Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Witchcraft Horror Movies

February 18, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

There are certain types of horror movies I just don’t like, and movies with witchcraft and voodoo are #1 with a bullet. I just find the entire thing a little silly and can’t suspend my disbelief. Yes, I can enjoy a movie where Jason Voorhees is resurrected by lightning but I find the idea of being scared of someone saying some magic words to be hokey. I understand it’s a ridiculous point of view but it’s my point of view.

With that out of the way, I’ll still enjoy a really good horror movie, even if it has witchcraft. The Witch opens this Friday and it’s one of my most anticipated films of the year. I’m not even entirely sure what the movie’s about but there’s this sense of dread and atmosphere that I haven’t seen in a horror film in a long time. Tone and atmosphere are at least 75% of what makes serious horror films work. If you make me feel uncomfortable then you’re doing your job.

So this week, I’m going to look at the best horror films with witches or witchcraft. There are some good ones out there, you just have to know where to look.

#10: The Lords of Salem (2013)

Kicking things off with some controversy. While perhaps not as divisive as Rob Zombie’s take on Halloween, there are still as many people who hated The Lords of Salem. However, that’s pretty much the case for all Rob Zombie movies, The Devil’s Rejects included. The Lords of Salem is a bizarre, trippy, grimy witchcraft movie that reminds me a lot of the feel of an Italian grindhouse movie, even if it doesn’t necessarily match the heights of Argento’s witch movies.

Sherri Moon plays a woman who becomes the target of a coven that wants to use her to give birth to a demonic creature. They do this through a Satanic album that causes women to have hallucinations and fall under the influence of an evil force. I like this movie because of the bizarre visuals that Zombie uses, as well as it’s insane ending. This movie also deserves credit for having some of the most likable characters of all of his movies, as Heidi (pre-possession), Francis and the two Hermans are all enjoyable people. It’s his best work for a script ever, even if it does include several Zombie tropes that are likely to turn people off like his movies usually do.

#9: Haxan (1922)

One of the very first horror films is also one of the first extreme horror films. This movie was made in 1922 and it had nudity, violence, baby killing, you name it. It’s pretty crazy to think that this movie is as old as it is and it contains what it contains. It’s part horror film, part documentary. It’s meant to chronicle the history of witchcraft (up to 1922, anyway), but there are clearly dramatizations there too. This movie features all kinds of wild stuff, including torture and perverse sexual acts.

This ranks lower than most because it doesn’t really hold up as anything more than a historical curiosity. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, it’s just that silent movies aren’t for everyone. I can throw on something like this and be fine with watching it, but not everyone likes the medium. If you want to see a movie that does a lot of wild stuff (especially by the standards of the time), then you can watch the film below. It also has the benefit of being in the public domain!

#8: The Craft (1996)

This gets lumped in with the movies that Scream paved the way for (it even stars Neve Campbell), but it actually came out months before. This movie was an attempt to make a modern and hip take on a witch movie and it was a success for the most part. It also had an insane performance from Fairuza Balk, which is reason enough to actually give this one a shot. It suffers from a lot of the same problems that I have with witch movies in general, in that it’s basically asking me to be afraid of a bunch of teenage girls with superpowers.

However, while it fails to really be scary, it’s still a fun and energetic little thriller with entertaining performances. This is the very definition of a popcorn movie, which is probably why it caught on so well in the 90s. It also needs to be mentioned again just how good Balk is in this movie. She embraces the evil witch role completely towards the end and it’s fun to watch.

#7: Black Death (2011)

This one actally made my top horror movies of 2011 list, in the same spot it’s in now. This movie is still available on Netflix the last time I checked and that means you should watch it. First of all, the cast is kind of amazing. Sean Bean, David Warner, Eddie Redmayne and even Game of Thrones‘ Carice van Houten. It’s set during the time of the Bubonic plague in England and a monk has to find out the truth about people being resurrected in a small village.

I don’t normaly comment on a movie’s cinematography, but for such a dark and grimy movie, this one is shot beautifully. It’s also very similar to the Nicolas Cage stinker Season of the Witch, but it’s a much better movie than that ever was. You’ve got a lot of great actors set in a historical movie about witches and disease. It’s almost like a throwback to the British folk horror movies of the 70s like Witchfinder General or Blood on Satan’s Claw. If you were into those, then you’ll definitely enjoy this.

#6: Warlock (1989)

I will never turn down a chance to praise Warlock. While not necessarily a scary film, t’s a relentless fun 80s movie with a fantastic villanous performance from Julian Sands. It also benefits from a script by David Twohy and the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. It’s probably Steve Miner’s best movie, and I enjoy his contributions to the Friday the 13th series and House. However this is totally Sands’ show and you know that from the second he’s introduced.

