The Horror Honeys: The Joy and Happiness of Hating: A Witch-Themed List for Hexmas!

The Joy and Happiness of Hating: A Witch-Themed List for Hexmas!

All photos courtesy of their individual distributors

A Head Honey 'Witch Month' List with Linnie

"You will never escape my vengeance, or of Satan's! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons, and of their sons, and their sons, I will continue to live forever! They will restore me to the life you now rob from me!" ~ Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele), Black Sunday (1960)

This October, we've decided to devote the entire month to the gloriousness that is the witch in film and literature. From it's earliest days, cinema has been fascinated with witchcraft and the lore associated with it, providing ample material to love, to loathe, and to fear for those of us who identify as witches. It is rare that a film about witches manages to be truly frightening, without also engaging in a little cinematic witch shaming (I'm looking at you, James Wan). So, in anticipation of our witch-themed issue of Belladonna, I've compiled a list of my favorite, genuinely scary witch movies, that don't also demonize witches (with one episode of a television show included for good measure). Before we begin, I only have one question...

Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

Häxan (1922)

"Poor little hysterical witch! In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law."

Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen in the still-silent era of film, Häxan was a fictional documentary that sought to chronicle the history of witchcraft and the women persecuted for practicing it. But it was also ahead of its time, in that it analyzed the many ways in which women were (and still are) wrongly accused of crimes, or mistrusted, simply by nature of being women. The visuals in Häxan are enduringly frightening, and it went on to influence generations of filmmakers. This film is an classic for a reason.

Black Sunday (1960)

"You too, can feel the joy and happiness of hating..."

Part witch story, part vampire lore, Mario Bava's Black Sunday features one of the most sympathetic witch characters of all time in Princess Asa Vajda. Betrayed by her family and murdered in one of the most brutal means ever seen on film, Asa casts a spell that curses her brother and all of his descendants, then promises revenge from the beyond. And can you blame her? Barbara Steele plays dual roles as Princess Asa and her distant relative Katia, and she is breathtaking in both, but it is Asa who introduces to the kind of all-powerful, grudge-holding witch we aspire to be.

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)
A.K.A Night of the Eagle

"And now, with a free mind and a protected soul, we ask you to enjoy, 'Burn Witch, Burn.'"

One of only two films on this list that skirts the line of cinematic witch shaming (and questionable in its portrayal because it mixes up traditional witchcraft and voodoo), Sidney Hayers' Burn, Witch, Burn gets a pass because its lead character, Tansy Taylor (Janet Blair) has good intentions. When a woman uses witchcraft to advance her professor husband's career, his rationality prevents him from believing. But when really terrible things start happening to him, he's forced to admit something bigger might be at play. Burn is very much of its time, but there is still something vaguely unsettling about the whole affair, and the performances elevate it above your standard throwaway 60s horror film.

Witchfinder General (1968)
A.K.A. The Conquerer Worm

"Men sometimes have strange motives for the things they do."

If you have a vision of Vincent Price as some delightful, mostly benign actor from your favorite horror movies, Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General will destroy that image for you. Price plays the movie version of the real monster that was Matthew Hopkins, a man who went town-to-town in England falsely accusing woman as witches to make money and try and force the accused to have sex with him. The true story is objectively terrifying, but seeing it played out on screen, through Price (with his creepy turned up to 11) renders Witchfinder General a movie that will give you nightmares, especially if you practice the magical arts.

The Craft (1996)

"Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power."

There is a reason there is a huge gap between the last two films. A LOT of cinematic witch-shaming happened in the 70s and 80s. It wasn't until Andrew Fleming's The Craft that we got to see powerful, interesting, non-offensive witches again, and they were teenagers no less! While Nancy's transition into a villain is a little bit of a bummer, we can't blame her for letting all of that power go to her head. And the scenes of sisterhood that anchor the beginning of the film are still a beautiful thing, twenty-one years later. 

Black Death (2010)

"Yes, this village is without the pestilence... but it is also without God. For this, they will suffer."

Christopher Smith's Black Death is the most unexpected movie on this list, in that it posits some really interesting origins for the witch trials, while still managing to avoid shaming witches. Set during the first outbreak of the plague in England, Black Death follows a group of mercenaries, and a monk, as they try to determine why one particular village remains untouched by the disease. The hypocrisy of organized religion, the fear of the unknown, and man's fear of powerful women are all at the forefront of Dario Poloni's script for this underrated gem, not to mention the pure joy of seeing Carice van Houten get her temptress on, pre-Game of Thrones. Black Death isn't a barn-burner of excitement, but it's a slow-burn character study with some deeply unnerving visuals that will linger with you indefinitely.

The Lords of Salem (2012)

"We've been waiting, Heidi... We've always been waiting."

Once again, there is probably room to question whether or not Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem is witch-shame-y or not. Very few witches worship Satan (most Satanists don't worship Satan), and the lengths the witches go to for revenge is pretty frigging extreme. And yet, you can't help but appreciate that level of commitment. Waiting centuries for the descendant of your killer, so that you can then manipulate into orchestrating your revenge plot against the people of Salem? That's some clever shit. Unfortunately (fortunately?), like most Zombie films, what The Lords of Salem lacks in an entirely coherent plot, it more than makes up for in distinctive (and beautiful) visual style. I'm no Zombie fan, but I will make an exception for The Lords.

Inside No. 9, “The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge,” 
Series 2, Episode 3 (2015)

"Now bring forth the witch! I mean... accused woman."

If you haven't seen Inside No. 9, an anthology series from the UK created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, rectify that immediately. One of my favorite episodes is "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge," which is based on the Matthew Hopkins story (which we saw above in Witchfinder General). As with all episodes of Inside No. 9, there is a bit of comedy mixed with the horror. However, every episode of this brilliantly written show also has an excellent third act twist, and the one in "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge" is a doozy. If you refuse to take my advice and watch the whole series, seek this episode out. You won't regret it.

The VVitch (2015)

"Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?"

No list of properly terrifying witch movies would be complete without the new modern classic, Robert Eggers' The VVitch: A New-England Folk Tale. Beautiful, subtle, and bone-chilling when you least expect it to be, The VVitch is a movie so intricately scripted in its original style of speaking that it's practically a foreign language film (not including the Enochian spoken by the witches). While you could watch this film on a surface level and still appreciate it as a frightening portrayal of isolation and paranoia tearing a family apart, it is even more amazing as an allegory for the liberation, growth, and acceptance of women once they leave behind the trappings of conformity for a life of wild abandon with their sisters. Anya Taylor-Joy's Thomasin is all of us when we realized there was a different option than the one we were initially offered, and a delicious life was waiting on the other side.

Be sure to join us all October as we continue to celebrate the cinematic history of witches at The Horror Honeys and Belladonna Magazine!