A24’s horror film The Witch sees a wide release this weekend after playing at several film festivals last year (read Kalyn’s review), and it is being touted as one of the best horror films of all time, including a glowing recommendation by Stephen King. This could be the first film in a long time to make witches scary again after Ryan Murphy bastardized them in American Horror Story. We thought we would take a look back at some of the scariest witches ever put on film!
Winnifred Sanderson – Hocus Pocus
While Winnifred Sanderson (expertly played by Bette Midler) may not be scary to anyone over the age of 6 (if that), she is definitely terrifying to small children (I was four when the film was released in 1993 and she scared the crap out of me! Watching her suck the life out of Emily Binx would be traumatizing to any child.
Bellatrix Lestrange – The Harry Potter Series
Bellatrix Lestrange killed Sirius Black. There’s just no going back from that. She is a truly unhinged creature (a perfect role for Helena Bonham Carter, no?) who killed anyone who stood in her way. While her eventual death in the film may have lacked the catharsis that the book version had, it was still a treat to watch her bite it.
The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz
Was anyone not terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West when they were growing up? Sure, properties like Wicked, Once Upon a Time and Oz the Great and Powerful have diluted her scare-factor by giving her a humanizing backstory, but Margaret Hamilton’s performance is cemented as one of the greatest (and scariest) villain performances in film history.
Nancy – The Craft
Full confession: I’m a child of the 90s and I don’t like The Craft. It just never resonated with me very much. That being said, I can appreciated the fact that Nancy is a truly frightening human being, let alone a witch. Her story is a classic tale of a person going mad with power, and boy does she go mad. Don’t piss her off, or you could wake up in a bed full of snakes.
Lacy, Sonny and Megan – The Lords of Salem
Rob Zombie’s last film had a pretty mixed reception, but it’s actually one of my favorite films of his (second only to The Devil’s Rejects). A big part of why the film is so effective is the exceptional performances by horror legends Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn as the trio of leading witches (think of them as the R-rated version of the Sanderson sisters). The movie may go a bit off the rails in its final moments, but that doesn’t stop these ladies from being nightmare-inducing.
Minnie Castevet – Rosemary’s Baby
Ruth Gordon won an Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her portrayal of the nefarious Minnie Castevet in Roman Polansky’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby. As the head of a coven that arranges for Rosemary to be raped by the Devil and give birth to the Antichrist, she is totally convincing.
Mother Suspiriorum – Suspiria
Of the three witches in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Mater Suspiriorum is arguably the scariest (Mater Tenebrarum doesn’t even qualify, as she was defeated by Asia Argento merely burning her cloak), of Argento’s Three Mothers. Known as the oldest and wisest of the three witches, Mater Suspiriorum was also interested in startups. She opened a dance academy as a front for her evil lair.
The Grand High Witch – The Witches
This PG-rated Roald Dahl adaptation is one of the most disturbing movies ever made, and it’s only because of the scene in which Anjelica Huston’s character peels off her face to reveal her true self as the Grand High Witch. Her goal was to wipe out all of the children in the world. Who does that?! I saw this film for the first time when I was in high school and even then it gave me the willies. If you’re a horror fan and you’ve never seen The Witches, seek this one out immediately. It’s utterly terrifying.
Which witch terrified you as a child (or currently terrifies you as an adult)? Let us know in the comments below or shoot me a Tweet!