Witches To Watch Out For
In keeping with the Halloween season, we're exploring the world of witches in film. Witches are a diverse lot on the big screen; they can be anything from benevolent to nasty on a Lovecraftian scale. Only the basic premise, that of a female with magical powers, remains constant. And unlike most movie spooks, witches are open season across all literary brackets. Anybody from a hack horror writer to a Pulitzer-prized literary novelist may take a crack at the witch archetype. This has opened the door to witches in a contemporary modern setting, as well as the classic Medieval stunted hag.
And before we get started: If you're Wiccan or Pagan or Goth or a special snowflake of some related group, and these movies offend you, you're mistaken. They have as much to do with your actual beliefs or lifestyle as the remake of The Wicker Man had to do with the original. Hollywood gets things wrong, let's move on.
We absolutely cannot start with anything else. When it comes to supernatural thrillers in a modern setting, 1996's The Craft just blew away everything that had been done before. Most of that was due to the uber-wench extra-large ham dished up by actress Fairuza Balk in the role of Nancy Downs. She turns in an unforgettable performance, certainly over-the-top but definitely called-for by the role. She chews scenery by the yard as she brews up a storm of magical malice against our pale and retiring alleged protagonist. Without her, this movie would have been forgotten the week after it closed. As it is, it's got a cult following for being such a teen Goth shriek-fest.
Yeah, that's John Updike telling a witch story - you got a problem with that? This is the other side of the contemporary witch setting, where it's all whimsy, magical realism, allegory, romantic hijinks, light laughs, and only a couple of jump scares to spice it up. Updike's novel, 'pon which this film is based, uses witchcraft and devils as a metaphor for all kinds of women's philosophical and existential problems. That's fine, and it's how decorated veterans like Updike get away with telling a trick-or-treat story.
We've arrived at the much-respected classic of the genre. You can't fault the cult of fans around this film - it's got stunning visuals, a dynamic soundtrack by Goblin, and truly grisly scenes that rival anything out of the Saw or Hostel franchises. But this was made in 1977 by Italian director Dario Argento; one wonders what he would have done with this subject today. As for the context, setting a coven of witches in a ballet school for your girls is definitely breaking unexpected ground. If you see it, you might not see what all the fuss is about upon first viewing, but it won't be easy to forget.
Rob Zombie's abortion of a movie is at the other end of the scale. Never has so much lavish attention to visuals and atmosphere chased absolutely nothing for a story going on whatsoever. It's all trailor, no movie. There's some kind of Rosemary's Baby plot going on with some middle aged women heckling a young girl working as a DJ on the world's only occult-themed radio station - which is kind of asking for it - in Salem, Massachusetts, but you'd be hard-pressed to sort out anything more than that. Ah, but Salem, the city that made witch-trials famous! It's surprising how few modern movies have actually bothered invoking that city's name.
What, you say Mary Poppins isn't a witch?
OK, define "witch."
Ha, we got you!