Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks, the shelves at CVS are sagging under the weight of snack-size candy bars, and Party City is relevant again. Yes, autumn is upon us, which means two very important things: one, for Halloween costumes, it’s time to decide whether you or your boyfriend is going to be Miley Cyrus to the other’s Robin “Beetlejuice” Thicke. And second, it’s time for another season of FX’s deliciously unhinged American Horror Story.
This year’s season is subtitled “Coven” and the show is tackling several traditions of witchcraft in America: the European witches of Puritan times in the Northeast (the “Salem witches”) and the Haitian witches of the American South (the “voodoo witches”). The show is pitting them against each other in New Orleans, and it’s going to be a hell of a showdown. To prepare us for the bloody battle, I’ve drawn up a list of essential witch films to prepare for all the spell-casting, shade-throwing fun. Enjoy!
Probably the seminal “modern” witch film, Rosemary’s Baby demonstrates how witches could be alive and thriving in present-day New York City with diabolical effectiveness. It doesn’t hurt that Mia Farrow‘s Rosemary is a bit of an idiot.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Commonly known as “the movie where Bill Pullman gets his junk nailed to a chair,” this is the movie where Bill Pullman gets his junk nailed to a chair. It’s also one of the few contemporary American films to focus on Haitian voodoo, specifically the idea that people can be turned into zombies using various potions and drugs. It’s supposedly based on a true story.
Witches and wizards of course were pretty much the biggest thing of the last fifteen years, thanks to this series of books and films. But it’s interesting how little witchery seeped into pop culture by way of other witchcraft-themed projects (The Wizards of Waverly Place and The Secret Circle are the only two that jump to mind) – were people afraid to go up against wee Harry?
Ah, The Craft… one of the most beloved teen horror films of the ’90s, this camp explosion of Girl Power-infused witchery and bitchery (from gay writer/director Andrew Fleming) is a total riot. Given the basic setup of AHS: Coven – a group of 4 teen witches fighting for survival against one or more foes – I’d expect plenty of references to this one.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, Dario Argento‘s hallucinatory adult fairy tale is set an an elite dance school in Europe where students are being picked off one by one by some sinister force. This was actually the first film in a trilogy by Argento about witches that included Inferno and Mother of Tears, but it’s by far the best – the hushed suspense sequences contrast beautifully with the explosive, jarring score and the lurid colors make for a stylized nightmare unlike no other.