With the recent release of THE WITCH opening to both critical and fan praise (even Stephen King himself said it “scared the hell out of me”), I thought it would be a perfect time to list my favorite witch-themed horror films. Admittedly, there are one or two films on this list that aren’t straight-up horror films, but the majority of films fall right into the genre. The films on this list aren’t in any particular order, but I can tell you that I’ve seen every one of them many, many times.
Written and directed by Italian horror master, Dario Argento, did you really think this film wouldn’t make my list? One of the most stylish, graphic, and downright scary films ever made. A newcomer to a very prestigious ballet academy slowly realizes that the school is a run by a coven of witches. Everything about this film is spot on, from the casting to the gore to the soundtrack.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
Paranoia, suspicion, and lots of trust issues mark this classic film about a woman who moves into a New York City apartment complex inhabited by modern day witches who have some very old-school plans. This film has a surreal, nightmarish quality to it right from the get-go. I love this film.
HORROR HOTEL (aka, CITY OF THE DEAD) (1960)
A student is sent to the small New England village of Whitewood to further her research on witchcraft. There she discovers more than she expected and finds herself marked for sacrifice by a coven of witches run by an ominous Christopher Lee (who loves necromancy and human sacrifice). This one is creepy and has an intelligent script that will grab your attention immediately.
WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka, THE CONQUEROR WORM) (1968)
One of Vincent Price’s best films, and that’s saying something!! This is a fantastic film. Price is evil and sinister and you’ll love to hate him. The overall film deals with a lot of exploitive subject matter but never slips into the realm of “exploitation.” The story explores the idea that witch hunters damn well knew that those they accused weren’t witches. This is a chilling film full of sadistic and brutal scenes.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)
I know, I know. This isn’t a horror film, but this is a hugely entertaining and fun film about a stranger who comes to town (Jack Nicholson) and grants three women their wishes. But of course it comes with a high price. This is fun as we watch the three timid women come into their own. And who could forget the ending? So much vomit!!
THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012)
Rob Zombie’s surreal, nightmarish tale of the return of a coven of witches in the town of Salem. This isn’t the exact movie Zombie set out to make (blame a micro-managing, pain in the ass studio), but there’s a lot to love in this film. It is obvious from the opening scenes that Argento’s SUSPIRIA (see above) influenced Zombie a lot.
ANGEL HEART (1987)
I absolutely love this film and get sucked into it from the very first frame every time I watch it. With fantastic performances from Mickey Rourke (easily his best) and a creepy, sinister performance by Robert De Niro, this film hits all the right notes. Sure, the connection to “witches” and “witchcraft” is a little tenuous (think voodoo witches), but there is so much to love with this film!!
BLACK SUNDAY (aka, THE MASK OF SATAN) (1960)
This nefarious classic from Mario Bava is about a vengeful witch and her evil servant who return from the grave and set out on a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch’s beautiful look-alike descendant. Another very stylish film that is steeped in great imagery and is full of pure Mario Bava-ness!!
The second in Dario Argento’s “Three Mother’s” trilogy. This time a brother and sister each investigate a series of murders in Rome and New York only to discover that two more witch covens are behind the murders. Not as stylish or trend-setting as SUSPIRIA, but this film holds its own and proves that Argento still had a lot to say in the continuing witches coven story.
Not a straight up horror film, but Julian Sands, in the lead role, kills it as a warlock who flees from the 17th to the 20th century, with a witch-hunter in hot pursuit. The Warlock is searching for the three parts of the Devil’s Bible, which contains the true name of God. He plans on using the Devil’s Bible to un-create the world. Fun stuff!!
BLACK DEATH (2010)
Set in England during the first outbreak of the bubonic plague, a group of men are tasked with finding out the truth about stories of people being brought back to life. Their search brings them to a small village where they discover that a witch might be behind everything. This isn’t the film I thought it would be, and it misses many opportunities to be gory, but it is a fun trip and it is always great to watch Sean Bean.
SEASON OF THE WITCH (aka, HUNGRY WIVES) (1972)
George Romero’s third feature film about a normal housewife drowning in a boring life and going through a midlife crisis. So what does she do? Why, she turns to witchcraft, of course!! This is a smart film with some great performances. Check this one out if you haven’t seen it before.
WITCHING & BITCHING (2013)
The most recent film on this list (it is streaming on Netflix), WITCHING & BITCHING is a fever-dream of a film that is fast paced and full of surprises. In it, a bunch of jewelry thieves on the run drive through a town loaded with witches and get abducted. The ending with hundreds of evil witch-acolytes drinking down toads and waiting for their demonic spiritual mother to show up is way out there … and a lot of fun!!
MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)
This film was made to cash in on the success of WITCHFINDER GENERAL and ends up going way beyond the sadism and depravity of its predecessor. Udo Kier stars as an apprentice witch finder who embraces the less desirable aspects of the position. This film is full of hard to watch scenes and will remind you why the 1970s was one of the best decades for horror films. If you haven’t seen this film, drop everything and go watch it now!!
DAY OF WRATH (1943)
This might not be the fastest-paced film on this list, but this is an engrossing film that explores witchcraft in Denmark in 1622. This is definitely more of a drama than a horror film, but damn this is a well made film the explores some dark territory. There’s no comic relief or moments of levity to break up the torture of women accused of witchcraft. Definitely not a film to watch on a first date!!
What are your favorite witch-themed horror films? Have you seen THE WITCH yet? What did you think? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below. Writer-director Robert Eggers has really exploded on the scene and is already getting some great gigs from the early success of THE WITCH. Check out more info on Eggers and THE WITCH on his official website, roberteggers.com.