Halloween is almost here; I hope you’re ready to quake with fear.
Snap the twigs and burn the hair, I hope you can handle a little scare.
Crack your bones and tear your skin, something wicked stirs within.
Eat your soul and fly to hell, can you hear the witch’s bell?
Now that I’ve hexed you, let me say Happy Halloween! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s my favourite holiday, and I can’t wait to share this article with you. To get you in the Halloween spirit, I’m taking a look at how witches have been portrayed in Film and TV over the years. From comedy to horror, and everything in-between, I love a good witch story, especially at Samhain.
I’ve always been a bit of a scaredy-cat with films, loving horror but always coming away a bit more scared than other people seemed to be. An overactive imagination could be to blame I guess. And I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for witches. They ride that fine line between human and monster, real and fantasy, so as a younger viewer I never quite knew if they were real or not. As an adult horror viewer, they are one of my favourite elements of film and TV and continue to fascinate and terrify me in equal measures. So join me, as I look back at some standout Film and TV witches, and look at the varying ways in which they have been portrayed over the decades.
The Wizard of Oz (1932)
One of the very first things I can remember being afraid of as a child is that damned cackle from the Wicked Witch of the West. I love The Wizard of Oz still to this day. The story, the characters, the colours, it’s a beautiful film. And the Wicked Witch of the West, performed brilliantly by Margaret Hamilton, is the standout character for me. As a child I was terrified of her. As an adult, I kind of want to be her. Her reasons for wanting Dorothy dead seem more reasonable the older I get. Plus, she has kickass magic, a broomstick to glide around on, and an army of flying monkeys. I want an army of flying monkeys. The classic witch’s green skin is another great touch, paired with the pointed black hat and claw-like fingers. The Wicked Witch of the West is the go-to image when I think witch.
Everything about this witch is meant to scare the young audience watching. She looks scary, she sounds scary, and to a child, her actions are scary too. There is no sad back story to make you feel for her, not until Wicked anyway. She doesn’t have a cute animal sidekick to show her softer side. And she doesn’t have a change of heart by the end of the film. She’s pure evil, her sidekicks are equally terrifying and as she dies her painful death, her last words are still full of venom. ‘Whoever thought a little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?’. Even her death scene was horrifying for me as a child. The Wicked Witch of the West set the bar high early on in film, and told audiences that witches are to be feared completely. They will get you, and your little dog too.
32 years later, there’s a new witch in town, and she’s in your house, on your TV. But that’s not something to be afraid of, quite the opposite. Samantha is not like the Wicked Witch of the West, she’s the polar opposite. She’s beautiful, kind and funny, and head over heels in love with American dreamboat Darrin. Bewitched first aired in 1964, and it showed the world that not all witches are bad. This American comedy show was fun and harmless, and lead character Samantha was the most harmless witch around. Even the way she uses magic, by twitching her nose, is adorable. There is no fear here, witches are lovable housewives with magical powers. And they’re sexy too! Samantha was the perfect housewife, she was classically beautiful, incredibly loving and she had magic at her…nose tip?!
Bewitched rewrote what we knew about witches and suggested that a little magic in your love life could be fun. But it wouldn’t be witchcraft without a little bit of darkness. Enter Endora, Samantha’s mother. She is not happy that her perfect witch of a daughter has fallen for a mere mortal like Darrin. She spends a lot of her time scheming to break them up but ultimately fails each time. She’s not an evil witch exactly, but a darker side to Samantha’s light. Bewitched was a success, casting its magic for eight seasons, and keeping families entertained by the world of witchcraft instead of fearing it. It’s a classic American sitcom, similar to I Dream of Genie, and a show I always enjoyed catching as a child. And most importantly, it taught me that not all witches were green-skinned, cackling menaces.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Keeping things fun, next up is the legendary Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price in the ’70s family adventure film, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Now I’ll admit, up until recently I had never seen this Disney classic as I was never a fan of the films that mixed live-action and animation when I was a child. Plus, that name is kind of annoying to say. But my partner twisted my arm and I gave it a chance, and I can still hear the melody of Substitutiary Locomotion playing in my head as I write this. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the film so much, it’s just not the kind of film for me. But I did appreciate this take on witchcraft, and was amused by how very British Eglantine was. And that bloody song IS totally catchy, despite my hardest efforts to not remember it!
