Friday, 19 October 2012

The Witches of Hollywood

One of the scariest films I ever remember watching was an old black and white called, simply, Witchcraft (now released on a Region 1 DVD packaged with Devils of Darkness).

I remember I was around seventeen and BBC had a 'Midnight Movie' every Saturday night. It was usually something scary and they showed some real classics, but there weas something about Witchcraft that really got to me. This was a British film and the storyline concerned a 17th century witch, buried alive, whose grave is disturbed and who then wreaks vengeance on the progeny of those who brought her to her fate. The camera shots of her manic stare, the dark and sinister atmosphere and the terror of her victims all conspired to make me grab my cat, hide behind her and, when the film finished, scamper upstairs to bed and hide under the blankets.

Ah, they don't make 'em like that anymore. Maybe it's me, maybe it's my age (quite likely!). Possibly I've watched so many horror films over the years since then that I've become desensitised. Or maybe it's just that there's something about black and white movies that makes the scary even scarier, but I just can't remember seeing any recent films featuring a witch that have made me gasp, hide or shudder.

These days, Hollywood witches are like their vampires - generally sparkly, cuddly or out to save the world.

 So when did the Witches of Hollywood turn into Stepford Wives? There has always been a tendency towards the humorous. Leaving aside films aimed at children, 1942 saw the film, adaptation of a Thorne Smith story, said to be the template for the long running TV series, Bewitched. I Married A Witch saw the glamorous Veronica Lake as Jennifer, a witch who, along with her father, was burnt at the stake in the 17th century and cast a spell on the male descendants of their accusers, the Wooley family  that they should endure miserable marriages, until in the 20th century, she falls for the latest in the line, Wallace. This film is witty and charming. Scare rating -10.

Bell, Book and Candle in 1958 featured a sexy and sultry Kim Novak as the hapless lovelorn witch - although the real star was, of course, her cat familiar, Pyewacket. Another lighthearted comedy. Scare rating - (well, just minus infinity really)

 Then in 1987, The Witches of Eastwick burst onto the screens with not one, but three, witches (plus a devil). Now, don't get me wrong, I really like this film. I am a big fan of Cher and the whole film is great fun. It's funny, escapist and pure entertainment. Scare rating -9

Still searching for a scary one. Well fortunately 1968 saw Roman Polanski's truly terrifying Rosemary's Baby with a whole coven of evil, scheming witches. Hurray for Roman! The film still makes good viewing today. Scare rating: 5

So we move into the Nineties and beyond. The rise of the teenage witch. 1996 saw the release of The Craft, with four troubled teen witches. This spawned a TV series, Charmed, and many emulators.Then along came Practical Magic and for me, it was downhill from there.

Of course there's room for them all but, as a horror writer who loves the potential of witches as a source of pure evil (PLEASE NOTE, I am NOT talking about Wiccans here, or any true modern witches, for whom I have the utmost respect), I crave a frighteningly good Hollywood Witch to scare the living daylights out of me. 

Any nominations?


  1. Replies
    1. Just you wait until the next Full Moon... :-)

  2. I usually go for the funny and clever witches rather than the scary. Movies like Practical Magic and Witches of Eastwick draw my attention, but maybe that's because I have an ancestor who was murdered during the Salem witch trials. I'm on the witches' side most often.

  3. Not a Hollywood witch (yet), I don't believe, but Neil Gaiman's Stardust has a great witch. Actually, three, but one is exceptional, evil to the core. The only candy coating is the one she manufactures to lure in the unsuspecting. Give it a look if you haven't yet. Mind your heart though. They're hungry witches.

  4. You're right. They don't make them like they used to. D'you remember those late-night Christmas Eve ones--the railwayman... I never saw them as a kid but when I got married they were an essential part of last-minute Christmas-present-wrapping with my husband.

  5. Steve - you'd better duck! Diane - that's really interesting. When researching for my new novel about the Pendle Witches, I discovered that the way the children were questioned at Salem was based on, so called, 'good' practice from the detailed transcripts of the examination of 11 year old (or possibly younger)Jennet Device at the Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612. She condemned her mother, brother and sister and they subsequently hanged for witchcraft. IU can see why you would be on the witches' side. So much injustice! Keith- Imust read Stardust. Sounds just my kind of book. Sheila - such memories. Evocative. Thank you all.

  6. Oh my lord, Cat, I remember Sat nigth movie too...I used to buiy a bag of eat while watching rock. Something to get the teeth into. Just loved this post as I love old Hollywood. Thanks for the memories...

  7. The Three Witches of Macbeth - and I loved Polanski's film, which I think I saw when I was 14

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  10. That's cool. I am fond of watching horror movies, but this is the first time I cam across this movie. Will definitely watch it. Anyways Thank You Catherine Cavendish

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