The season of the witch approaches, although personally, I feel pretty reborn every new moon…but with Halloween approaching we might as well take a look back at the cultural influence of the witch and societies never-ending fascination with the occult.
Throughout film history, there’s been a steady trickle of notable occult movies which serves to remind us that witches, paganism rites, rituals, spells and magic will never grow tired and has always been around.
Witches are a celebration of femininity, sexuality and beauty just as they are defamed, seen as wicked, depraved and ugly creatures.
The stunningly gorgeous witch; dark, mysterious, untouchable, truly lovable and desperately desired or feminine whose aura enthrals all, judges not and reminds us of pleasure and pain.
It’s incredible that such a divine enigma could be ridiculed and tortured throughout history namely through Christianity. Those who practised herbalism were denied, subjected to pain and loathing, yet were the ones who could heal and help solve the woes of humanity. Ironic since Christianity is all about saving souls…
But it’s not just witches who carry the stigma of the arcane, but the offspring of religion through hidden societies, cults, wizards, psychics, scientists and healers. Figures who are either deemed as damned or those who provide hope through curing illness and broken hearts.
Whether it’s the power of magical thinking and the supernatural or just psychological delusion, I decided to list some of my favourite movies which from time to time I revisit. These are also films which keep me questioning the wonders of this mystique and allure and yet whetting my appetite for delving deeper into the unknown.
Black Sunday (1960)
Barbara Steele’s chilling performance as a stunning ancient vampire-witch named Asa Vajda will make you fall to your knees in both terror and awe. Steele’s monologue before being burned at the stake will have you fighting her corner especially after seeing the spiked mask which is pummelled into her face.
Night of the Eagle AKA Burn Witch Burn (1962)
This movie certainly does prove and put forth the point that behind every successful man is a woman…or in this case a witch. But then again successful and powerful women still are referred to as witches…
I think the most interesting part of this movie is that a white middle-class woman returns from Jamaica to practice obeah/voodoo and has to protect her husband against another rival wife who is also using voodoo against them both.
The Witches (1990)
I was an avid reader of Roald Dhal books as a child and I read The Witches around five times. I have however seen the film many times more. To me this film is still pretty terrifying, Angelica Houston’s portrayal of the Grand High Witch is by far the most powerful witches performance I’ve seen starting with ‘You may remove your wigs…’
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are the perfect musical ensemble in this fantasy adventure horror which will have you singing and dancing to ‘I put a spell on you,’ and laughing away at the absurdness of this witches trio. This movie is the perfect holiday movie let alone Halloween.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A classic which still mesmerises on screen because of its cinematic beauty and production value. The most horrific part of the movie for me was actually the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, with ‘I’m melting, melting!’ The screams still haunt me to this day.
Holy Mountain (1973)
There’s a lot going on in this film related to occult practices, spells and mysticism that I just had to include this obscure and thought-provoking film.
American Horror Story: Coven (Series released 2013)
This was a series about a secret coven school for witches. There were good examples of spell work, although each episode felt like a fashion show with characters wearing some pretty groovy gothic attire which at times proved to be distracting. Jessica Lange also played the reigning supreme witch showing the young group of witches the meaning of being a witch…even if she was darn right wicked herself. Her arch rival was Voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau played by Angela Bassett and notorious slave serial killer Delphine LaLaurie played by Kathy Bates. I loved the way this series interwove real-life histories and characters into the main storylines, it made it an entertaining watch but also encouraged me to look into the real histories of the characters portrayed.
The Indian Tomb (1959) – Snake dance with Debra Paget
Although Deborah Paget didn’t play a witch…
There aren’t many good reviews about this Fritz Lang movie, however, I still found the snake dance by Debra Paget to be incredibly brave for its time. The erotic conjuring dance shows Paget’s character to be one of divine and sexual energy, captivating the men and at the same time attempting to break a curse. It’s uncomfortable viewing sometimes, but the explicitness in the eroticism has a shocking charm which encourages you to watch on as if one of the spectators in the arena.
An Argento classic not to mention the chilling soundtrack…need I mention more!
Another witch-inspired classical Italian horror that to me is still the most visually stunning – the underwater scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of any other film which has beaten the beauty and macabre underwater practically speaking, free of visual effects. It’s like a never-ending descent into a watery rabbit hole.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
After P3 I didn’t watch any of the other movies, but I felt the sideways step from paranormal/supernatural to a witch’s coven was an unexpected twist which worked really well, especially in a found-footage movie.
Three Women (1977)
From time to time, Kim Newman will introduce me to a rare and obscure movie, and say ‘You’ll like this one Simi.’ Three Women was one of those films and although it is described an as avant-garde drama when I mentioned to Kim that I felt it was an occult movie, he responded ‘It certainly has occult overtones…’ Phew!
House of the Devil (2009)
I love how this movie builds, it feels very indie and plays homage to 80s slasher horror. It’s quite slow but has a great sense of suspense and creepiness building up to an impressive nail-biting finale which will leave you screaming ‘NOOO!’
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
If you want a lesson in stardom and how to be a diva, just watch Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer terrorise Jack Nicholson in this movie. Yet another brilliant ensemble which makes you say ‘They just don’t make them like that anymore.’ I love this movie, it’s fun, devious, sexy and cheeky.
Practical Magic (1998)
This is a guilty pleasure, but also a fun-loving take on the mischievous and cunning ways of the witch. Sex, love, spells and power.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Burnt Offerings continues to haunt me because it follows the breakdown of a family. Tensions of which are actually caused by a malevolent force rather than a general family/husband and wife domestic. Oliver Reed plays the husband and his character transforms into this withered state of a man as he tries desperately to save his wife and son from a tragic and unforeseen fate. I will never get over how this film ends because it feels as though it could’ve been quite controversial for its time.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Donald Sutherland and Sharon Williams play a husband and wife haunted by the untimely death of their young daughter. But during a work-trip to Venice, they both start to see apparitions of their daughter. Facing truth, reality, or fantasy drives them both to the brink of insanity as they try to find answers and perhaps a meaning to their own lives after the tragedy.
Again, this isn’t classed as an occult film, but I believe the dance seen in the video has occult nuances. The hypnotic dance and seductive movements woo and lure the men. Indian culture opens up a world of mysticism, spells and curses through dance. The subtle erotic movements and vibrations in the moves are also known within tantric practices. Such dances are used for magical and female shamanic power and creating awakenings of the senses. To me, this feels like spell-work and being half Indian myself, I can say, that some of these erotic-dance rituals and movements do work!
The Love Witch (2016)
Ana Biller’s masterpiece is decadence and fantasy-joy on a platter. Although Biller didn’t intend to shoot a Giallo, The Love Witch feels like a classic Italian horror film with Hollywood 50s glamour. It’s strange and quirky yet such a treat to watch. I have the poster in my office and often during procrastination moments, my eyes will dart to the caption on the poster ‘She Loved Men…To Death.’
Into the Woods – Meryl Streep Sings Last Midnight
No matter how many times I try to sing this song, I cannot reach the depths and level of conviction Meryl Streep does! I love how she addresses the hypocrisy of human nature through this powerful showdown. Streep simply, lets it rip.