Set during the Nazi invasion of Britain, Eglantine is a trainee witch, living alone in the countryside where she can practice her spells in peace. Her world is turned on its head when three cheeky cockney children turn up, evacuated from Blitz ruined London and given to Eglantine to care for as she has the room at home. The rest of the film has the children learning to love the witch, and she them in return, as they help her practice spells and travel the world on an enchanted bed. Eglantine is another good witch, a British version of Bewitched’s Samantha almost, but older and wiser. I do love Angela Lansbury and it’s great to see her in any Disney role, I just wish this film showed us that darker side of magic, even if just a glimpse.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The next step in the evolutionary chain of witches is what we are treated to in The Witches of Eastwick. Modern, sexy, and not afraid to step into the dark side when needs be, these three witches are an excellent modern take on a classic witch tale. And the cast, my God this cast is fantastic! As the witches, we have Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and the one and only Cher. Jack Nicholson plays the Devil himself and is supported by other major players Veronica Cartwright and Carel Struycken. This late ’80s dark comedy is a great film, and seeing this new, sexier tale of witchcraft feels refreshing in comparison to the good-mannered witches we had witnessed in earlier films. Cher steals the show in my opinion, but all three witches are brilliant. Even Cartwright’s crazy woman character comes across as sexy, except for that cherry pip scene…
Jack Nicholson plays the mysterious character of Daryl, who moves into the small town and quickly starts seducing all three of the female friends. He teaches them to use their powers, which they were unaware of before his arrival. The women feel empowered, love having him in their lives and being the talk of the town. But when Cartwright’s character dies, they start to fear Daryl, which leads to the witches plotting to kill him with a voodoo doll. It’s a great film with a stellar cast, and for me, it’s the first time witchcraft was portrayed as something sexy. It teaches us that witches shouldn’t live in the shadows or dress like old crones. They should be loud and proud, and alluring to boot. This film doesn’t try to scare the viewers, or portray witches as inherently evil. It leans in close and whispers in your ear; ‘Come to the dark side…we have Cher’.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Taking a quick broom ride back into Disney territory, we have family favorite, Hocus Pocus. An enchanting ’90s ride featuring the now-iconic Sanderson sisters. Lead by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, this film still hits the mark today just as well as it did in the ’90s. It’s still a personal favourite to watch in October and I never get bored of every word Bette Midler says. She’s iconic in this role, and one of my favourite Midler characters of all time. The Sanderson sisters are witches from Salem during the legendary witch trials. They were burned at the stake for killing children, but not before cursing the town, and proclaiming they would return when the black flamed candle was lit by a virgin. Fast forward to 90’s Salem and enter Eerie Indiana actor Omri Katz, a virgin.
As soon as the witches return, a hilarious magical adventure ensues. The sisters chase down the children who brought them back to this world and stole their beloved spellbook. They also plan to capture all of the children in the town to literally suck the life out of them, returning themselves to their former youth and beauty. Bette Midler is just brilliant in this role. I still find myself quoting her character Winifred to this day. ‘Another glorious morning. Makes me SICK!’ etc. These Disney witches are another new breed; they have evil intentions but come across more slapstick than sinister. The iconic look of the Sanderson sisters have been and will continue to be replicated as Halloween costumes for years to come. And their rendition of ‘I Put a Spell on You’ is genuinely one of my favourite versions. You probably should fear the Sanderson sisters, even if one of them does fly around on a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom.
The Craft (1996)
And now ladies and gentlemen, we move onto one of the most influential films on my teen years. I wouldn’t dare admit how much of this film me and my little coven of weird friends tried to replicate! The Craft was such a big deal to me as a teenager, and these four witches still stand up there as some of my favourite girls of all time. Set in ’90s LA, Nancy and her coven were so badass and inspirational to me, I still have a ‘We are the weirdos Mr’ pin on my leather jacket. These were the witches I had been waiting for. The outcast teenagers, the freaks, the weirdos, finding power in witchcraft and turning it on their tormentors. It’s like Carrie for Goth kids and I just loved it. I loved all of the witches but Nancy, my God I love Nancy.