The Warlock is a guy who will murder a child just because he needs fat. He will do anything in his quest to find out the true name of God. You know the guy’s pure evil because if he does what he wants to do, he’ll unmake everything God created. I guess everyone’s expendable when you’re going to erase their existence anyway. This movie isn’t as well known as the other horror classics of the 80s, but it’s definitely one of the more enjoyable ones, especially from the late 80s.

#5: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I’m glad that Halloween III seems to have earned its place as a cult film and still wish it was more accepted when it first came out. Another underrated gem of the 80s, I still maintain that if it didn’t have the title Halloween III it would be fondly remembered. Michael Myers isn’t present, instead we get a group of warlocks who want to murder the world’s children via dark magic they implanted in a series of Halloween masks.

The masks don’t just kill the children, they cause bugs and snakes to erupt from their head. Or maybe they turn their head into bugs and snakes. Either way, it’s a nasty way to go out. This movie features fun performances from both Tom Atkins and especially Dan O’Herlihy, as well as fun special effects. You even get a cameo from original Halloween stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Loomis, so there’s your connection.

#4: Inferno (1980)

The second movie of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, this one again features a witch causing a series of bizarre deaths. This one has an “anyone can die” vibe to it, as characters get a surprising amount of build considering they’re going to die later in the movie in terrible ways. The movie has great kills, just as Argento’s other great movies, along with some strong suspeseful moments and a fantastic score.

It’s almost the prototypical Argento film, which says a lot about how good the man was in the 70s and 80s as a director. While I don’t think he’s declined as far as other people have, it’s hard to keep that line of quality going for an entire career. Anyway, Inferno isn’t as good as the first of the “Three Mothers” movies, but on it’s own it’s a fine horror film. If you like Italian horror and Dario Argento, well, you’ve probably already seen this. But if you haven’t, do so as soon as possible.

#3: Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Before the remake and Ash vs Evil Dead, I was convinced that this was as close to an Evil Dead 4 as we were going to get. Sam Raimi put a lot of work into this horror movie, cleverly mixing some scary moments with some really dark comedy. This movie follows Alison Lohman as a bank loan officer who is forced to turn down a mortgage extension for an old woman. Unfortunately, that woman happens to be a gypsy and a curse is placed on the poor Christine, who now has to avoid suffering the titular punishment.

While she doesn’t exactly treat the woman kindly, I think it’s fair to say that the things Christine goes through in this movie definitely do not fit the crime. She is continuously haunted and attacked by a spirit and searches for a variety of ways to stop herself from dying. If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t give away if she succeeds or not, but this is an example of why Raimi is great at directing horror movies. I know he likes to do other projects, but I wish he’d return to directing this genre more often.

#2: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

I honestly completely forgot that the cult of devil-worshippers in this movie even were witches. It’s not an aspect that’s played up all that much, but that’s the whole reason Rosemary gets pregnant with the Antichrist anyway. She’s even given a book on witchcraft at one point to try and figure out what’s going on with her strange neighbors and the shocking way her baby was concieved. Some Guys will do anything for wealth and fame. See, it’s funny because I said “guys” and her husband’s name is Guy. Shut up, I’m hilarious.

Rosemary’s Baby is a classic, but it’s also a very slow-moving film. If you’re not into something with a slower pace, you’re not going to be as into this as I am. There’s long stretches of time where it seems like nothing happens, even before Rosemary gets pregnant. However, I think the payoff, as well as watching Rosemary slowly begin to fall apart as she discovers more details about her situation, is well worth the wait.

#1: Suspiria (1977)

Surprise! Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria tops yet another list for me. At times this movie may feel a little style over substance, but when the movie looks as good as Suspiria does, that’s okay. I am eagerly anticipating Synapse Films’ upcoming blu-ray release. The way the opening double kill is shot, you maybe struggling to not call the brutal death of two characters “beautiful”, but it’s a very impressively filmed sequence.

While you can marvel at how great this film looks, that’s not to say style if the only thing it has going for it. There’s a lot of dread here, even in the quiet moments where something feels off. It also benefits from a strong performance from its female lead, Jessica Harper, and an impressive score. It’s one of the best horror movies ever made and one of my personal favorites. It just goes to show that even if you might not be a fan of a particular concept, anything can make a great movie if the people behind it know what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, next week I’m going to explore creepypastas again, and look at ten more stories that need to be adapted for film. You can look at my first list here to see which ones I included the last time, and recommend some for me to read in the comments below. Also, Go see The Witch and support original horror movies.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

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