Something about the Salem witch trials has always interested me. I will always remember that you could stand accused of witchcraft if you carried your load on your right shoulder, or if you had but a single wart.
I was fascinated that the accused had to undergo a series of torturous tests, and if they survived, they were a witch and burnt at the stake. If not, they were actually a good Christian woman who was better off because she was God now.
It was such an archaic system, but I can honestly see jealous bitches pointing fingers at one another just for being prettier, or for looking at their mundane husbands funny. Hey, some things never change.
While witches are still very paramount in culture today, both religiously and on a popular culture level, they aren't as widely used in horror narrative as ghosts or crazed serial killers are. This is unfortunate, because the ideals of witchcraft brilliantly merge the spiritual beliefs and devotion rife in humanity with the supernatural, probably making witchcraft more embedded in reality than a human-hunting ghost. There is reason, there is purpose, and there is mystery.
Whether you are using witchcraft for the good, the bad, or the ugly, there is no denying that it is a powerful element of the occult and can make for a riveting form of entertainment. I've put together a list of some of what I think are the best TV shows and movies that utilise the essence of witchcraft in horror.
Please note, that while consideration has been taken to avoid spoilers, there may be some spoilers ahead.
American Horror Story: Coven
Glee creator Ryan Murphy surprised the entertainment industry with his anthology horror series American Horror Story, delving into different worlds and different times to create a dark and twisted narrative. The show focused on different themes and locations each season, including Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, Hotel, Roanoke, and Cult.
Personally, out of all of the tremendous seasons Ryan Murphy created, I considered Coven as the best. This ideal of witches and bitches was combined into a fabulous mould of grotesque horror meets Clueless and damn did I enjoy it!
The third season of the popular anthology TV show focused on a group of witches who are descendants from the Salem witch trials and now living in a New Orleans boarding home, they are thrown into dangerous events as they are used in a rivalry against the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, the fulfilment of the hidden agendas by the Reigning Supreme of the coven, and not to mention the general backstabbing and cattiness that befalls teenage girls with supernatural gifts, raging hormones and oppression of both modern day and archaic society.
The show melded the societies of old and new well - the boarding home opulent, the world of the Voodoo Queen was dripping in the unmistakable marks left in New Orleans, and the characters were catty, petty, powerful and fucked up. American Horror Story: Coven is my idea of a perfect project.
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 horror classic that basically invited the hand-held camera technique. With a low budget and entirely natural filming locations, the movie is about three film students who vanish after traversing the Maryland forest filming a documentary about a local legend.
While The Blair With Project in itself can be seen as revolutionary, I actually want to touch on the 2016 "reboot" Blair Witch. In a similar way of other movies nowadays, Blair Witch is both a sequel and a reboot, utilising the same hand-held camera techniques (albeit now updated with clever use of drone technology) and following a similar storyline, yet setting itself up as a melding of old and new and allowing for future movies if successful.
The story now centers on the brother of the star of The Blair Witch Project, who decides to venture into the same woods that his sister vanished in to attempt to face his ghosts and find out the truth of what happened to her. There is usually only so many times you can watch a group of young adults wander around the woods, but The Blair Witch Projects decides to utilise the occult more so this time and make it a mind-fuck, which saves the movie. Time begins to shift, locations suddenly appear out of nowhere, and sudden and jarring events give the movie more than just jump scares - it gives it interest.
I don't terrify easy, but Blair Witch made my list as a good film based solely on a single scene where the heroine of the movie is on her hands and knees, clawing her way through dirt filled tunnels that are filling up with water, evil behind her and no idea what is in front of her. The claustrophobia adds to the sheer terror the actress so cleverly portrays, and makes it one of the most uncomfortable scenes in a movie I have ever watched.
The Godfather of Horror Stephen King once hailed the 2015 movie The Witch and stated on his Twitter account that "The Witch scared the hell out of me. And it's a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral." It is based on this statement alone that causes The Witch to get a mention here, because in all honesty I hated this movie for one reason alone - I couldn't understand a single thing that was being said!
The Witch takes place in the 1630's and is a crucial time for the pilgrims - remember it was around then that Christianity was a devotion taken up by pretty much all Anglo-Saxons and that black magic and witchcraft were the big bad. Women were yet being trialed as witches in Salem (which was set to have occurred 62 years after the setting of this movie), but the New England way of life was still the cause and effect of fear-mongering. In this movie, a small family live on an isolated homestead and begin to blame black magic when their newborn son mysterious vanishes and their crops begin to fail.
The storyline of The Witch is deeper than that though, as it paints a chilling portrait for a family who unravels under their own sins and turn on one another, placing the blame on the eldest daughter played by Anya-Taylor Joy. As the terror surmounts and fingers are pointed, it all leads to a devastating end for the family.
The style and setting of the movie is definitely as Stephen King describes - thought-provoking, tense and visceral being the best way to define this movie, but while it is suspenseful it is in no way terrifying. My main gripe with the movie is that the film stays true to the setting and the era, meaning that the dialogue and script is based on the language spoken at the time.
If anyone has attempted to fully understand the dialogue of Elizabethan English, used commonly in Shakespeare, the linguistics of the pilgrims is actually a lot harder to understand than that. It's fast-paced, riddled with phrases that are no longer prevalent to society and generally just really hard to understand. You will get 100% more from The Witch if you watch it with the subtitles on.
There are heaps of different popular TV shows and movies that feature witches and the Salem witch trials, but that I haven't mention here. Is there something you think that I should have? Email me using the contact page or comment below!