October is the month for witchy movies, and maybe this year, you’re craving something offbeat and intense, filled with forests of gnarled trees, crafty familiars, and spells that deliver potent justice. Let’s watch witches inhabiting their bodies with deliberate, life-changing magics.
The film genres of witch movies range from horror films to comedy. Hocus PocusRomantic thrillers are my favorite genre. Practical Magic. Films portray witches in negative stereotypes, such as old and ugly, evil, destructive, sexually promiscuous, or even destructive. Witchcraft is often viewed as all-natural and supernatural. For example, witches are capable of bending objects or shooting lightning bolts with their hands. Black cats flying broomsticks and talking to each other are common hallmarks.
There are many films that depict the different types of witches in history, which go along with popular witch movies. In contrast to the supernatural, the natural witch is a type of herbalist that lives in a forest house and sells her skills as a midwife for fresh eggs. She could also be someone who predicts the coming storms and wears ragged black clothes on her garden scarecrows. Although less terrifying than the supernatural witches, recent movies like “The Natural Witch” have shown the scarecrows of the natural witch. Hellbender, You Won’t Be AloneAnd She willYet, it is a formidable feat.
There are also teenage witches, notably portrayed in 1997’s cult hit CraftThey have been cultural icons of the 1960s and 1970s. Miranda Corcoran, author of American Popular Culture: Adolescence and WitchcraftAccording to her, the rise in popularity of teen witches was due to cultural changes. “The teenage witch is an archetype created in the period just after World War II—just as the teenager was emerging as a new social demographic,” she tells TIME. “Initially, the teen witch functioned as a trope that allowed adults to express their anxieties about adolescent girlhood.” This evolved, she says, and their “magical abilities and metamorphic potential empowered young women to explore their own fears, insecurities, hopes and desires.”
The films also focus on the witches in middle age. They explore that territory where women become crones and mother, and reach a point in their lives when society rejects them as not being desirable or fertile.
Below are the films that show how witches can permeate society in many different ways: as outsiders or edge-dwellers; as wise-women and seductresses; as healers and rebels; as figures of mystery.
The Love Witch
Anna Biller’s 2016 tour de force of visual style is steeped in 1970s imagery and sensibilities, with a flawless “ABC Movie of the Week” vibe. The film relishes the sexually-manipulative deeds of its spellcasting sorceress (played by Samantha Robinson), who does it all for love, but leaves a trail of mayhem in her wake.
You Won’t Be Alone
Set in Macedonia in the 18th century, this 2022 Sundance premiere is director Goran Stolevski’s debut. The birth of a baby girl named Nevena prompts a frightening legendary figure, Old Maid Maria, to visit her mother and demand the baby’s blood for sustenance. To keep Nevena safe, the mother convinces Old Maid Maria that she should wait until Nevena is sixteen years old. Nevena is played by Sara Klimoska (Macedonian actress), and has wild animal grace and beauty. She knows very little about the world of people. Through a short but brutal initiation, she becomes a witch. Most coming-of-age witch stories involve menstrual metaphors. Noomi Rapace and Alice Englert play her as she matures. Nevena learns through shapeshifting. This involves entering the bodies and organs of other people and animals. In a deep voiceover she shares her experiences and thoughts. English subtitles capture her poetic, dreamy nature. The film is filled with stunning scenes that show the beauty and complexity of human nature.
The blood initiation gives the middle-aged teenage witch the opportunity to become a blood priest. HellbenderHer true nature is evident. Izzy (Zelda) lives in Catskills with her mom (Toby Poser). They pass the time hiking, foraging for dinner, and performing heavy metal songs in their basement as the band “Hellbender.” Izzy’s mom homeschools her, saying she has an infectious disease, but when Izzy runs into a local girl, she makes a new friend. Izzy’s desire to have a social life is met with fear, and her mother’s ambiguous rules start to fall apart as Izzy grows and asks more questions. Izzy has a desire to find out more about her abilities, but her mother is keeping her from knowing the truth. “We thoroughly enjoyed thinking about witchcraft and then trying to forget everything we might ‘know’ of it. We are very interested in the nature-based, elemental, magical slant,” Poser (also a director, writer and producer in this small family film-making collective) tells TIME. “Once Izzy discovers her true and unapologetic nature, she rejects Mother’s denial of hers.”
