We are used from an early age to perceive movies about witches and witchcraft as scary tales of terror, created by directors and writers to stimulate our imagination and our desire to confront fear. But by studying these themes more deeply, we discover the most absurd and incredible aspects of human history. One of the main themes of witch movies is the phenomenon of witchcraft. A practice that has a very ancient history that is lost over the centuries.
The Character of the Witch
The witch is a woman dedicated to the magical arts, usually endowed with occult powers and interested in exercising power with black magic. However, the term witch does not always have a negative meaning: in the pagan world it simply indicated people capable of using filters, herbs, crystals and esoteric knowledge.
One of the most widespread main ideas about the witch is that it works in accord with the devil to spread evil in humanity. This information and beliefs have been exploited to find scapegoats, such as mentally unstable, marginalized, sick elderly, ugly looking people.
This is what the church has done for centuries with the witch hunt, accusing people who are fragile or not aligned with their religious ideology, of working in accordance with Satan. This is what Islamic fundamentalists continue to do today with their terrorist attacks on “Western sinners”.
The Witches’ Sabbath
In ancient communities, especially in the Middle Ages, the witch represented a danger, a threat to people and to the crops of agricultural land. The witch sabbath was usually a pagan festival held in the woods, in honor of the evil one. Through the sabbaths, witches could acquire a power that was dangerous to anyone.
The traces of these ceremonies can be found from the times of Ancient Egypt and span millennia. Even today, even if no one talks about it, it seems that black magic are a common practice all over the world. Classical Greek and Roman literature is very rich in tales of witches described as monstrous beings half human and half animal. This type of figure is also present in Mesopotamia, Judaism and the Bible.
In Italy, tales of witchcraft are widespread in the Aeolian Islands, the volcanic islands off the coast of Sicily. Starting from 1200 the father, after more than a century of studies by alleged theologians on demonology, officially opens the witch hunt with an official decree. In 1275 the first execution on a stake of a witch accused of practicing black magic takes place in Toulouse.
The Persecution of Witches
Over the centuries several hundreds of thousands of women are burned at pyres across Europe. The peak of the extermination of women accused of being witches takes place in 1400 thanks to the text Malleus Maleficarum, written by a German friar commissioned by the Catholic Church. The text was a perfect propaganda tool to spread these beliefs even in the population who had always denied the existence of witches.
In the Malleus Maleficarum there are extremely practical instructions for recognizing and catching witches that inquisitors have been observing for centuries. Torture was used as a tool to extract confessions about the practice of black magic from women. Witches were perceived by the population that was under the influence of propaganda as a real sect.
One of the headquarters of European witchcraft was in Italy, in Benevento, under a walnut tree where satanic sabbaths took place three times a week. However, it is not just about rituals in a wood in Benevento: the sect of witches was organized with rules and a real hierarchy: a structure that proposed the ecclesiastical models of Rome with opposite purposes and motivations. The last execution of a witch at the stake took place in Italy in 1828.
To give witches the power to fly is a special ointment that we also find in Bulgakov’s literary masterpiece, The Master and Margarita. They fly to the place where the Sabbath will take place and where they will have the honor of kissing the anus of Satan himself, a ritual gesture followed by sexual orgies, dances and human sacrifices of children.
Rational Explanations of Witchcraft
The essay by a Dutch doctor De praestigiis daemonum of 1563, has the merit of hypothesizing for the first time a link between witchcraft and mental illnesses with a hallucinatory character. Women with severe mental illness or frustration are usually the ones accused of witchcraft. But several priests and theologians wrote new essays in the following centuries, continuing to affirm the dominant idea of witchcraft.
Many of the salient features of witchcraft resemble elements of new spiritual movements such as Wicca. They lack the nomenclature that we find in the great religions and are addressed to universal spiritual entities, with characteristics common to pagan cults. The New Age movements have spread all over the world and are now followed by millions of people.
Perhaps the latest, incredible case of witch hunts is that of the persecution of the Indian spiritual leader Osho, persecuted in the 1980s for the New Age commune he had created in the Oregon desert, in the United States. Christian fundamentalists accused him of being the head of a satanic sect. Arrested without any concrete charge, Osho has had to travel as an exile all over the world, meeting dozens of countries that have refused to host him.
Does the witch hunt still exist today? Perhaps it has changed its name, perhaps the new witches and new shamans have nothing to do with the satanic sabbaths. But the scapegoat technique seems to be one of the main techniques implemented by all the strong powers, both political and spiritual. They always point their accusing index finger with mass media towards the categories that must be demonized and burned at the stake.
Selected from the most important and fundamental movies to watch for every film lover, a series of films about witches or that revolve around the theme of witchcraft not to be missed!
Filmed in 1922 by director Benjamin Christiansen. Desecration of tombs, torture, possessed nuns and witches’ sabbath: Haxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages is an incredibly original and unconventional film that has become legendary over time. Between documentary and dramatic fiction, the film guides us through the scientific hypothesis that witches of the Middle Ages suffered from the same ills as the mentally ill of the modern era.
Masterpiece of the history of cinema which begins as an essay film to become a fiction that anticipates cinema gothic horror, until it turns into a dramatic documentary on the reality of the facts. Immense figurative skills, exceptional casting, topics relating to witchcraft treated with great sensitivity and with the intention of social denunciation. Honestly, as much as I like the packaging of modern cinema, it’s rare today to come across something like Haxan.
I Married a Witch (1942)
A comedy curious and noir-tinged, which had been largely forgotten in obscurity despite the presence of stars Fredric March and Veronica Lake. Amusingly, the synopsis doesn’t sound like a comedy in any way: the film revolves around a witch and her father who are taught to wield dark magic, only to be revived in the 1940s, where they molest the man’s descendant. in charge of their deaths.
As in the later Bell, Book & Candle, the farcical use of magic is used for laughs but at the same time strangely menacing: it is used first to push a boy into extramarital affairs and then to motivate citizens’ scams in an election. No matter, you are watching today to see 1940s hottie Veronica Lake at the peak of her powers, who is very attractive in her signature hairdo. Regardless of the decidedly ridiculous plot, it’s hard to resist Lake’s extraordinary charm.
The Undead (1957)
A woman is put into a psychic trance and sent back in time directly into the body of one of her medieval ancestors, who is doomed to die as a witch. He runs away from a real witch named Livia (Allison Hayes), who works with the devil. There is also another witch, a rogue who helps Livia, and one of the psychics who travels back in time with her. Produced and directed by Roger Corman, this is a B movie unusual and funny that is a mix of horror: violence, reincarnation, time travel, comedy and fun.
There are funny scenes with the witch and the leprechaun turning into animals, especially a pair of grotesque-looking bats. Even the undertaker is amusing with his witty rhymes and arguments, such as when he calls the graveyard his “meat farm”. The devil is great, with his constant laughter and a huge pitchfork. On Saturdays, he summons a trio of dead girls to go up to the grave and dance. The film is particularly notable for the appearance of actress Hayes, her very skintight dress.
Hayes was a B-movie starlet of the 1950s, mostly due to her appearance in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. The film was shot in six days on a budget plan of $70,000, in an old supermarket. It is also notable for featuring a female antagonist and a female lead, with the lead male playing a weak and vulnerable role. The film has a cult following among fans of horror films, drive-ins, small budget independent films. If you like this genre you have to check it out.
Bell, Book & Candle (1958)
It is strange to believe that mere months after starring at odds with each other in Vertigo, masterfully suspenseful by Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak reunited for a fun romantic film about metropolitan witches. Widely regarded as the last time Stewart played a true romantic lead in her profession (she was 50 at the time), the film is instead controlled by the icy and sexy Novak, who plays a Bohemian witch who makes the decision to get the Stewart’s love for a vengeance.
She obviously falls in love with the much older man, causing a dilemma between keeping her witch powers or giving in to the pleasure. The whole story is played as an “attractive” farce, yet it’s at the same time the kind of story that you really wouldn’t be able to play as a light comedy today. However the film lays the groundwork for a genre that would later be seen in Bewitched and I Dream of Genie.
Black Sunday (1960)
In 1630 Moldavia, the witches Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and Javuto are sentenced to death by Asa’s brother and the Inquisition. They are tortured, branded with the letter “S” of Satan and have an iron mask nailed to my face. 200 years later, they return from the realm dead, when a group of medical professionals discover the burial site and accidentally damage the cross and glass panel. One of the medical professionals cuts himself on the glass and his blood brings the witch back to life. He summons Javuto with the strategy of draining the blood of his kinswoman Princess Katia (also played by Steele) in order to gain eternal life.
This is a gothic horror created in Italy which is regarded as one of the outstanding works of art of the horror. It makes use of a mix of atmosphere, sound, gore and its environments from gothic movie. Reminiscent of excellent 1930s black and white horror films like Dracula, and the Hammer horror films that inspired it. It is notable for being the directorial launch of Mario Bava and actress Barbara Steele, both of whom are mostly associated with the horror style. Bava would later direct notable films Black Sabbath, The Body and the Whip, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby, Kill, A Bay of Blood, Lisa and the Devil.
Steele came to be recognized for her striking charm, big eyes and dark hair and has appeared in numerous horror films, from Pit and the Pendulum, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The Ghost, Castle of Blood, An Angel of Satana and the curse of the red altar. Steele succeeds in his portrayal of conflicting personalities, changing faces from innocent princess to wicked witch.
There are many notable scenes, consisting of the opening where the witch is tortured and killed. There are great close-up shots of the iron mask and the nails inside it, as it cuts back to shots of the witch as the mask approaches her. Then there’s a scene as they hammer the mask into her face and blood oozes out. There are also a series of impressive scenes where her mask is removed and scorpions appear from her hollow eyes, then a series of scenes revealing her regeneration.
There’s also a great scene where Javuto emerges from the tomb she’s hidden in, her mask still pinned to her head. The film was loosely based on a Russian short story called The Viy, which would later receive a Russian adaptation titled Viy (1967) that was faithful to its reference material. The external scenes and some internal scenes were filmed by the Scalera Film studios, while the internal scenes were filmed in a castle in the town of Arsoli, in Italy. The film had some success in Italy and also in the United States and obtained very positive reviews and a strong cult among horror fans.
The Terror (1963)
Lieutenant Duvalier (Jack Nicholson), a French soldier, loses contact with his unit and is forced to wander alone near the Baltic Sea. While searching for his regiment, he spots Helene (Sandra Knight), a mysterious beauty, walking alone. Spellbound, Duvalier begins following her, but she vanishes. He later catches up with her and follows her to a castle, where he meets the bizarre Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff), finds signs of witchcraft, and learns the shocking truth about Helene.
Horror movie by Roger Corman from 1963, Jack Nicholson’s first starring role. Behind the surface of a genre film is an interesting development on occult themes related to witchcraft, such as the ability to take control of people’s physical bodies through etheric body and other invisible bodies. The phenomenon of mesmerism is also mentioned, a term born from the name of its inventor, the German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer, who lived in the eighteenth century.
“Kwaidan” is a 1964 Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. This is a unique and extraordinary cinematic work based on four short stories by the famous Japanese ghost story author, Lafcadio Hearn.
The film is made up of four distinct episodes, each set in a different time and place, but all with a common theme: stories of ghosts and witchcraft. Each episode develops in a poetic and visually fascinating way, transporting viewers to a magical and surreal world.
The four episodes are:
- “Kwaidan” (full movie title): It tells the story of a man who decides to abandon his young wife to chase a better fortune, but his decision will have paranormal consequences.
- “The Snow Woman”: It tells the story of a young painter who meets a mysterious snow woman during a stormy night.
- “Hoichi the Storyteller”: A young blind storyteller gets caught up in a supernatural situation when a mysterious dead noblewoman asks to hear his music.
- “In a Cup of Tea”: This episode is a story of witchcraft and deception involving a samurai and a particularly special tea.
“Kwaidan” is known for its outstanding direction and cinematography, with masterful use of color, light and shadow to create enchanted and frightening atmospheres. Toru Takemitsu’s soundtrack contributes significantly to emphasizing the dreamlike atmosphere of the film.
The film received praise for its originality and artistic approach to horror fiction. “Kwaidan” has become an icon of Japanese cinema and gained international fame, garnering several awards and accolades at various film festivals. It is an extraordinary work of art for aficionados of auteur cinema and for those who appreciate the charm of Japanese ghost stories and legends.
The Witches (1966)
Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) is on a mission trip to Africa when she encounters an event of voodoo practitioners and suffers a nervous breakdown. He returns to England and takes up a teaching position in a small town, hoping to recover from his traumatic experiences.
He begins to find unusual events happening around town; woman with mangled hand, pet cat following her around, baby in coma, voodoo doll with pins, boy and his mum died after conversation with one of the old women, baby’s dad drowns , is trampled by a group of sheep, regresses after seeing the voodoo mask that was in Africa. All these events lead her to discover that there is a coven of witches who intend to have a virgin among their rituals.
The Conqueror Worm (1968)
In 1645, England is in the midst of civil war and there are social and political upheavals. This is causing strife in the local towns as men take advantage of it and are able to gain power by exploiting witchcraft superstitions.
One of these men is the witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), who goes around the small towns of the countries abusing the admission of alleged witches. He similarly abuses his powers for sexual acts and financial gain. When a pastor is abused and hanged by Hopkins, his niece’s boyfriend promises to track him down and kill him.
The film is a dark and realistic vision of what happened during that period, with numerous scenes of violence, torment, murder and rape. The film is notable for numerous factors. It features a fine performance by Price as the villainous Hopkins who acts as if he acknowledges his weird witchcraft exams are fraud but does the job for the perks instead of a conviction of moral justice.
Price said all the actors on set had a difficult time with the director, Michael Reeves, unable to communicate with the actors. The name of the film was changed for American circulation to The Conqueror Worm, to coincide with Price’s Edgar Allen Poe films. It grossed around $1,500,000 in America.
It has retained a cult following due to the director’s unfortunate death, followers of horror, followers of witchcraft, and fans of Vincent Price as well. If you like any of these then you should check it out, it’s considered a classic of British horror.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby, as much as it is a classic horror, may not be the first film to consider in a collection of “witch movies”. But what else is Minnie Castevet? A truly depraved soul in the service of its dark master, the friendly neighbor. Few movies have done more to destroy that 1950s oversimplification of “neighborhood care” than Rosemary’s Baby, nor have they done more to make an idyllic past “when you didn’t really have to close the doors” seem even sillier. “.
This is all thanks to Gordon, whose inherent harmlessness, physical frailty, brash movements, and even repetitive vocalizations belie the cold-blooded composure we briefly see as Rosemary peers into his unflappable face through the peephole. Gordon plays the character by displaying his weak physique, even as he serves an essential function in stripping Mia Farrow of all her steadfastness and power to resist. Truly, of all the witches on this list, she is one of the most instrumental in her wickedness.
The Wicker Man (1973)
“The Wicker Man” is a 1973 British film, directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer. It is a prime example of a cult film and is considered one of the best psychological horror films in the history of cinema.
Synopsis: The protagonist of the film is police sergeant Neil Howie, played by Edward Woodward. Howie is sent to Summerisle, a remote Scottish island, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison. Upon arriving on the island, Howie discovers a bizarre and isolationist community, led by Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee.
As Howie continues his investigations, he comes across a series of oddities and encounters with the inhabitants of the island, all of whom seem to be secretly involved in a pagan cult. Things get more and more sinister, and as Howie gets closer to the truth, he realizes that the girl’s disappearance could be connected to a dark ritual involving the figure of a giant wicker man.
The film explores themes of religion, superstition, the conflict between paganism and Christianity and the concept of human sacrifice. Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer and direction by Robin Hardy made “The Wicker Man” a one-of-a-kind work with a gripping storyline and eerie atmosphere.
‘The Wicker Man’ is known for its surprising and memorable conclusion, which helped earn the film its cult movie status. Despite being the subject of a controversial distribution and cut into several versions, the film has become a classic loved by fans of the horror genre and auteur cinema.
From the hypnotic opening sequence of the film, which follows Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) as she takes a taxi ride through a Grimm-style forest, audiences are struck by the Goblins’ baroque music and Luciano Tovoli’s phantasmagorical photography. He and Argento used Technicolor and state-of-the-art lighting strategies to achieve the distinctive Disney-inspired effects of red, yellow, green and blue, colors that end up being “the monster” in the film, a clear indication of the supernatural. Significantly, when Suzy comes face to face with the film’s antagonist, the witch Helena Markos, Markos is not perceived.
Independent film made on a ridiculous budget grossing over $200 million. Phenomenon of 1979 that definitively launches the slasher genre and consecrates the genius of the director John Carpenter. A film from which several producers will try to squeeze every last dollar with countless sequels. However, none of these films will be directed by John Carpenter anymore, with his fascinating ability to create fear without any special effects, without blood splatters, without any stars in the cast. One of the rare film cases “truly” independent which have become world famous. As will happen years later to horror The Blair Witch Project.
