October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best witch horror movies that still count as horror is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
The stereotypical image of the witch is an old woman with a hooked nose, some hairy warts, a black cat, and a black cauldron full of some mysterious bubbling liquid. She cackles with glee and horrifies little children, and may even gobble them up. But witches are so much more than that. They can be supernatural monsters that don’t just perform magic but command spirits. The witches on this list run the gamut from both the beloved cinematic witches of our childhoods to more sinister, evil creatures that seem devoid of humanity.
So grab that salt and sprinkle in your doorway before checking out some of the best witch horror movies, as chosen by Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Anna Swanson, Meg Shields, and myself.
10. Hocus Pocus (1993)
If you’re of a certain age, Kenny Ortega‘s Hocus Pocus hits you just right. You watched it at the time of its release as a little kid and have watched it multiple times every October since. I happen to be of that certain age, and I adore this family-friendly horror-comedy. Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are the Sanderson sisters, Salem witches that feed on the youth of children. Before their execution in 1693, Winifred casts a spell that will allow them to be resurrected during a full moon on All Hallows’ Eve, provided a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle.
Flash forward to Halloween 1993, and Max Denison (Omri Katz) is the dumb virgin they waited for. Max lights the candle, and the Sanderson sisters are back on the loose! Hocus Pocus is light-hearted fare that fully leans into the Halloween spirit. Midler is dynamic as the smartest of the sisters, delivering one of the finest renditions of “I Put A Spell On You” while being equal parts creepy and fabulous. Parker and Najimy are perfect as the dimwitted sisters, and the film delivers plenty of tricks and treats along the way, including legendary cameos from Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall. (Chris Coffel)
9. The Season of the Witch (1972)
Watching The Season of the Witch is like pressing play on a dream, a dream that masks a nightmare. The film wanders quietly into Joan Mitchell’s life, where we see a series of psychological assaults from her husband, culminating in a physical attack. It’s not brutal but shocking and fat with the promise of escalating future encounters. When a new neighbor proves herself a witch, Joan lays her heart at her feet, and her person soon swells with power. Given a boost of spirit and energy, Joan reclaims her life and reduces the brute who dared lay his hand on her into fearful little welp. George A. Romero concludes the film with society still refusing to recognize Joan’s singularity but promises the audience that such slights will not go unpunished. (Brad Gullickson)
8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The scariest witch is the one we can’t see, which is what makes The Blair Witch Project so damn scary. For the entire movie, we hear Heather (Heather Donahue) and residents of Burkittsville recall the legend of the Blair Witch, describing a woman covered in thick, coarse fur, a massacre at Coffin Rock, and an overall feeling of uneasiness around the woods. These stories and legends hang over your head as Heather, Josh, and Mike get progressively more lost and find clues that there is something stalking them through the trees. Paranoia sets in as they find piles of rocks and their gear is covered in a strange slime; is there really a witch or is a group of locals just messing with them? That’s the power of this movie. You’re constantly doubting the existence of the witch and if this is just a case of three people getting lost. That is, until the film’s final moments. Then you’ll quickly find yourself believing that she’s real. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
7. Häxan (1922)
If your dramatized documentary invokes the wrath of international censors objecting to graphic depictions of torture, nudity, sexual perversion, and anti-clericalism… you’re doing something right. Directed and written by preeminent triple threat Benjamin Christensen (who also appears in the film as Satan himself), Häxan provides one of the most riotous and empathetic rundowns of the West’s superstitions surrounding witchcraft. In a series of dramatic vignettes, Häxan explores the hypothesis that historical “witches” most likely suffered from what would now be considered a mental illness. Far from self-serious, Häxan condemns the cruelty and ignorance of the past with a gleeful grin, indulging in a veritable witches brew of dark humor, abject horror, and unhinged expressionism. By casting a wide and miraculously cohesive net, Häxan manages to weave together a comprehensive pathology for both witches and their accusers, addressing everything from sexual repression to misogyny-flavored scapegoating. A remarkable century-old masterwork, Häxan is an essential, unflinching, and delightfully debauched must-watch. (Meg Shields)
6. Bell Book and Candle (1958)
While this 1958 witchy rom-com isn’t even close to being a horror movie, it does deliver an excellent cinematic witch in the form of Kim Novak’s Gil as she deceptively courts Jimmy Stewart’s Shep. Hot off the heels of Vertigo, Bell, Book, and Candle is a decidedly lighter film that still plays around with quite a few power dynamics. Spurred by an interest in Shep and a long-standing feud with his fiancee, Gil sets her sights on him while he remains clueless as to her true nature. And perhaps the best trick Gil could pull against him, the one that trumps any of the actual magic, is the power of Novak’s performance. She’s cunning, seductive, and effortlessly beautiful; that she has Shep willing to leave his fiancee is no surprise. But she’s also charming and a truly delightful screen presence. Sure, she starts as a bit of a piece of work, but Novak’s endlessly watchable performance ensures that no matter what Gil gets up to, we can’t help but feel bewitched by her. (Anna Swanson)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists