Damn Those Miscreants
Conqueror Worm (1968)
This underrated film deserves a look on video. Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a real-life witch hunter who travels from town to town in Puritan England, seeking confessions from alleged witches. When one of his henchmen (Robert Russell) rapes the niece of a purported witch, her fiancé (Ian Ogilvy) deserts the army to hunt down her attackers. A masterful thriller.
The Crucible (1996)Though set in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, Arthur Miller's drama remains timeless. This faithful film adaptation builds on the famous allegory of McCarthyism to reflect our current, and no less virulent, blend of media-fed group-think and religious fundamentalism. Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) and her circle of friends create a terror of demons when they are caught conducting a haunting ritual to cast love spells, with Williams fixing her sights on former lover John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis). When put on trial, Williams sees it as a spiteful opportunity to accuse Proctor's wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), of witchcraft. The accusations send the community into a frenzy of betrayal and vengeance. Director Nicholas Hytner's spare setting allows Miller's plainspoken yet powerful language to work to chilling effect.
Maid of Salem (1937)
An authentic-looking, well-written drama that closely parallels Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Claudette Colbert plays Barbara Clarke, the rebellious daughter of a conservative family who falls for an outsider who's on the lam, Roger Coverman (Fred MacMurray). A young, spoiled girl (Bonita Granville) accuses her family's servant of being a witch and sets off a wave of hysteria in the town that results in falsely accused witches being burned at the stake. Because Barbara sympathizes with the accused, she's tried and convicted as a witch herself. It's up to Coverman, who has legal trouble of his own, to save her from a horrible death.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
This landmark horror film remains one of the most chilling of the genre. Life for Manhattan newlyweds Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse (Farrow and Cassavetes) seems to be copacetic. But lurking beneath their facade is Guy's involvement with witchcraft and Satanism, which he is introduced to by the couple's oddball yet endearing neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). Rosemary is delighted when she becomes pregnant, though the child she bears is not a bundle of joy. Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Gordon.