If you are a horror fan you undoubtedly know that witches, warlocks, and other elements of the supernatural are often highlighted within the genre. This usually pisses off at least a third of witchdom, but let’s face it; we don’t have whole ownership of the word witch. It is a word that precedes us, and its meaning is constantly being reinterpreted with each generation. In the sixties and seventies this interpretation included a lot of Satan and the movies during this time would go on to fuel much of the Satanic Panic. Not so good for religious freedom, but excellent for cinema!
I have never really been one of those witches who gets upset when Hollywood portrays us as gruesome or frightful. I quite like to see witches and magical folk wreaking havoc on the lives of muggles. It fills me with a sense of purpose and direction. (I’m joking. Mostly.) But at the end of the day, it is art that has been inspired by the image of the witch in classic and contemporary culture. During the sixties and seventies film was incredible artistic and the world of witchcraft was a playground for filmmakers.
I’m also a big classic and retro Horror fan and the witches from these films have always left an impression on me. You don’t have to be into the macabre to enjoy what these witches are stirring up; you just have to get over that Satan is the only god these witches have heard about.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Full of the stuff that sparked the Satanic Panic, Rosemary’s Baby is the story of a woman whose unborn child is sold to the devil through a pact made by her naïve and success hungry husband. It is more psychological than spooky and has landed a spot on many film lists.
Black Sunday (1960)
After being betrayed by her own brother, a witch is murdered only to come back 200 years later to take her revenge out on her descendants. This particular picture is a horror gem as it is one of Mario Bava’s (legendary and incredibly influential horror director) first films and is the first feature performance from original scream queen Barbara Steele. It is a classic and absolutely worth the cheesy invocation to Satan.
Cry of the Banshee (1970)
Staring the lovely Vincent Price as your classic Laird with a bad attitude who pisses off the local coven by executing most of its members and then has to deal with the consequences. Not to spoil it, but they summon a Banshee to kill his ass. Now, the Banshee looks more like a long-haired werewolf, but we can forgive that. I hope. Worth seeing if only because Price gives one of the most goofy of all his characters.
Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
While not the best film on this list it is worth mentioning because it is a pretty fun example of what happens when local spirits start to demand child sacrifice. Do you want a cult of witches to form? Because that is how you get a cult of witches to form. At least in the 17th century which is when this film takes place. There is a lot of needless drama in this one, but it pairs well with a glass of wine and Halloween candy.
The Devils (1971)
This is one in particular is one of my favorite witchy horror movies of all time. It is full of Freudian dilemma, needless violence at the hands of eager religionists, nuns who turn to witches, and the downfall (well a downfall) of institutional misogyny. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of sex exploitation, so I wouldn’t at all call this feminist, but it does show us what happens when religious power goes too far and the very devils created by this become everyone’s worst nightmare. I really love the way the film was shot and think it is a fantastic example of pre-code cinema. This film featuring the relationship between sex, violence, and religion was once widely banned around the world.
No list would be complete without this particular movie as it is known worldwide for being one of the best examples of 1970’s cinematography. It has wickedly vivid colors, artistically gruesome scenes, and it started more than one career. It is a little bit like Highlander meets the Craft meets Black Swan, but made before they were thought of. In short, a young Ballerina moves to Germany to pursue her studies but finds out she has actually moved into a school once known for witchcraft and evil things. It will make you jump, squeal, and is bloody in all the right ways. Also, I hope you like Maggots.
Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch, Burn! (1962)
This black and white spookfest showcases a horrible use of the term Voodoo, but it also happens to have some really cool spell ideas! A housewife has been using witchcraft to keep her life on the upswing, but a new witch moves to town and her life takes a turn for the worse. I think it might be the first witch on witch fight on film and should at the very least get a nod for that. Warning however, a lot of the drama centers around a man, so you know, if you are over that then you might want to skip this one.