Welcome to Witch Week (31 Scares Week 3)

It’s Red Season! And my pop-country oracle Taylor has given me permission to Begin Again, so as far as I’m concerned it’s October 1 and I still have 30 days to finish my 31 scares.

NOW TO BUSINESS!!

Dearly Beloved: We are gathered here today to determine the Winningest Witch of Witch Week. Which Witch Won the Week, you ask?? Read on to find out….

(C) HOCUS POCUS 1993

I’m super delighted with Witch Week as a way of watching tons of movies by and about women! Here is an overview of the EIGHT witch-related movies in consideration for Winningest Witch:

  1. FEAR STREET: 1994 (2021) dir. Leigh Janiak
  2. FEAR STREET: 1978 (2021) dir. Leigh Janiak
  3. FEAR STREET: 1666 (2021) dir. Leigh Janiak
    • While these were all fun films in their own right, I will be considering them as a unit since they all feature the same witch.
  4. THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976) dir. Matt Cimber
  5. CARRIE (2013) dir. Kimberly Pierce
  6. SUSPIRIA (2018) dir. Luca Guadagnino
  7. THE LOVE WITCH (2016) dir. Anna Biller
  8. Special addition! I have already written at length about my feelings on ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) dir. Roman Polanski. (Spoiler: I hate it.) However the witches of this film are far more non-metaphorical than the witches who CAME FROM THE SEA, so they must rightfully be considered as part of our overall Which Witch Ratings.

Witch Flicks Ranked by the Excellence of The Witch

8. THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)

Classified: The Witch Who Came from the Sea
Is Molly (Millie Perkins) a witch? Not actually. Did she come from the sea? Also not literally. (c) THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

I actually loved this movie! Despite the fact that, it turns out, the “witch” who “came from the sea” is unequivocally metaphorical! She does not, in any meaningful capacity, exist! For this reason, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA ranks dead last in the Witch Rankings.

Neverthless, let me tell you why you should go ahead and get this picture on your watchlist:

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, directed by Matt Cimber, is a psychological idyllic horror set in a dingy seaside town in the 1970s. It’s a troubled and troubling meditation on how childhood traumas can permanently misshape our delicate little psyches, replete with small-town oddballs, hot dead guys, and lengthy monologues about fictionally virtuous men. It’s weird, it’s pretty, and it’s free on Tubi! Go watch it!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?1/5
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 4/5
    • A little silly but very intentional.
  • How about those women? 3/5
    • Here is how THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
        • This was kind of a close one because protagonist Molly is man-obsessed, but she does have a couple conversations about her drinking problem.
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Fail
      • Ko Test: Fail
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass!
  • Bonus: 1
    • For Molly’s fantasies of bodybuilding men spontaneously dying on the beachside jungle gym.
  • Total points: 12/20
  • Witches: None

7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

(C) ROSEMARY’S BABY 1968

There are a lot of reasons to hate this movie, but the crappy witches are definitely around 17 of them. The coven that lives next door to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her shitty husband are everything I don’t want from my witches. I’m ok with morally ambiguous witches, and I’m also ok with violent witches, but I draw the line at actively malicious, casually infantilizing, and bourgeois.

I unequivocally disagree with both this coven’s goals and their methods: they’re already fairly rich and powerful in the conventional sense, but they’re also good at getting what they want using magic, and what they want totally sucks! I don’t think they deserve to be able to BOTH buy anything they want AND magic anything they want into existence. It takes all the conflict out of their witchyness! Rather than being a tool of the disenfranchised (as it is frequently depicted), witchcraft becomes…just another thing the rich have that the rest of us don’t. It’s so easy to be a self-satisfied shit-eating Rich Witch that of course every terrible caricature of a person gravitates to the gig. In this film Witches are merely, boringly, evil. We deserve better. Suck it, Polanski.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?1/5
  • How memorable was it? 3/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 1/5
    • As far as I’m concerned this movie either fails at an intended story/moral about being wary of witches and shitty men, or succeeds at a garbage story/moral about how it’s cool to rape ladies as long as there’s something to gain from the effort.
  • How about those women? 2.5/5
    • While I’m deeply disgusted by this film’s treatment of women, the myriad female characters and minimal number of deaths means it passes several of the tests.
    • Here is how ROSEMARY’S BABY scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass.
      • Willis Test: Fail.
      • Ko Test: Fail.
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass.
  • Total points: 7.5/20
  • Witches: Boo

6. CARRIE (2013)

Carrie movie review & film summary (2013) | Roger Ebert
(C) CARRIE 2013

In my most recent post I discussed at length why the 2013 CARRIE doesn’t quite succeed as a feminist take on the classic novel. Part of the reason for that is definitely Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) herself. While I give props to Carrie for going to the library to learn about her newfound magical powers (hurrah for public educational resources!), as a witch she’s underwhelming.

For one thing, she doesn’t identify as a witch: she’s a passive receiver of her own power who is constantly pleading the case for her own goodness, like: wah, wah, this is a genetic trait, whimper, sniff, it’s totally not from the devil, Mama! You know what, Carrie, blow your nose and stand up straight! If Mama says it from the Devil why not put on some fishnets and a pentagram and embrace that shit?? Carrie’s goals are so bland: she discovers she has telekinetic powers and all she does with them is make sure she’s able to go to the prom with somebody else’s boyfriend. As far as self-actualization goes, Carrie’s barely at the start of what could have been a lifelong journey if she hadn’t self-combusted and killed a bunch of people, including (most annoyingly) herself.

As a movie, CARRIE is fine; as a witch, Carrie sort of sucks.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?2/5
  • How memorable was it? 2/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
    • Definitely felt it was better than the original.
  • How about those women? 2.5/5
  • Total points: 9.5/20
  • Witches: Boring

5-3. FEAR STREET Trilogy (2021)

Movie Review: The Fear Street Trilogy
(C) FEAR STREET 2021

I will probably devote an entire post to this delightful trilogy because I loved it very much. For now, a quick overview: each of the films functions as a standalone movie. The first two feel like classic scares from the era in which they are set. FEAR STREET PART ONE: 1994 is a conventionally-structured mall slasher that would fit nicely in any teen’s VHS collection next to SCREAM (1996) and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997). FEAR STREET PART TWO: 1978 works so perfectly as a 70s summer camp gore-fest that I sort of needed the recognizable actress from STRANGER THINGS (Sadie Sink) to remember this is actually a contemporary film. And while PART THREE: 1666 is slightly less effective as a standalone (it’s rather abruptly split into two parts, set in different times), it works incredibly well as a wrap-up to the trio, drawing all the connective threads from the first two films tidily together into a satisfying ending.

But more on that another time. We’re here to talk about the Witch.

The first two films set up the idea that FEAR STREET’s Sarah Fier (lol, fear/fier… lest we forget, these are based on kids’ books) is a malicious witch-ghost haunting the town of Shadyside with vague but pernicious murder and madness. In the third film, it is revealed that (SPOILER ALERT) this is actually a smear campaign by the patriarchy (aka the hot Nice Guy’s ancestor, who, TBH, is also a very hot guy)! In reality, Sarah Fier the person (played by both Elizabeth Scopel and Kiana Madiera) both is and is not a witch. For 99% of her life, she’s basically just a spunky, nature-loving lesbian who lives in a shitty puritanical town full of misogynistic fun-haters. But when Hot Guy lets her take the fall for his evil spell, she haunts him and his descendants with the promise that eventually she’ll out them for being the cause of Shadyside’s centuries-long torment. What a tough cookie!

Sarah Fier the character is pretty awesome: on the self-actualization scale she’s lightyears ahead of Carrie, and she’s wiling to play the long game to kick the patriarchy’s ass. Her curse is epic and and her revenge is sweet – but for the most part, she’s not actually a witch. The film makes it pretty clear that the character performing actual magic is the Evil Hot Guy…but he’s never called “a witch.” Only Sarah gets that honorific, which is a choice that feels like an intentional nod to the gendered history of the term as a mythology of female unruliness, more than an actual identity. FEAR STREET gets an A as a trilogy, but as far as witches go, Sarah Fier is an honorary mention.

How Did It Score

I don’t think all three movies in this trilogy would necessarily get the same scores, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to…average it out?

