As Halloween approaches, you can smell the magic of the season in the air laced with cinnamon, and hear it as dried leaves crackle under footsteps. So let’s celebrate these entertaining enchantresses by toasting the very best the witch genre has to offer. Because these sorceresses possess the power to be funny or frightening, this list has a mix of horror movies and more family-friendly fare. But whether it’s rated R or rated G, each of these tricky treats is devilishly delectable!
HOCUS POCUS (1993)
Deliriously campy and sweetly creepy, this ’90s cult classic centers on the return of Salem’s infamous Sanderson Sisters, three witches who lure children to their humble home so they might make meals of their youth. With the terrible trio running amok amok amok, it’s up to a dopey virgin ( Omri Katz of Eerie Indiana fame), his crush (Vinessa Shaw) and kid sister ( Thora Birch) to send these insidious Sandersons back to here where they belong! Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as a powerful (and comedic) coven, conjuring laughs through slapstick and one enchanting musical number. Bonus: genre fans can geek out over creature feature icon Doug Jones, who piles on the prosthetic make-up here to play a resurrected ex-boyfriend with an axe to grind.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
In the infancy of the Internet, a low-budget independent film took the nation by storm, thanks to a groundbreaking marketing campaign cleverly painted The Blair Witch Project as a real documentary. Whispers on the web claimed this unusual offering dedicatedly divulged the final fright-filled hours of a film crew lost in the Maryland woods where a notorious witch was once said to roam. The movie-inspired hysteria not only spurred genre-shifting box office success and countless copycats, but also made the found footage landmark a cinematic event that would define a generation of horror fans. Even 17 years later, we revel over the memory of sitting in a theater packed with people rigid with fear and marvel how well its low-gore style scares holds up.
One of the most haunting horror movies to dabble in witchcraft is Italian writer/director Dario Argento‘s giallo masterpiece, Suspiria. Set against the unlikely backdrop of an esteemed ballet academy, this freaky film awash in unsettling insert shots and surreal lighting centers on American dancer Suzy Bannion ( Jessica Harper), who has no idea the chief lesson of this German academy is terror. But as the blood runs and bodies begin to pile up, this naive waif must face off against a vicious coven if she’s going to survive the night. As visually stunning as it is unnerving, this witch’s tale will deliver nightmares in vibrant Technicolor!
HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
After breaking through with the outlandish and outrageous Nazi-zombie comedy Dead Snow, Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola teamed with Will Ferrell‘s production company to transform the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel into a blood-drenched and sexy adventure well deserving of an R-rating. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as the titular twosome who’ve survived their childhood brush with a witch’s delectable candy cabin, and made it their lives’ mission to execute any enchantress who crosses their path. Boasting a creepy cast of witches, trolls, and a sneering Peter Stormare, this fantasy-horror is so totally bonkers it demands to be watched again and again.
The Oscar-nominated LAIKA offering focuses on a strange and lonely boy named Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who harbors the incredible ability to communicate with the dead. The ghosts of Blithe Hollow are by and large a friendly lot. But when the legendary witches’ curse promises to unleash an band of the Puritan zombies upon the sleepy town, Norman must round up a motley crew ( Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck and Tucker Albrizzi) to put a stop her ghoulish vengeance. Told with a pronounced love of the horror genre and a big thumping heart, this stop-motion marvel is a witchy wonder the whole family will love.
THE WITCH: A NEW-ENGLAND FOLKTALE (2016)
Since its Sundance debut, this surreal bit of art house horror has been brewing up rave reviews, building a reputation as modern masterpiece. Set in 17th century New England, The Witch follows a doomed Puritan family as they build a home on the edge of an ominous wood. As cruel clues suggest something sinister lurks on their land (the youngsters chanting to a goat is definite red flag!), the finger of blame is aimed squarely at daughter Thomasin ( Anya Taylor-Joy), spurring the spirited teen to make some grim choices. Methodically paced, spiked with gore, rich with mood, and enraptured with historical accuracy, this chilling indie will terrorize then tempt you to “live deliciously.”
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
Insanely, this is the least financially successful of the eight Harry Potter films. (Which is to say it was still a huge hit.) But as the years passed and various directors ( Chris Columbus, Mike Newell, and David Yates) came to shape the franchise, Alfonso Cuaron‘s spooky Prisoner has become a fan favorite. This fantastic film was flush with dark goodies. It introduced audiences the melancholic and secretive Professor Lupin ( David Thewlis) as well as Harry’s unhinged and notorious godfather, Sirius Black ( Gary Oldman, scraggly but strangely hot). And in the whole wide world of witchcraft and wizardry, what monsters were more terrifying than the soul-sucking Dementors?
THE WITCHES (1990)
To bring to life the adored and darkly entertaining Roald Dahl novel, director Nicolas Roegenlisted Jim Henson and company to bring their unique puppetry and practical make-up skills to a tale packed with hideous witches and one very clever mouse. When a seven-year-old orphan ( Jasen Fisher) accidentally stumbles across a witch convention, where the wicked women transform him into a seemingly helpless rodent. But that won’t keep plucky Luke from battling back! It’s a kids movie so creepy its mere mention still makes children of the ’80s shudder. Come for the nostalgia, stay for all the slay Angelica Huston brings to the role of a witch who revels in glamor and relishes the grotesque.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971)
While music plays a major role of many of the movies on this collection, this Disney romp is the only witch musical to make the cut. Based on the children’s books of Mary Norton, Bedknobs and Broomsticks stars Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price, an apprentice witch who reluctantly takes in a trio of homeless children to rescue them from the earth-rattling World War II Blitz threatens to rain down on London. But after the Rawlins siblings see their beautiful guardian fiddling with a flying broomstick, off they go on an adventure that folds in a con man with a heart of gold ( Mary Poppins‘ David Tomlinson), bewitched warriors of empty armor, animated animal allies, and a fantastical flying bed!
THE CRAFT (1996)
“We are the weirdos, Mister.” With one snarky rejoinder and a smirk, The Craft won the hearts of a generation, causing confusing crushes and sending countless girls to Hot Topic in search of suitably witchy gear, like studded chokers, red-lensed sunglasses, and dangerously short plaid skirts. Robin Tunney stars as the new kid in a Catholic Prep school, who falls fast into a bad crowd of outcasts who are secretly aspiring witches. At first, this clique/coven is a coveted sanctuary from racist bullies, family trauma, and scars physical and emotional. But as their witchcraft begins to deliver everything they ever dreamed–from popularity, beauty and wealth, to boyfriends–their leader Nancy ( Fairuza Balk) goes mad with power. From there, these tenacious teen witches will take “mean girls” to a whole new level. But hey, relax. It’s only magic.
What’s your favorite witch movie? Tell us in comments.
Images: Warner Bros./A24/Disney/Artisan Entertainment