If trick-or-treating is off your schedule of events this year, stock up on your favorite movie candy, pop the corn, fill a big cup with soda and ice, and settle in for a Halloween weekend of witchy movie binging.
I’ve been a fan of the Hollywood witch flicks since I was old enough to stay up past dark, watching the reruns on late night television. With the advent of VCRs, then CDs and now streaming, I’ve curated a collection of well-known classics, like the Mists of Avalon, Pratical Magick, Witches of Eastwick, and The Craft. But among my favorites are also the lesser known, sometimes hard to find, and a few unexpected.
The following list is not a critic’s review. I’m not including details like screenwriters, directors, or actors. These movies don’t always get all the details of witchcraft right, as is a pitfall of the Hollywood genre. I’m merely offering up my favorite picks, with brief descriptions of plot, and no spoilers.
With the exception of young children, there’s something for every sensibility here. So let’s get started.
Eve’s Bayou: When witchcraft is so much a part of your family, it’s barely even a thing.
My first pick might seem out of place for this list because the central theme of the movie is not witchcraft. It appeals to me for the inclusion of traditional folk magic when it’s not the central theme of the movie. It’s worth watching on many levels, not the least of which is the keen insights of women’s lot in American midcentury society, and the not so subtle inference that women who own their power are mentally unstable.
Released in 1997, this portrayal of a prosperous black family living in rural Louisiana in the 1960s is not a movie about witches or witchcraft. Yet, this critically acclaimed family drama happens to portray traditional folk magic in authentic ways. Watch it for the magical surrealism deftly woven into the gripping story of a young woman sorting through the dysfunction of an imperfect family. Rated-R for sexuality and language.
Suspiria: When you start to suspect an immortal soul has set up housekeeping in your body.
Since watching this 2018 release last year, the film has rocketed to a standing as one of my all-time favorite witch flicks. A remake of a 1977 horror masterpiece, this fear fest is as visually captivating as it is deeply chilling, thanks in no small part to the vivid imagery that is at times stunningly beautiful, and then starkly disturbing.
Suspiria starts out with a common trope, the beautiful innocent preyed upon by evil forces. When a young dancer is accepted into an elite performance troupe in Germany she wonders at her swift rise to the position of principal dancer. The plot takes a refreshing twist when she understands that her skill and execution on the floor are not the qualities that won her the coveted spot. Rather than running in horror from what she increasingly believes is an occult ritual to manifest the mother of all witches, she leans in for the full possession. This movie earns its R-rating for graphic violence and nudity. Not for the faint of heart.
The Witch: When you’re the least guilty of sin, but you are a young, fertile woman with no man to indenture your body to.
In this 2015 movie, a New England family of the mid-seventeenth century retreats to the wilderness, where the family’s fear of witches (not to mention oppression of sexuality) is magnified by isolation. When the youngest son disappears, the family can’t seem to decide whether to blame the oldest daughter, who was watching him, or the forces of evil they believe are ever present. With each unexplainable experience that befalls the family, the daughter comes under increasing suspicion of dabbling with evil. This tightly wound drama is a microcosm of the witch trials of the times—leveling accusations of witchcraft, often defined by sexual encounters with the devil, on women not tethered to a man. In that light, the ending is nothing short of brilliant.
Skeleton Key: When you try really hard to not believe in witchcraft, because if you don’t believe it, you can’t be hexed by it.
This 2005 movie set in a in a rundown Louisiana bayou plantation house, surrounded by ancient trees dripping with Spanish moss, is a moody spine tingler. Throw in a locked attic room, and hints of a hundred-year-old Hoodoo ritual for good measure, and you have the makings of decent whodunnit, albeit without benefit of knowing exactly what was done until the surprise ending. This movie is more about suspending disbelief and going along for the ride, than it is about tying up all the loose threads. The reveal ending is worth the ride, and the PG-13 rating makes this movie family friendly for older kids.
Rosemary’s Baby: When you marry a self-involved actor who makes a pact with a weird coven, and offers the use of your body in the deal.
This 1968 award winning movie is a classic witch flick. It was my first exposure to ritualistic magick (the Hollywood version, at least) after years of watching the charming and harmless Samantha Stevens simply twitch her nose to make magick happen. If you haven’t already seen this movie I can only imagine you’ve been living under a rock. Short take—bargain with the devil, incubus, mildly surprising ending.
Fun thought to ponder—the iconic movie posters for Rosemary’s baby may be singlehandedly responsible for the decline in popularity of the baby buggy. Rated-R for sex and nudity.
Carrie: When you don’t understand your gift and your mother is bats**t crazy.
Another classic released in 1976, this flick may or may not be the reason I skipped prom that year. This popular favorite touts three remakes, and again, if you haven’t seen at least one of them, where have you been?
Young and sheltered, teenage Carrie has been led to believe, by her mother (a religious fanatic several cards short of a full deck), that her gift of telekinesis is sinful and must be kept in the closet—where Carrie is frequently locked in with crucifixes to pray the night away. A Steven King novel adapted into a revenge on the mean girls movie, the original is a campy morsel of fun, if only to see a very young Sissy Spacek, and John Travolta in his movie debut. R-rated for brief nudity and language.
Trivia tidbit: Early in his career, Stephen King shopped this novel around to repeated rejections for so long that one day, in frustration, he pitched the manuscript into the fireplace. His every supportive wife, Tabitha, quickly retrieved it from the flames. Thanks Tabitha.
The Gift: When you understand your gift and it makes everybody around you bats**t crazy.
This 2000 release with Kate Blanchett is not to be confused with a later movie of the same name.
In a small southern town—swamps, ancient oaks and Spanish moss de rigueur—a widowed mother and psychic gets tangled up in a missing persons investigation that turns to murder. With adultery, corrupt politicians, and a gun-toting good ol’ boy not afraid to bully a child or take a swing at a woman (played by Keanu Reeves), it seems as though it could have been pulled from today’s headlines. A mildly interesting subplot is nicely woven into the spirits-are-afoot ending.
Warlock: When you’re dabbling in witchcraft and s**t gets real.
Also not to be confused with a western genre movie of the same name released in 1959.
If you can get beyond the etymology and debate over the true meaning of the label warlock, and you’re looking for a good witch flick that your non-magickal, and macho-male-identifying friends can also enjoy, this is the one. Released in 1989 this movie didn’t make it to American screens until 1991. The genre crossover includes special effects, time travel, mortal combat, is punctuated with chase scenes and, of course, the urgency to save the world as we know it. Rated R, lots of violence. If you like it, there are two sequels and all three are available together in a blue ray version.
Drag Me To Hell: When you don’t believe in curses, but they believe in you.
This 2009 horror film has good momentum leading to the edge-of-your-seat ending. When a young bank clerk refuses an old woman an extension on her mortgage, the crone levels a curse on her. Thus begins the fight, at times a physical knock-down-drag-out, to save her immortal soul from burning in hell for eternity. It would be easy to dismiss this horror classic for its stereotypical portrayal of Gypsy culture, if it hadn’t grossed over $90 million worldwide at the box office, and won the award for Best Horror Film at the 2009 Scream Awards, as well as the 2010 Saturn Awards.
That’s my list of favorite witchy movies. Tell me about yours in the comments.
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