it’s disturbing violent, sexual and religious subject matter. It was dubbed X-Rated in both the UK and the U.S. and was banned in several countries and heavily edited in others. Never released in it’s original, uncut form, it is largely unavailable.
THE WICKER MAN (1973)
Edward Woodward plays Sgt. Howie arrives on the tiny Scottish island of Summerisle to look into a report of a missing young girl named Rowan Morrison. A conservative Christian, Howie is disturbed by the behavior of the islanders as they pay tribute to pagan gods and generally act like heathens (and all that that implies). He finds his investigation thwarted at every turn and as the mystery of the isle deepens, not only do things look grim for the girl, but for himself.
While there is no central witch, the leader of the pagan movement on the island played by Christopher Lee serves as the conduit for all of the practices that wind up destroying the protagonist. And the fact that the Sergeant ends up in the situation he finds himself in at the finale, well, lets just say it’s a direct turnaround to what conservative Christianity did to those who didn’t care to break bread with Jesus’ pappy.
WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)
Three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) who have each lost the men in their lives are mired in self-pity, that is until new stranger in town Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) shows up and begins courting each of the three. Eventually he tells them that they’re witches, and in town, the three become social outcasts as rumors spread. And, as the three spend time exploring their abilities at his mansion, and enjoying their newfound vitality, they worry about this stranger’s intentions.
So this fine comedy about three women reclaiming their womanhood, their independence and their power also happens to feature one of the all-time great scene-stealers doing just that. Jack Nicholson’s performance as the devil is a must-see spectacle.
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (1989)
This fine coming of age tale of a young witch who leaves her home for a year to go out on her own and earn a living and train as a witch comes from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki. He adapted it from a 1985 novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. With her talking black cat, Jiji, Kiki flies on her broomstick delivering goods from the bakery to pay her rent. It isn’t long before trouble rears it’s ugly head and it is something Kiki must learn to deal with and overcome. Like all Japanese anime, the pacing, for me, is a bit wonky, but this one really does overcome that and translates well for all audiences.
THE WITCHES (1990)
Based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, The Witches is about a young American boy named Look Eveshim who stumbles on a convention of all of England’s witches while staying at a resort with his grandmother Helga. The witches are masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In attendance is also the Grand High Witch—leader of the witches of the entire world—portrayed superbly by Anjelica Huston—who plans to turn all children into mice so that they can be more effectively and quickly eaten. And, of course, the story turns there, being that it is a kid’s fantasy. It was the last film Jim Henson personally worked on before his death (both Dahl and Henson died that year).
Though it performed poorly at the box office it is critically acclaimed for it’s creative story, twisted special effects and, certainly, Anjelica Huston’s wicked performance. My guess is that parents thought it looked too scary to bring their kids to it—perhaps it’s more a treat for the kid inside of us adults.
THE CRAFT (1996)
Robin Tunney is Sarah, a Los Angeles teen who transfers to a new school and finds her gift of telekinesis appeals to her new friends, a clique of three wannabe witches. In an effort to further fit in, she joins their group as the fourth member. Like Sarah, the other three have troubled backgrounds and they are Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and the truly wicked Nancy (Fairuza Balk). The new power they gain leads to dangerous consequences and it isn’t long before the girl’s thirst for more power gets out of hand.
Yes, Virginia, young, beautiful witches in catholic schoolgirl uniforms can sell movie tickets. As an aside, I’m flabbergasted that there wasn’t a sequel for this film due to it’s success and the open finale. Of course, that’s probably a blessing as it didn’t water down this film. Besides, there other were loads of wannabes and copycats to come.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
This one is a straight up horror picture with a simple plot. Take three film students, put them in the woods to make a documentary about the local boogieman legend of the Blair Witch and let the hijinks ensue. After interviewing people in the small town nearby, and learning clues, rumors and actual facts about the murders, the three lose their way in the woods and begin to loose their minds. Sleep deprivation, unending noises and disturbing relics they find also add to the disorientation they suffer.
While I enjoyed the picture, I didn’t love it. It works as a document better than as a horror film, so it definitely succeeded in part. And besides, this is the granddaddy of all those found footage films that came since. It’s enormous success and the low risk cost associated with it created an immeasurable number of pretenders.
DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
Christine Brown has a great job at a Los Angeles Bank and a loving boyfriend, but her life becomes hellish when, in an effort to impress her boss, she refuses an old woman’s request for a home loan extension. The crone quickly puts a curse on Christine, threatening her very soul with eternal damnation. What follows is Christine’s journey to save herself from the deathly witches revenge.
Sam Raimi’s return to horror as a director went smoothly as his style and humor shine through. It was a story that he had co-written a decade earlier. It's rare that a PG-13 can make an impact upon me, but Raimi pulled it off with sick, creepy scares and some pitch black comedy.
It is a fairy tale, at it’s heart, much like something out of The Grimm Brothers as it teaches a moral lesson while entertaining.
And now on to the music portion of the night. Here's one of my favorite short-lived bands of the '90s, BELLY, which is to say Tanya Donelly and friends.
This song feels more like the sketch of a song (as a good few of their efforts from their debut album "Star" do), it's called simply...