Happy October, everyone! For this newsletter, we've tapped in Tess, the brain behind our stellar Twitter. (Do you follow us? Please do!) In honor of the best month and Liz's favorite holiday, these two witch-film-fangirls bring you a roundup of all the spell-worthy films and television series currently streaming. We tried to give you a full scope of what's available out there, from romances to horror to teen melodrama, with a bit of curation offered in between.
Oh! And we're listing things chronologically, by the way, because how could we possibly rank witch films?
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922, Amazon Prime) We'll shoot straight with you: We aren't necessarily suggesting that you watch this film. But who knows, maybe you're into the silent-film era of cinema? Maybe you're into the history of horror films? If you answered yes to either, then add this Swedish-Danish documentary-style horror film to your list. Based on writer and director Benjamin Christenen's research on Malleius Maleficarum, a 15th-century guide for inquisitors that endorses the extermination of witches, Häxan is a study of how misunderstanding of disease and metal distress led to moral panics and witch hunts.
Season of the Witch (R, 1972, Amazon Prime) George A. Romero's second horror film after the hit Night of the Living Dead (1968), Season of the Witch is a combination of witchcraft, suburban horror, and a (male director's) interpretation of a "feminist film." Troubled by problems with ratings and an ever-decreasing budget (cut down from $250,000 to $100,000 over the course of production), the end result was a film cut into bits and pieces, released as Hungry Wives! in 1973, and retitled years later as Season of the Witch (after the title song by Donovan). The film was marketed as soft core porn, despite the fact that it had zero pornographic content, so it never saw a proper theatrical release. In short: This film completely failed. Full of choppy montage and dream sequences, this movie is a deep cut, not for the casual connoisseur of witch films but rather for completists (or Romero super fans).
Practical Magic (PG-13, 1998, HBO) I know we said we weren't ranking, but Practical Magic just might be our favorite movie on this list! Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play Sally and Gillian Owens, sister witches doomed by a curse: any man they fall in love with will die. Following a quick history of the Owens family and their magic powers, everything starts to unravel in the present day, which finds Sally married and Gillian in an abusive relationship. Although the premise emphasizes the two witches' love lives, the crown jewel of Practical Magic is the dynamic between Sally and Gillian. They are polar opposites—Bullock as the shy, down-to-earth companion to Kidman's "hang on to your husbands" type–rebel—who simply have amazing chemistry on screen. Get ready for blood-oaths, potion-laced pancake syrup, and everything in between.
Teen Witches Something about adolescence makes way for witchy narratives. What can we say? Don't mess with teenage girls. The Craft (R, 1996, Starz) features a clique of witches who use their powers to make high school more survivable. Horror–romances Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV-PG, 1997–2003, Hulu) and The Vampire Diaries (TV-14, 2009–2017, Netflix) make use of the BFF-witch, a girlfriend you definitely want with you rather than against you. And Sabrina: The Teenage Witch (TV-G, 1997–2003, Amazon) is the best of the best when it comes to teen witch comedies!
The Blair Witch Project (R, 1999, Amazon Prime and Hulu) For those of you that somehow missed the 1999 hubbub over this low-budget horror film, here's a quick synopsis. A group of three film students—Heather, Josh, and Michael—travel to a small town to film a documentary about the Blair Witch. The movie is allegedly their video reel, found after the teens disappeared. (A conceit known as "faux found footage" if you're a horror buff. If you're into this subgenre, Paranormal Activity is streaming on Amazon.) Full of creepy sounds and a lot of shaky footage, with a very nineties vibe, The Blair Witch Project is worth watching because it was a big pivot for the witch genre, diverging from the witchy dramas earlier in the decade.
American Horror Story: Coven (TV-MA, 2013, Netflix) Controversial opinion: The third season of the FX horror anthology is the best season. We're obsessed. With hints of the teen witch tradition, Coven follows a group of descendants of Salem at a boarding school in New Orleans, Louisiana. The season depicts the girls learning about their powers and the various inter- and intra-coven fights for control over the city, all while unpacking the South's history of slavery and racism. Yes, everything falls apart toward the end, as each season of AHS seems to do, but that doesn't make it any less fun! (Trigger warning: Includes some very disturbing scenes that feature torture, rape, and bodily dismemberment.)
The Witch: A New England Folktale (R, 2015, Netflix) This is bar-none the scariest thing on this list. Believing that a witch has cursed their family, pilgrims on the edge of New England become increasingly paranoid as disturbances occur around their homestead. The film's 17th-century horrors are of the slow-burn variety, avoiding jump scares and gore, creeping up on you with its terror. Also, let us just say that on some levels, we find the film's premise troubling. While The Witch is not about Salem, it basically suggests that puritan ladies really were in league with the devil, revising a terrible chapter in our nation's history. But perhaps that's too much ideological weight to put on a film that co-stars a demonic ram...
The Love Witch (2016, Amazon Prime) If there was an award for most "visually entrancing," The Love Witch would win hands down. Filmed in the style of a campy 1970s horror movie (see, for example, Season of the Witch), every scene is packed full of vibrant, rich hues that make it hard to look away. Elaine, a modern reincarnation of the femme fatale, uses magic to get men to fall in love with her. To be honest, this movie gets... weird. Like really weird. But the sharp feminist commentary of The Love Witch will leave you thinking about issues of love and desire long after you turn off the TV/close your laptop. If you're in the market for something different, this is it. (Note: This film is unrated for a reason. It features a lot of nudity and sexual content.)
There are certainly other movies and shows that feature witches, but the ones above are those that we had fun watching. There are a few that we acknowledge weren't totally enjoyable, but were interesting (i.e., weird) enough to make there way onto the list. (Looking at you, Häxan, Season of the Witch, and The Love Witch!) And there are some, like the Harry Potter franchise or Hocus Pocus, that we wish were streaming, but just aren't. (Although the latter is playing for 24 hours on October 31!)
Each of these is entirely different, but in the end all get at the central questions of female empowerment and society's fear of that very power. This is an evolving question with ever-changing answers depending on the time and place of a film's or series' release. So what's today's witch narrative? Get ready, teen TV fans: Netflix is releasing the very creepy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on October 26! By all accounts, the reboot of Sabrina will be worth watching. It's starring Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka and hailing from the mind of Riverdale's creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, which is definitely enough to get us really, really excited! (Especially after Netflix pushed its new trailer!)
Happy witching season, y'all!
Liz and Tess