Tuesday 3 April 2018

Witches of the Silver Screen

Over the Easter break - and following a difficult few weeks - it was lovely simply to kick back and watch some old horror movies. A chance to reconnect with some old favourites and discover some new old favourites (films I missed when they were first released but am now catching up with on the fabulous Horror channel).

As may be obvious from my novel, The Pendle Curse, I am a sucker for a good, gripping witch story - and that applies to films too. The still above is from a classic of the genre - Black Sunday made in 1960. Highly recommended.

The newest Witch film I have seen recently was the 2016 production of The Witch. Now, this has really given me heart because it is a real witch story and stands out in a sea of films which range from the excellent (rarely) to the mundane (frequently).

Seeing the mix of old and new got me thinking. Which era produced the scariest films? The Fifties? Sixties? Eighties? Now? Or maybe earlier. Maybe the time before talkies...

One of the scariest films I ever remember watching was also an old black and white called, simply, Witchcraft (made in 1964 and 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 was 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.

Some others you may have missed:

Night of the Eagle made in 1962
Season of the Witch made in 1973
The Witches made in 1966
Burn Witch Burn made in 1962
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, but, with the exception of the aforementioned The Witch, 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 all too often 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. 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.

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.
 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. A scary witch film it is not.

Still searching for another scary one. Well fortunately 1968 saw Mia Farrow in the truly terrifying Rosemary's Baby with a whole coven of evil, scheming witches. This one has to be way up there in anyone's top ten of witchy, scary films.

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 (mostly) 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 am always ont he look out for a frighteningly good Hollywood Witch to scare the living daylights out of me. 

Any nominations?

Meanwhile, here's my scary witch story:

 Available from:


  1. Cat, I remember a few years ago we talked about how we both would sit up and watch these scary films, Such a thing for their day. (We were anyway. ) But you are right re the way it has gone. I am struggling beyond The Craft which was ok, to think of a film where a dark arted lady has cast her charms xxxxxx

  2. Have you watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe? I would be interested to hear what you think of it

    1. I have indeed and enjoyed it. Lovely tension and a different twist.

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