Portrayed excellently by the gorgeous Fairuza Balk, Nancy was the darkest of the witches. She was living with a penniless mother and her abusive stepfather in a trailer park. Nancy hated her life, but not as much as she hated the rich kids that bullied her. When she develops her witch skills and becomes maniacal with power, I was right there by her side, willing her on. All of the girls had issues but I related most to Nancy, and I fell in love with this new vision of witchcraft. Magic for angst-ridden teens, it was perfect! This film taught the bullies to be careful who you target, and that magic was just around the corner for anyone who needed it. I’ll never get bored of watching The Craft, and I’ll never stop loving Nancy. Even though I don’t even EXIST to her.
From gothic teens to chic young ladies, we now have another trio of magical sisters. No, not the Sanderson sisters again, but the Halliwell sisters, Piper, Prue and Phoebe. When Charmed first hit our screens in 1999, I was still loving the witch vibe and embraced this new show willingly. Three young adult sisters discover they each have a specific magical power making them the charmed ones. Prue can move things with her mind, Phoebe has visions of the future, and Piper, my favourite character, can literally freeze time. The Halliwell sisters are normal women with normal jobs, who just so happen to face off against demons from now and again, leaving just enough time to make dinner and relax with a bottle of good wine. Oh and there’s an angel in it too. Charmed sounds cheesy when you describe it, but it was actually incredibly captivating to watch.
As well as being a fun show to watch, Charmed also introduced us to this new generation of witches. Businesswomen, wives and mothers, who secretly hold the magic needed to save the world in between meetings and picking up the children from school. Charmed had the fantasy action of Buffy combined with the sass and comedy of Sex in the City. These witches didn’t look scary, they didn’t seek vengeance on bullies or sing and dance to children, but they did save the world from evil. They also showed us a new world of magic, with powers I hadn’t seen before. Piper freezing time is a wonderful power and something that gets the viewer thinking what would I do with that power. Personally I would freeze Monday mornings and spend it drinking coffee and playing on my PS4 instead of going to work. What would you do?!
American Horror Story Coven (2013)
American Horror Story has become one beast of a franchise, with more themes and ideas under its belt than any other show I can think of. From the Murder House to the Hotel, AHS has ticked a lot of boxes for me over the years, despite taking a dip in quality in most recent series. As a fan of witches, I was especially happy when Coven was announced back in 2013. Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Angela Bassett as witches? Yes please! And while I was initially disappointed with how the series ended, Coven did do a lot of things right in my book. These witches were the new face of magic, modern and stylish, sexy and cool. Jessica Lange is flawless in any role, but she really shone as supreme witch Fiona Goode. Conroy plays flame-haired fashionista witch Myrtle Snow, and Bassett plays Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. The new witch trio for my hall of heroes.
Coven showed us this new strain of witches and gave us a new version of magic women to look up to. Their powers are extraordinary, and the women themselves are uber cool. Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery was another favourite of mine, bringing a Mean Girls meets The Craft vibe that I had a lot of time for. These witches get what they want, and the majority of them don’t care who gets hurt in the process. Coven lets us into a cut-throat world of mystery, magic and Balenciaga. AHS was always cool, but Coven felt almost ahead of its time with how stylish and slick the witches were portrayed. And seeing some of the witches return in the 2018 series Apocalypse was another fangasm moment for me in a show that was starting to lose my interest. I only wish Marie Laveau had been in it more. She’s SUCH a badass witch.
In the wake of AHS Coven, we received another magical gift in the form of the somewhat overlooked Salem, a 2014 series set in the iconic 17th century Massachusetts town plagued by witches. The show follows Lady Mary Sibley, wife of the most powerful man in Salem, and her descent into darkness as she becomes the most powerful witch in town. Sibley is portrayed by the wonderful Janet Montgomery, and she is supported by her handmaiden Tituba, played by Ashley Madekwe, and her human plaything/trainee witch Mercy, played by Elise Eberle. Another trio of powerful witches but this time set in the original witch-hunting ground Salem. These girls represent the OG witches, the founding mothers of witchcraft. And they do so perfectly.
