Between the news of a remake of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Ryan Murphy’s Coven crossover for the next season of American Horror Story, the upcoming Suspiria remake, and Netflix’s forthcoming Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Witch. It’s about time, too. While trends of vampires, zombies, and ghosts have all hogged the spotlight at one time or another, witches tend to exist more in the peripheral of horror. Considering the concept of witchcraft has spanned all recorded history, existing in all manner of cultures and religions, there’s a wide area of potential still waiting to be mined. Even still, there are many memorable movie witches that have etched themselves in collective memory. These 13 are the scariest witches of them all.
Grand High Witch – The Witches
The remake has very tall shoes to fill from this 1990 adaptation. Played by Anjelica Huston, the film version of the Grand High Witch was far more fierce and fearsome than the version in Dahl’s source novel. A child-murderer with genocidal ambitions, the Grand High Witch is a powerful psychopath. Her penchant to kill at whim makes everyone around her cower in fear, and yet it gets worse with the reveal of her true appearance. Monstrous inside and out, the Grand High Witch remains pure nightmare fuel for children and adults alike.
Asa Vajda – Black Sunday
A 17th-century witch in the service of Satan, her own brother condemned her to a brutal death. Of course, she cursed his family line for it. Revived two centuries later by blood, Asa wastes no time enacting vengeance. Continuing to feast on blood for sustenance, she murders Vajda family members while setting her sights on descendent Katia with the intention of stealing her youth. Played by Barbara Steele, Asa’s ruthless affinity for Satanism was very daring for its time upon release in 1960.
Witches – Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
A silent documentary with fictional reenactments of witchcraft was controversial upon release in 1922 for its depiction of gore, nudity, and Satan loving witchcraft. It was an exploration of superstition of religion, delving into what created the persecution of “witches,” but director Benjamin Christensen took his time to get to the point with long, fictional sequences featuring demons, spooky rituals, and Satan himself.
Mombi – Return to Oz
For a children’s film, this one is extremely dark. Opening with Dorothy’s return home, her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry decide to bring her in for electric shock therapy. Dorothy escapes and makes her way back to Oz, which has become a very different place. The Cowardly Lion and Tin Woodman are now turned to stone, and creepy Wheelers roam free. All of this alone would be nightmare inducing for anyone, but then they introduce Princess Mombi. Mombi is an evil woman with a large collection of heads. Yes, heads. When Mombi wants to update her look, she just goes to her closet and swaps out her head with another from her collection. Dorothy’s encounter with Mombi’s head collection earns Mombi an instant ranking for scariest witch.
Meg Mucklebones – Legend
This swamp witch had a brief but memorable turn in Ridley Scott’s 1985 dark fantasy film; no small feat considering what an iconic villain Tim Curry was as the Lord of Darkness. Plucky hero Jack (Tom Cruise) encounters this witch in the middle of a swamp during his quest to save his love. Despite her horrendous appearance Jack distracts her with flattery. Who ever said flattery doesn’t get you anywhere hasn’t met Meg. This unforgettable and terrifying swamp witch was played by Robert Picardo (Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Stargate Atlantis).
The Blair Witch – The Blair Witch Project
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez reminded audiences what could happen if audiences are kept in the dark about its villain. After delivering exposition on the legends surrounding the witch that inhabits the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, before letting loose a trio of would-be filmmakers into her domain, the Blair Witch manages to petrify based on atmosphere and dread alone. She never even dares to make an appearance! As the trio continues to run into signs that she’s lurking nearby, before disappearing one by one, the viewer’s imagination is left to fill in the blanks. It works like a charm.
Helena Markos – Suspiria
For most of Suspiria’s run time, Helena Markos exists only as a looming shadow over the dance academy. Her presence is concealed by her coven, with Madame Blanc acting as head of the academy. By the time Suzy Bannion discovers her hidden chambers the Mother of Sighs is in a weakened state, making it much easier for Suzy to defeat the once super powerful witch. Even still, it doesn’t dampen her ability to petrify. Especially when Suzy’s schoolmates around her suffer horrible deaths at the hands of Helena’s coven.
Haggis – Pumpkinhead
Also known as the Old Witch of the Woods, Haggis is more terrifying than the vengeance demon Pumpkinhead. When a tragic accident claims the life of Ed Harley’s young son, he seeks out Haggis in the hope that she can revive him. Instead, she presented Ed with the opportunity for revenge, conducting a ritual for the demon’s summoning, while wickedly withholding just how costly Ed’s quest for justice would become. Haggis teaches a valuable lesson in reading the fine print before buying. More importantly, never make a deal with a witch.
The Castevets – Rosemary’s Baby
Witches are typically presented as monstrous women who long ago sold their services and soul to Satan; their appearances gnarly, wizened, and grotesque. Enter Minnie and Roman Castevet, the nosy but nice next-door neighbors to Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. As affluent as they are social, with well-tailored clothes in fashionable prints and styles, they’re representative of upper-class New York. In other words, no one would suspect them of witchcraft. Their cheerful demeanor as they use Rosemary to usher in the son of Satan is alarming, but not as alarming as the fact that their ability to blend with society deconstructs the very idea of what a witch should look like.
Bathsheba Sherman – The Conjuring
In life, she was an evil woman caught red-handed trying to sacrifice her own week-old baby to the Devil. She then promptly cursed the land and hung herself. In death, Bathsheba continued her quest by possessing the mother of any that moved into her house and using them to kill their own children. If that wasn’t grisly enough, the spirits of Bathsheba’s victims are forced to remain in the house with her.
Margaret Morgan – The Lords of Salem
While there are a few witches in Rob Zombie’s film that could qualify as scary, none hold a candle to coven leader Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster). These Satanic worshipping witches are not to be trifled with. Even the small glimpses of her that haunts Heidi’s visions is enough to warrant “scariest witch” status, but the reveal that Heidi’s fate was never in her control thanks to Margaret’s curse is both tragic and horrifying. Margaret cares not for bathing, hygiene, or really anything other than ensuring she gets a vessel by which the devil’s child will inherit the earth.
The Witch in the woods – The Witch
While Robert Eggers’ film may have been more about the deterioration of an exiled New England family, the witch residing in the nearby woods was the stuff of nightmares. When baby Samuel is snatched very early in the film, we see the witch grinding up his body and rubbing his entrails all over his body. It’s chilling. When Caleb gets lost in the woods later, her seduction of him turns from skin-crawling dread to unsettling fear, especially when we see the aftermath. If this is what it means to live deliciously, I think I’ll take a hard pass.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
If you have yet to see this supernatural spookfest, you should correct that right now. I’ll wait. I’m about to head into major spoiler territory, so this is your last warning. The claustrophobic plot follows father and son coroner duo Tommy and Austin Tilden as they work through the mysterious cause of death of a Jane Doe brought in by the local sheriff. The further they go in their autopsy; the weirder things get in their morgue. The more Jane Doe’s body reveals weird trauma within, the more supernatural forces try to thwart the Tildens. Major Spoiler: the Tilden’s finally realize Jane Doe isn’t dead at all. A victim of the Salem witch trials and subjected to multiple horrific rituals, the Salem authorities created the very thing they were trying to destroy. Jane Doe is a living witch enacting revenge to any that crosses her path, even centuries later.