  • How scary was it?3/5
  • How memorable was it? 3.5/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
  • How about those women? 5/5
  • Here is how FEAR STREET scores on each of the gender tests:
    • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
    • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
    • Willis Test: Pass
    • Ko Test: Pass
    • Roxane Gay Test: Pass
    • Carie-Burns Test: Pass.
  • Bonus: 1
    • The deli-meat slicer in 1994 were super exciting both because it was DISGUSTING, and because I didn’t really believe they were going to go there.
  • Total points: 15.5/20
  • Witches: 1; Mythic

2. THE LOVE WITCH (2016)

Cinematic Cosmetics - Makeup in The Love Witch

Written, directed, designed, costumed, and with some original music composed by Anna Biller, THE LOVE WITCH is a meticulously crafted ode to a 60s/70s idyllic horror aesthetic and a clever original take on the idea of the sexy witch. Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is an absurdly beautiful woman who turned to witchcraft after her husband left her, joining a coven that focuses on sex magic and using her powers to seduce men, with deadly results.

As a witch, Elaine is fantastic: she’s powerful, she’s confident, she knows what she wants and she uses magic to get it. As a person, she’s a little depressing: she believes she can’t be happy without love, but her idea of love is all about control. She feels she must perform men’s fantasy in order to make them want and love her, but her desire to be loved is basically an offensive maneuver to avoid being hurt. She’s trying to get ahead of her fear that she could be trapped loving these men herself, and therefore risk being used and controlled by them. She wants them to love her so that she is the one doing the controlling.

THE LOVE WITCH successfully critiques both Elaine and the society in which she lives. The men around her mostly do fall into the stereotypes of being the type of man she’s afraid to encounter; men who would use her then leave her, or whose idea of love is centered on possession. While her murderous response isn’t entirely admirable, it’s relatively easy to understand. Plus, the whole film (and Elaine’s fashion sense) is aesthetically superb.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?1/5
  • How memorable was it? 4.5/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 5/5
    • Stylish, clever, every moment exactingly considered, controlled, and executed.
  • How about those women? 3/5
    • Here is how THEE LOVE WITCH scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Fail.
      • Ko Test: Fail.
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail – while it’s clearly intentional, the characters in this film are largely one-dimensional conventional heterosexual stereotypes.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass.
  • Bonus: 1
    • The final death happened in an unexpected and rather harrowing way.
  • Total points: 14.5/20
  • Witches: In Need of Therapy

So, Which Witch(es) Won the Week?

1. SUSPIRIA (2018)

Suspiria review: cult classic reimagined as bone-cracking dance horror - Vox
(C) SUSPIRIA 2018

These Witches are Serious Business.

The 2018 remake of 1977’s SUSPIRIA gives me everything Argento didn’t. Not that I didn’t generally enjoy the original, but I had the same problem with the witches that I have with Rosemary’s neighbors: they’re a bunch of mean old people who do violence to young girls for no apparent reason.

In Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of the story, the Coven is still quite violent, but their violence has a clear end goal guided by a shared moral compass. The Witches’ morality might not exactly mesh with that of general society (there’s a lot more meat hooks, for one thing) but I can’t argue with the consistent internal logic of their social rules. They’re serving the goddess of their religion through an agreed-upon ritual (that happens to have bloody and excruciating elements), while preventing people from exposing their organization to outside intervention (by any means necessary). Also they sometimes get collectively angry and hurt people by mistake. BECAUSE THEY’RE SUPER POWERFUL WITCHES…but they’re also people.

What I love about this is…well a couple things. For one thing, the witches are supremely human characters. They have an agreed-upon goal, but it’s approached haltingly, with disagreement about how and exactly when. There’s infighting among the members, and some inappropriate and compelling favoritism between teachers and students.

For another things, the witches are very powerful, but the post-war setting makes it clear that their stability is tenuous. It seems that, without the collective power of the Coven, this dance school (a haven for young artists and the older women who teach them) would likely have been torn apart by the myriad pressures of wartime. The Coven is a stabilizing influence that grants these women a rare modicum of safety. It makes total sense in the world of fable that safety for the group comes at a price for many of the group’s members.

And of course, the most awesome things about these Witches: they win.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
  • How about those women? 3.5/5
  • Bonus: 2
  • The first dance-magic murder is incomparably brutal; second point for the haunting final sequence which includes a character tearing her own heart out.
  • Total points: 16/20
  • Witches: Formidable, Magnificent

Witch Week was so much fun, I want to do it again! Do you have any Witch Flicks I need to check out next time around? Drop them in the comments!

Also if you enjoy reading my take on horror and want these little screeds dropped right in your inbox, don’t forget to subscribe!

Published by Brandy N. Carie

Playwright. Director. Producer. Feminist Takes on Horror Films.

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