Izzy realizes that she might actually be the stronger witch when the tables eventually turn. There is also a sense of triumph for disenfranchised teens: they can create a unique identity, maybe even become one of the “cool kids,” just by being themselves. This edgy, outsider energy is captivating. Izzy, initially shy and fearful of the world around her, blossoms and becomes confident and charismatic. This indie with a low budget is innovative and quite impressive.
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In Gaspar Noé’s 2019 film, French actors Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg play themselves, giving this unusual film a metacinematic vibe. The first half finds Béatrice and Charlotte sitting around talking the night before they are set to shoot a film about witches that Béatrice is directing. Béatrice has played a witch many more times than Charlotte, and she offers her sage wisdom on how to handle scenes where they’re being burned at the stake. All becomes chaos again the following morning. Producers try to sabotage Béatrice’s authority, pushy pseudo-journalists invade the set, and there are serious safety concerns. Noé, ever the provocateur, dedicates the film to male directors who have made films about witches (Pasolini, Polanski, Dreyer, etc.Perhaps, they are missing the point. Dalle and Gainsbourg play two brilliant actors who unravel their workdays amid screams, anger, fire and fury.
In Charlotte Colbert’s 2021 film, Alice Krige delivers a powerful performance as Veronica Ghent, an aging film actor whose recent surgery has irrevocably altered her perception of her own beauty and vitality. Veronica must attend a kind of mindfulness seminar led by Rupert Everett. These events seem to bring out the anger and pent up pain from the long-dead witches. This metaphor is very familiar to women today. The witch as crone, as hag, as old woman who has outlived her sexual usefulness, is the stereotype lurking in the shadows of this moving story of confronting one’s legacy and mortality in a world beguiled by youth.
Season of the Witch
Also called Get Hungry Women, George Romero’s underseen and undersung 1973 film portrays women’s sexual liberation and personal empowerment via witchcraft. It’s a topical send-up of pop psychology and the post-1960s occult revival, complete with a superb montage to Donovan’s vibey title track, where the main character, an unhappy suburban housewife, visits a witchcraft shop in Manhattan.
Lords of Salem
Rob Zombie’s 2012 film is a stylish, spooky tale of a radio DJ (Sherri Moon Zombie) who becomes haunted by the demonic forces lurking in her building.
Sisterhood of Night
Caryn Waechter’s 2015 film of Marilyn Fu’s screenplay adaptation of a 1994 short story by Stephen Millhauser is a compelling coming of age story tinged with the energy and imagery of Salem Village’s atmosphere of bullying and grandstanding. A secret girls’ club said to be practicing witchcraft in the woods becomes a target for persecution.
Quinn Shephard stars as Quinn Shephard and the film is directed and written by her. It centers around a 2017 high school production. The CrucibleShephard is a lonely student who has a close relationship with her drama teacher, Chris Messina. This leads to ugly gossip.
Hagazussa (A Heathen’s Curse)
The German-Austrian film is both visionary and violent. Intriguingly, it follows a shepherdess living alone in her village of 15th century Alpine. It’s a subtle story with an earthy, haunting tone.
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You are not a witch
The village of Zambia makes a child accuse her of witchcraft, and she is made into a celebrity. In this 2017 award-winning debut movie from Rungano Nioni, there is comedy, social satire, and shocking heartbreak.
Eyes of Fire
Avery Crouse, who wrote and directed this story in 1983, explores the superstitious environment that pervades Colonial North America during the 19th century. In one of few 1980s folk horror movies about witches, a charismatic preacher takes his followers along the frontier to a frightening realm of pagan visions.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw
The 1971 film of Piers Haggard, is one of the most important examples of folk horror cinema. It’s a chilling tale of a cult-like craze that overtakes a group of children in a 17th century English village who decide to invoke the evil spirits of the land.
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