Eve’s Bayou (1997)
With a slice of life in the movies and comedies charming offerings in quick succession in the late 1990s, Lemmon’s directorial launch is a tour de force with outstanding performances by Jurnee Smollett, Debbi Morgan, Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield. Between her father’s gross infidelity and her older brother’s expanding femininity, the 10-year-old begins to rely on luck and even voodoo to defeat her family’s wrongdoings.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The “witch” of the title in The Blair Witch Project is ultimately whatever you want her to be. Almost deceptively advertised upon its release, The Blair Witch Project was just one of the biggest hits of the 1990s in film advertising and marketing. Using the internet to spread rumors about the beginning of the film and the events of the story passed off as real, Blair Witch has been busy convincing ordinary people that they were in a cinema, watching a film in wide release. The truth that it was never at all clear who (or what) “the witch” was, in particular, only heightened the sense of voyeuristic dread. All we knew was that there was something extremely wrong with those ads.
The Witches Are Back (2014)
What Shaun of the Dead did for zombies and What We Do in the Shadows did for vampires, Witching & Bitching essentially did for the cinematic representation of witches, albeit on a far less visible scale. Of the two films, it’s Edgar Wright’s film that rings far more true than Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching, which is basically a heist film that takes a detour into the world of cannibalistic witches, with a side of absurdity.
Packed with great performances from its Spanish cast, and also packed with surprisingly gory scenes, it’s a funny horror that doesn’t skimp on splatter. You can’t take his witches seriously, however that won’t stop them from tying you to a spit and even roasting you alive.
The Witch (2015)
From its first moments, The Witch locks us in a hostile land. We consider, because that’s all we can do, how Puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) stubbornly suggests banishing his family members from their area of ”New England.” The chariot always stumbles in the desert, approaching the frontier of this New World on the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It is 1620 and William says, “We will rule this wilderness.”
Eggers’ “The Witch – New England Folk Tale” is a scary film full of the charm of the unknown. To say that it resembles the Salem witch trials, which occur 70 years after the events of the film, would certainly be an understatement: the unpredictable consequences of this historic event hang heavily over The Witch. Eggers build tension within each take, almost never relying on mundane effects or gore, but building suspense through masterful editing. The impact, then, is that of a feverish structure of desire in which primitive pressures – lust, defiance, longing, greed – simmer alongside experience, hidden but never quite mastered.
“Hagazussa” is a 2017 Austrian arthouse film, written and directed by Luke Feigelfeld. This film is known for being a striking and visually powerful work that explores themes of witchcraft, isolation and paranoia.
Synopsis: The film is set in the 15th century in the Austrian Alps. It follows the story of Albrun, a young woman who has lived on the margins of society and been outcast from the community due to rumors surrounding her deceased mother, who is also thought to be a witch. Albrun lives in a secluded cabin and earns his living by gathering herbs in the forest.
As the film progresses, Albrun’s life becomes increasingly dark and disturbing. He suffers from isolation, superstitions and hallucinatory visions. Furthermore, when she suffers abuse and discrimination from the local population, her psyche is severely affected, leading her to sink deeper and deeper into madness.
“Hagazussa” is a film that emphasizes atmosphere and feeling of oppression rather than linear narrative. Directed by Lukas Feigelfeld is characterized by long shots and a masterful use of photography, which captures the disturbing beauty of the Alps and helps to create a feeling of claustrophobia and growing emotional discomfort.
This arthouse film is appreciated by lovers of experimental cinema and psychological horror, as it offers a dark and enveloping vision of witchcraft and the fears that afflict its main character. It is a work that spares no effort in showing the darkness and cruelty of human nature, and for this reason it has earned acclaim among critics and moviegoers who seek unusual and intense cinematic experiences.
During the time of terrorist attacks in Germany called the German Autumn, American dancer Susie Bannion moves to Berlin to join a prestigious ballet company. One of the pupils, Patricia Hingle, disappeared after joining the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. In reality she disappeared after having told her psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, that she had discovered that the school hides a coven of witches whose supreme would be a certain Helena Markos. According to the girl’s version, she proclaims herself as the personification of one of the three infernal deities known as the Three Mothers, or Mother of Sighs, the Mother of Sighs.
An experimental film produced by a large production house and directed by Luca Guadagnino, it is an extraordinary work that goes beyond the standard cinematic language we are used to today. Really scary movie from the very first sequences. The plot gradually leads us to discover the secrets and the sect of witches that hide behind the dance school.
The ending, which to some may seem excessive, is textbook of cinema history: a clever aesthetic choice that surprises and completely changes the style of the story to show the horror without any filter. A film that is still recent but that over the years will surely end up being accepted in the lists of must see movie and masterpieces.