Welcome to W's Witch Week, a celebration of all things witchy. In the days leading up to Halloween, we'll be boiling up a wicked brew of all things occult, from pop culture's favorite new witches to the real women practicing Wicca today.
Movies about witches (and more broadly, movies about magic) are ripe for academic interpretation—their stories can make several points about womanhood, sisterhood, or the way society is inept at handling spectacles and the spectacular, but they often remain misunderstood, and many of these films have somehow slipped through the cracks. The Craft, The Blair Witch Project, Hocus Pocus, and The Witches of Eastwick are cult classics of the horror genre that focuses on the occult, but by now, just about everyone has already seen them, or at least heard of them enough to recognize their status as well-regarded fixtures of the genre that deserve to be admitted to the canon of films about witches. But there are still a few classic witch movies that somehow remain underrated, or perhaps just straight up unknown. Read on to find out about some formative films that laid the groundwork for those witch movies we’re more familiar with, and find some new favorites to watch on Halloween.
The Love Witch
The fact that The Love Witch was shot on 35mm in 2016 is just an added bonus to its delicious charm and stunning color palette. Elaine (played by Once Upon a Time In Hollywood’s Samantha Robinson) is the titular femme fatale, who casts spells to trap men into lust and love, in this cheeky commentary on the intersections of power, sex, and feminism, filmed to look like a 1960s Technicolor B-movie. Unfortunately, the film was not well-received by everyone, and in fact, the film’s director, Anna Biller, revealed just last year that “most of the crew…(with a few exceptions) hated what we were shooting and did not even see the movie after it was done.” And you know what? Those crew members probably just didn’t get the pointed commentary on obsession and patriarchal manipulation that Biller was making when she made this film. The Love Witch also serves as the ultimate mood board for anyone looking to adopt some witchy fashion into their daily sense of style, without going overboard with it.
Bell, Book, and Candle
Unlike The Love Witch, which somewhat parodies the midcentury take on the witch, Bell, Book and Candle actually is a Technicolor dreamboat of a film from the late 1950s, and ended up becoming a half-inspiration for the well-known and critically acclaimed 1960s television series Bewitched, which starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha, a witch who marries a mortal man. It is also the rare witch movie that takes place during a time of year that does not involve Halloween—Kim Novak’s Gillian Holroyd finds herself all alone at Christmas time, only to cast a love spell on a book publisher played by James Stewart (it should be noted that Bell, Book and Candle was not the first time these two acted opposite one another; Stewart and Novak played romantic leads in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo that same year). This film was nominated for two Academy Awards (in the art direction and costume categories) and a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Motion Picture, and was eventually pitched to be remade as a film starring Alicia Keys in 2006 for Disney, so why don’t more people know about it?
Films that fall into the sexploitation subgenre are nearly perfect for the introduction of an element like witchcraft into the narrative. Virgin Witch is wacky, and not very well known, but not unlike Suspiria, the more renowned cousin to this film, it follows the story of a model who auditions for an agency that turns out to be a cover for a coven of witches. If the title alone is not enough to convince you that the film is utterly ridiculous and is almost gratuitously explicit in terms of how much nudity and sex is portrayed on screen, watch for yourself and let the early '70s style cinematography work its magic on you.
I Married a Witch
Films about witches don’t always have to be scary or even fall under the horror genre. Sometimes a romantic comedy, like I Married a Witch can scratch that itch you may have for something that is only just a little bit spooky, but still gets you in the Halloween spirit. I Married a Witch is the other half of the main inspiration for Bewitched, based on Thorne Smith’s novel The Passionate Witch, and was made into a film in 1942. Films released by major studios between 1930 and 1968 often had to adhere by the Hays Code, which banned the portrayal of “sex perversion,” “suggestive nudity,” or “pointed profanity,” so to make a film about witchcraft—even a romantic comedy—could have been dicey for directors like Rene Clair. Knowing this is what makes films like I Married a Witch or many of the other classics from the era that much more impressive when you consider that filmmakers often had to go to extreme lengths in the screenwriting and editing processes to make sure audiences could read between the lines. I Married a Witch starts off by giving some historical context to witch culture, taking place during the Salem trials where witches were burned at the stake. Veronica Lake plays Jennifer, one of the burned witches, who comes back to life centuries later, only to fall for the descendant of a family she cursed in the 17th century.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Choosing between Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury may be impossible now, but you were probably either a Mary Poppins kid or a Bedknobs and Broomsticks kid growing up. Sure Mary Poppins is returning this winter with a remake starring Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda, but have you given Bedknobs and Broomsticks a watch in recent years? The movie may seem bonkers but who can resist a campy early '70s mix of live action and animation. In Bedknobs and Broomsticks Lansbury stars as a Nazi-fighting witch, and that is something that most of these witch movies just can’t hold a candle to, if you really think about it.