Halloween: Witchcraft in Film

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Halloween Films
Beyond Bewitched
by Beth Rowen

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Hollywood's portrayal of witchcraft and witches has ranged from Grand Guignol to sappy Bewitched-like comedies featuring good witches who use their supernatural powers to snag the perfect mortal. However, only a handful of films have considered the form of occult seriously, as an expression of feminism or a form of pagan religion. We've compiled a list of what we think are the most entertaining witch films, which likewise range from the simple to the overwrought.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project emerges as one of the most promising films in recent memory. The premise is this: a three-person documentary film crew heads to the Maryland woods to make a quick piece about a grim local legend—Blair Witch. What begins with goofy behind-the-scenes footage of the filmmakers romping around and interviewing locals quickly darkens as the crew gets lost in the forest and the film builds with insidious malignant momentum. Ominous augers accumulate into horrible episodes. The audience only sees what the crew “filmed”; the low-budget documentary style actually enhances the fear and insures The Blair Witch Project's raw visceral punch. Nightmarish scenes involving sheer darkness, blurry camera movements, eerie sounds, and psychological breakup—all used here to perfection—are just the beginning. Projected nightmares to make Hitchcock proud.

Bell, Book, and Candle (1958)

Based on John Van Druten's Broadway play that paired Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, the film stars James Stewart and Kim Novak. Novak's witch Gillian Holroyd falls for Stewart's engaged publisher Shepherd Henderson. She casts a spell on him that prompts him to abandon his fiancée for her, though her mentor, Mrs. De Pass (Hermione Gingold), tries to reverse the spell. Jack Lemmon plays Gillian's outrageous warlock brother. Briskly paced and well acted.

I Married a Witch (1942)

Widely considered the precursor to television's Bewitched, I Married a Witch makes a fun Halloween watch when you're in the mood for an offbeat comedy rather than a slasher movie. As 17th-century accused witch Jennifer (Veronica Lake) burns at the stake, she casts a spell on the male descendants of her accusers, the Wooley family, declaring that they will all endure miserable marriages. Jump forward a couple of hundred years, and the spirits of Jennifer and her uncle (Cecil Kellaway) return. They find Wallace Wooley running for governor and engaged to a snobby socialite. Jennifer tries to woo Wallace to ensure his misery, but she ends up falling for him.

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