October 17, 2017 – Do we have a witch problem in recent horror cinema? Or are some filmmakers taking a mirror to something around us? I’m referencing three semi-recent films that look to me like a brutal, radical trifecta of witchcraft. Are they more Malleus Maleficarum, or more like a horror movie Valerie Solanas might have cared to make?
This thought came to me when I first listened to The Faculty of Horror‘s excellent two-part podcast on witchcraft movies. The Faculty of Horror are amazing, FYI and I’m hard-pressed to find a horror podcast that’s both highly academic and a hell of a lot of fun.
The movies are Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (2013) and Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2016). The first of these is almost tough to identify as a witchcraft movie. But all three share some characteristics: brutality, ugliness, unrestrained female power and most importantly, dead children/anti-motherhood. And trust me, these films do not skimp on shocking brutality to children and babies.
This is more complex than you think. I don’t understand why those evangelical leaders so concerned about witchcraft, the occult and feminism don’t get on their knees and praise Rob Zombie for making The Lords of Salem, which confirms everything they think about a woman reading tarot cards or kids listening to heavy metal in brutal and graphic detail. Why haven’t they put up The Witch and Antichrist as examples of what happens when women have no interest in being mothers or want the legal right to an abortion?
And then, what happened our 90’s model of witchcraft as empowerment, beauty and feminism? The Craft, Charmed, Practical Magic, etc – few if any witches were ever presented as baby killing hags, and the Devil was left out of most of this material. Wiccans and spiritual pagans have spent decades trying to convince a panicked public that they don’t worship the Devil and sacrifice children – but now we have these recent movies. I haven’t measured yet the level of pagan/Wiccan outrage over Lords and The Witch, but have come across examples of support for them.
I think these filmmakers hardly share the evangelical view – at least, I’m certain Rob Zombie doesn’t. The only filmmaker I can think of that openly, earnestly courts this Pat Robertson model of witches is James Wan in The Conjuring. So what’s going on here? Is this just a radical, punk rock take on the subject matter? You want baby killing hags? Here you go, right in your face! Perhaps Wiccans and pagans are responding positively because they’re tired of defending their religious rights. And as this obscene presidential administration unfolds before us, I’m sure women will also be sick of fighting for reproductive rights they were already granted decades ago. People are witching up already. What will the next wave of witchcraft movies bring?
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