Salem is a brilliant show, multifaceted with elements of horror, romance, comedy and tragedy. The murky, faded backdrop of 1600’s Salem is set ablaze by the dazzling magic and horror spread by the witches on the simple townspeople. Seeing the women torturing men and seducing lovers is fantastic, and the story propelling the series forward is captivating enough to leave you wanting more. While these may not be new witches, quite the opposite really, they are still presented to us in a way we’ve not seen before. This show tells us the Salem witches were more than wicked, they were rotten to the core. Mary Sibley in particular struggles to balance her love for the dark magic and her love for the man she thought she had lost who suddenly returns to Salem, turning her head and tempting her back to the light. Salem is a riveting watch with witches aplenty so if you haven’t seen it yet, add it to your list.
The VVitch (2015)
Our next witch comes from the same century as the Salem witches, but from across the pond in New England. The VVitch is a slow burn horror film that fell onto mixed reviews when it released in 2015. Personally, I think it’s an incredible film. The story follows young Thomasin, a farmer’s daughter who is accused of witchcraft when her young brother Samuel vanishes during a game of peek-a-boo. The film builds tension like static electricity and when the real action kicks in, it’s like a gut punch for the viewer. This film doesn’t rely on jump scares or typical witch tomfoolery. Instead, we have dark imagery and sound, building gradually to an eye-opening finale. And who doesn’t love a dancing goat? Black Phillip is up there with my other favourite Funko Pop figures.
And as for our witch, we get yet another spin on the genre, with this young, innocent girl, accused so much of witchcraft that eventually she does turn to the dark side. The film ends with Thomasin being visited by Satan himself after her family are all killed and she’s left alone weeping. Satan asks; ‘Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?’ and she accepts his offer. The final scene shows Thomasin walking naked into the woods, stumbling upon a group of more naked women circled around a fire. Thomasin has found her new family, her coven. As the women dance and chant around the flames, their bodies float into the air, carried by the powers bestowed on them by their dark master. The VVitch is a brilliant film showing us a world just as old as Salem, filled to the brim with folklore and legend. It also shows us that anyone can turn to the dark side, and that Satan will guide thy hand.
And bringing us back up to date is a little French Netflix series I was advised to watch by a very good friend of mine. I had never of Marianne until then and went into it without watching any trailers to avoid spoiling the surprise. I was blown away. I binge-watched the whole series over two days and was left gobsmacked by how good it was. Marianne is a modern-day witch tale about an author whose scary stories seem to have become reality. The title character of Marianne is our witch and played by the extremely talented Mireille Herbstmeyer. This show isn’t about catchy songs or scheming women, Marianne is pure evil. The horror this show displays is frightening at times and left me open-mouthed a number of times. It’s a refreshingly scary show for our current times and it doesn’t rely on simple scares either.
This newest addition to the witch genre is one of my new favorites. Marianne isn’t just a witch, she’s the demonic soul of a witch able to possess whoever she wishes. The only way to know someone IS Marianne is to ask them outright if they are. Marianne is unable to deny her identity so if she’s inside you, you have to admit it (even if you don’t realise she’s in there!). The fact that she’s a demonic witch means she has a whole world of powers at her fingertips. She can cause powerful hallucinations, she can move things with her mind, she can disappear and appear at will. She’s the ultimate wicked witch. If you have nothing lined up to watch this Halloween, I would definitely recommend this show. Not only is it a terrifying tale of witchy goodness, the story is also rich and deep enough to leave us hopeful for a second season. Who knows who she will possess next…
So that’s some of the best depictions of witches in film and TV that I have come across. I know there’s plenty more out there for me to hunt down. I will always be drawn to a good witch story, be it comedy or horror. I’ve been a fan of witches since being a child and as I’ve grown older my adoration and indeed fear has only grown. With Marianne reigniting my excitement for these bewitching ladies, I’m excited to find more hidden gems that show them in different lights. What have been your favourite or most interesting depictions of witches in film and TV? Let me know in the comments, and also let me know if you wanna call to the guardians of the watchtowers. I need a new coven!
Interested in more horror? Check out this list of the best horror movie franchises!