5. The Lords of Salem (2012)
As much as I love listening to Rob Zombie talk about films, I’m far from a fan of his own movies. The singular exception, at least until his Munsters flick drops, is The Lords of Salem. Coincidentally, it’s also the only film in which Sheri Moon Zombie gives a good performance. She takes the lead here as a small-town DJ who stumbles into a mystery involving witches, curses, and rock music, and she’s joined by Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bruce Davison, Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Sid Haig, and others.
The film unpacks its narrative with a dreamy atmosphere that feels wholly appropriate as music and mood combine in a tale of past sins and future hells. Zombie spices things up with some truly wild imagery as well that sees dream logic bleed over into this small town’s reality. It’s also never shy about embracing its adult themes and visuals — it’s alternately ugly, beautiful, and weird as fuck. These witches aren’t fooling around. (Rob Hunter)
4. Inferno (1980)
Dario Argento constructed an intricate world of witches and the occult with his three films Suspiria, Inferno, and Mother of Tears — a witch horror trilogy! Suspiria may be making an appearance later on this list, but this is the place to celebrate the visually stunning, if not shallow, 1980 film Inferno. This is a direct sequel to Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria and tries to take more time to explain the lore of Argento’s world. We have the three Mothers, Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, and Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, who wish to rule the world with pain. Inferno is soaked in Argento’s typical purples and reds, prioritizing the set design and incredible architecture to create first and foremost a visually stunning experience. While the lore of the witches may not be totally clear, there’s no denying their absolute power. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
3. The Witch (2015)
Of all the arthouse horror films that came out of the mid-2010s, The Witch is hands down my favorite. It was a slice of old-world folk horror that we hadn’t seen in quite some time from a major theatrical release. It’s arguably what kick-started the recent spate of folk horror we’ve seen in the years since, like November, The Ritual, or Hagazussa.
But The Witch stands apart from other witch horror movies because director Robert Eggers offers no ambiguity or pretense to the terror plaguing his pilgrims: this is supernatural horror through and through. The titular broomstick riding baddie fucks up Thomasin and her family in absolutely brutal ways, but nothing is more horrible than how we are introduced to her. After snatching away baby Samuel, we see the nameless witch scuttle through the forest. As she lays the child on a surface, a knife appears. The next shot we see is of the witch, churning something, over and again, bits of gore sticking to the plunger as it moves up and down. She lathers herself with the blood, smearing it across a broomstick as she levitates into the night. Eggers doesn’t need to tell us what’s being churned, but after this moment, he’s trapped us in a world that is far more extreme than anything you may have been expecting from a period piece. (Jacob Trussell)
2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
When you think of the word “witch,” you probably think of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. This green-skinned villain became synonymous with the witch, warts, and all (pun intended). But it’s not just about what she looks like. Margaret Hamilton‘s performance is terrifying as she creates a truly scary monster for children through her exaggerated voice, sweeping physicality, and bubbling rage. She also nailed the quintessential witch’s cackle that is both devious and high-pitched, making your hair stand on end. Oh, and black cats? She’s never heard of them. Instead, she has an army of flying monkeys ready to fight on her behalf. Plus she wants to kill Toto, and honestly, that’s more monstrous than anything else. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
1. Suspiria (1977)
As promised, Dario Argento‘s Suspiria made it to our list in the number one spot, which is exactly where it deserves to be. This is not your typical witch horror movie, but rather something much more sinister. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) has recently arrived in Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy. The building is stunning, a gorgeously designed labyrinth of rooms that hide centuries-old secrets about the world of magic. This is the home of an ancient convent of witches. And in one of those rooms lays the coven leader, Helen Markos, whose reveal is the stuff of nightmares. These are some nasty witches who are interested in simple hexes or spells. They want to take over the world with blood and death. Sign me up, Mother Markos. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists