The Witching Hour: Ten Spellbinding Films

From depictions of persecution to psychedelic sex magic, author Kristen J. Sollée curates ten films honoring the legacy of the witch in cinema.

Kristen J. Sollée author of Witches, Sluts and Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive curates a selection of bewitching films for The FRONT.

In lieu of Halloween watchlists, The FRONT asked scholar, editrix and author Kristen J. Sollée of Witches, Sluts and Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive to craft a diverse selection of must-see witch films. Many of Sollée’s picks incontrovertibly address body politics, female persecution and other terrors that keep us up at night.

 


 

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Dir. George Miller

The Witches of Eastwick is a wanton romp through the pleasures and pitfalls of sex, love and female friendship. The film counters the age-old narrative of witches ensnared by Satan and forever under his spell. The unholy trifecta of Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher use their dark lord for pleasure and procreation in a poly quad relationship of sorts before casting him out of their circle for good.

 

Black Sunday (1960)

Dir. John Frankenheimer

This Italian gothic horror film released in 1960 is an iconic depiction of the monstrous feminine. Amping up the drama with cheekbones for days, Barbara Steele stars as both a demure woman from a cursed family, as well as the frightening witch who has cursed them. The extended metaphor for woman as two-faced seductress plays out exquisitely, with the leading man at his wits’ end trying to figure out which woman is witch.

 

Häxan (1922)

Dir. Benjamin Christensen

A silent Swedish film that offers a fantastical history of early modern witchery, Häxan combines the visual art of the era along with a live-action Sabbath sequence complete with malicious acts of spellcasting, Satanic analingus, bedding Beelzebub, and lubing up lasciviously with flying ointment.

 

The Love Witch (2016)

Dir. Anna Biller

Director Anna Biller crafted this visually stunning pulp thriller with the female gaze in mind. The Love Witch undresses the ethics of sex magic, romantic ideals, female sexual expression and witch persecutions throughout history—while giving us a taste of a sex-positive pagan community—something few witchy films have dared to do in such explicit ways.

 

The Witches of Gambaga (2010)

Dir. Yaba Badoe

Any discussion of historical witch persecution must take into account the thousands of women around the world who continue to suffer from it. The Witches of Gambaga is an eye-opening exposé on the contemporary “witch camps” in Ghana, where women accused of sorcery are forced to live their days in exile with other accused “witches”.

 

The Worst Witch (1986)

This is 80’s witch kitsch at its finest. The Worst Witch is a TV movie that stars high flying hijinks at an academy for young witches, free kittens! (omg) and Tim Curry slinking his way through “Anything Can Happen On Halloween” in a cape.

 

The Witch (2015)

Dir. Robert Eggers

Erotic awakenings, misandrist fantasies, Black Phillip the Satanic goat, and a twist on classic cinematic tropes made Robert Eggers’ The Witch a break-out feminist favorite in 2016. The film depicts the worst fears of misogynists everywhere, perhaps best summed up by conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson back in the 1980s, when he decreed feminism a path for women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

 

Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Dir. Eiichi Yamamoto

Beautiful and brutal, this Japanese anime from 1973 is a psychedelic meditation on sex, trauma, witchcraft-as-rebellion — and its sometimes sinister results. Not for the fainthearted, Belladonna of Sadness delves deeply into body politics, feudalism and the complexities of female desire — with plenty of problematic representations of said issues to unpack throughout.

 

Witchboard (1986)

Dir. Kevin S. Tenney

This 1986 cult favorite isn’t about witches per se, but it does feature Tawny Kitaen, a Ouija board, a punk rock medium, demonic possession and one gloriously spooky synth soundtrack, so it’s the perfect prescription for any retro haunted gathering.

 

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Dir. Richard Quine

Love spells gone awry, Greenwich village beatniks and bohemians, a hip underground occult club and plenty of heartache and miscommunication are spun into rom-com gold in this 1958 classic. And yes, there are warlocks.