Whether old or young, ugly or beautiful, even male or female, there’s just something about witches that terrifies us to the core. Perhaps it’s their reputation for throwing human body parts into bubbling cauldrons; maybe it’s their alleged pacts with Satan. Witches have been the basis of horror for centuries, from the era of Salem and burning the accused at the stake to today, as cries of witch hunts fill the news and air around us. While plenty of “good witches” have graced the silver screens, we’ll always have a special place in our dark hearts for the evil ones.
With the recent resurgence of occult horror movies (Suspiria, The Witch, A Dark Song, to name a few), has come another era of modern witch movies. These spooky tales combine all kinds of terror to create a new form of witchcraft horror. This trend shows no sign of stopping, either, with upcoming films like Midsommar and The Turning scheduled for the coming months. Get back to the originals–and the latest terrors–with these witchy picks. Get out your broomstick and black hat, and settle in for a night of terror with these nine bone-chilling witch movies.
1. The Witches (1990)
The Witches is one of those movies you probably saw as a kid, despite the fact that it’s totally not suitable for children. In this highly creepy adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel, a young boy and his grandmother must stop an evil hoard of witches from turning all the world’s children into mice. This might seem like a silly plot line, but these witches are not playing around. They’re bald, toeless, purpled-eyed, and completely menacing. One look at the Grand High Witch—played by Angelica Huston—without her human mask on (see above) and you won’t be able to sleep for weeks.
2. Hereditary (2018)
This deeply frightening occult horror also dips its toes into witchcraft and séances. After the death of a grandmother, a family goes into crisis. The mother starts seeing her dead mother, the son starts partying, the daughter… keeps making her terrifying doll creations. To say anything more would ruin the dread you’ll experience when watching, so get streaming now.
3. Håxan (1922)
This Scandinavian silent film from the 1920s purported to be a documentary on the superstition and paranoia that led to accusations of witchcraft. The abundance of “dramatic reenactment” scenes, though, complete with demons, witches, and even Satan himself—played by the film’s director—makes for a horrifying watch. What’s more: Håxan’s depictions of sexual perversions, including torture and nudity, were considered so graphic at the time that the movie was actually banned in the U.S.
4. The Devils (1971)
Another film that was heavily banned for its depraved and violent sexual content, The Devils is a fictionalized account of the Loudon possessions in 17th century France. In the film, Oliver Reed plays Urbain Grandier, a Catholic priest who was burned at the stake in 1634 after being accused of witchcraft, following a series of reported possessions at a convent. In true 1970s fashion, the whole film is essentially a giant, psychedelic orgy: only this time it involves priests and hysterical nuns.
5. Black Sunday (1960)
An important film insomuch as it greatly influenced the development of the genre, Black Sunday is an Italian gothic horror film about a witch who, before being burned at the stake by her own brother, swears revenge in the form on a curse on her brother’s descendants. The film launched the career of director Mario Bava, considered to be the father of the giallo film movement in Italy—the precursor to the modern American slasher films of the 1980s and 1990s.
6. The Love Witch (2016)
This disarmingly colorful horror comedy follows Elaine, a witch who uses her magical powers to get men to fall in love with her. If that love has horrifying and fatal results, well, it’s hardly Elaine’s fault. This 1960s-inspired film will shock you with its absurdity.
7. Witchfinder General a.k.a The Conqueror Worm (1968)
The cult film Witchfinder General was released in the U.S. under the misnomer The Conqueror Worm for commercial reasons—it has almost nothing to do with Poe’s poem. The film depicts the heavily-fictionalized exploits of 17th century lawyer Matthew Hopkins, a major witch-hunter during the English Civil War. If for nothing else, see it for Vincent Price: he stars as the eponymous “Witch finder.”
8. Suspiria (1977)
Perhaps the most famous example of the Italian giallo horror genre, Suspiria tells the story of an American ballet dancer, who arrives to study at a prestigious German ballet academy, only to find it’s a front for a witch coven. Campy, gory, and, at times, truly terrifying, Suspiria has been recognized as one of the most important films in horror history by myriad critics and publications.
9. Suspiria (2018)
The remake of the 1977 classic is quite different from its inspiration in how it gets to horror–but it’s no less effective. In this (literally) darker version, director Luca Guadagnino relies on bleak visuals, an off-putting score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and dizzying dance choreography to craft his homage to Argento’s iconic film.
10. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Never marry an actor. Seriously. He’ll probably do something completely shady to advance his career, like pimp out your uterus to the Satanist coven who lives in your building in exchange for fame and wealth. Rosemary learns this the hard way in this classic work of psychological horror, which could just as easily be called What to Expect When You’re Expecting the Spawn of Satan. Disclaimer: it involves a lot of raw meat consumption.
11. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Despite its recently-released sequel’s lukewarm success and reception, The Blair Witch Project is one of the most important horror films ever made. The low-budget, super-high-grossing film put the “found-footage” genre on the map, as it recounts the ill-fated exploits of three friends trying to make a documentary about an infamous witch who supposedly haunts the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. Though the movie’s style has been widely copied since its 1999 release—and despite the fact that you might need a couple of Dramamine to make it through the signature “shaky-cam” filming style—we dare you to watch this right before a camping trip.
12. The Witch (2016)
One of the most hyped movies of 2016, The Witch is, quite simply, terrifying. Advertised as “A New England Folktale,” the film tells the story of a family banished from their Puritan plantation town in the 17th century. As they struggle to make it on their own in the wilderness, horrifying, witch-y things start happening—and all seem to be connected to the family’s eldest daughter, Thomasin. So: is this family just a bunch of raving religious lunatics? Or is Thomasin really consorting with the Devil? Find out, if you’re brave enough to watch.
13. The Conjuring (2013)
In the first film in the “Conjuring Universe”, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate the malevolence of a certain infamous house–the Perron family house. After a number of terrifying spirits manifest themselves in the home, the Perrons are desperate to find out why their dream home is filled with nightmares. The Warrens soon discover that the spirit of a witch who killed her child and herself still haunts the house. Can they and the Perrons escape without permanent harm?
14. The Craft (1996)
This cult 90s teen horror film follows a group of oddball teens who attempt to use witchcraft to improve their lives. When Sarah Bailey moves to Los Angeles, she falls in with a trio of girls whose lives are less than perfect. Sarah’s budding witch-powers attract the other girls all the more to her side, as they attempt to magick their way into happiness and popularity. Soon, the witchcraft goes sour, and Sarah must fight her way out of the morass she’s found herself in...
15. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Rob Zombie’s 2012 film practically fills the air with its feeling of dread. Heidi, DJ at a hard rock radio station and recovering addict, receives a record by a band she’s never heard of before, The Lords. As it plays, she has a vision of a group of Satan-worshipping women, damning a newborn child. Her visions continue even after the turntable is off, leading her to experience a number of terrors that seem to be connected to her heritage–she’s a descendant of one of the reverends who put the women in her vision to death.
16. Eve's Bayou (1997)
10-year-old Eve finds herself in a dire state of pain and confusion after realizing that her father (Samuel L. Jackson) has a habit of cheating. Hoping to soothe herself, Eve begins to spend more time with her aunt, a psychic counselor who has second sight. Young Eve, hoping to find some way to make her family whole again, attempts to learn how to use her own powers. This enthralling film is filled with turmoil, pain, and horror, as Eve attempts to discover what is real and what is witchcraft.
Feature still from "The Witch" via Parts and Labor