These are all excellent movies about witches and witchcraft, some with a ring of authenticity in one way or another and others that are just dark fun. They’re all from the 1960s and 1970s and maybe not what you were expecting!
Movies about witchcraft before the 1980s were much different from modern movies about the subject. They often dealt with black magic and Satanic witchcraft. Wiccans were never hired as consultants and there was no one to protest that “real witchcraft isn’t evil” or that “real witches don’t believe in the devil.” In fact, some of the depictions of non-Wiccan witchcraft in these movies are strikingly authentic.
Season of the Witch probably nails it best of all, but Simon, King of the Witches is an interesting homage to the work of Franz Bardon, also. And, we see some authentic elements of ceremonial magic in The Devil Rides Out.
Other aspects of the films are obviously false and entirely for your entertainment. For example, everyone knows that there is no evidence of anyone having been burned at the stake for witchcraft in the early colonies. But, a nice warm fire is much more visually striking than being crushed under a pile of rocks, which is what they actually did to the accused. The more you know about witchcraft in its various forms, the more you are sure to enjoy these films because you will be able to pick out the grains of truth and reality scattered throughout them amidst the fun, fictional aspects.
Some, like The Devil’s Daughter are dark delights to be enjoyed with the lights off, preferably on a dark and stormy night. I’ve listed the movies from 1 through 10 below starting with my favorite and descending to my two least favorites. The first 8 are by far the best!
One reason I like movies from the 1960s and 1970s so much is that they tend to be more psychologically complex. By contrast, modern movies spell everything out for you and tell you what you’re supposed to think and define your experience for you. Most of these movies require the viewer to engage their brains. If you like intelligent horror, you will really enjoy some of the movies on this list.
1. Season of the Witch, Hungry Wives or Jack’s Wife (1973) Directed by George A. Romero and starring Jan White
I have probably watched this movie 25 times or more and every time I see it, I find some other amazing detail in it. The director expressed his regrets in not having a larger budget for this film, but he needn’t have any regrets in this viewer’s opinion. This movie is a gem; a masterpiece of the rarest kind.
It gives a very genuine portrayal of how a woman escapes her middle-class suburban existence as “Jack’s Wife” and transforms herself into a witch. This film was made at the height of the Women’s Movement, although it is hard to imagine anything more relevant at this moment for many women. Witchcraft is liberation for women – and men, of course. But, especially for women because they bear the greatest negative impact of the current social structure (which, of course, is also an economic and political one).
The most pleasant surprise in this film awaits fans of Paul Huson’s book “Mastering Witchcraft.” It is clearly the material used throughout this book and what, along with the image of the bull we see throughout, helps deliver great authenticity to this film. That and
Romero’s amazing dream sequences, which are an English teacher’s dream in terms of demonstrating how symbolism can be used to convey a great deal of information in a short space of time, make it my #1 pick.
2. Night of the Eagle or Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)
This a really good British-made movie starring a handful of brilliant actors I don’t recall ever seeing before. The most memorable among them is the lead actor Peter Wyngarde whose devilish good looks add something to the dark, mysterious mood of this film.
From the beginning we see subtle hints that something outside the ordinary is going on at the university campus where Professor Taylor (Wyngarde) works and is, in fact, apparently so popular with the staff that he’s about to receive an important promotion.
His wife, Tansy, is a witch. He has no idea until he finds her stash of protective charms one evening. Being a devout skeptic, he insists on burning every last one of them. Although, she warns him that she won’t be responsible for what happens to them if he does so. After all, does he think he got where he is all by himself? Tansy’s witchcraft was keeping them safe from the influences of black magic at the university and allowing for him to be promoted.
The instant he burns the last of the charms, the phone rings! And, the havoc begins. This is an excellent movie with a lot of guts and a powerful ending.
3. Horror Hotel or City of the Dead (1960)
This is a great movie from its contemporary beginning to its bizarre ending. The main character is an pretty young college student who goes to do some research on an old witch legend in the town where the original event took place.
Strange things happen before she even arrives in town. Once she does, she is warned to leave by the only remaining Christian preacher in town. She borrows a book of witchcraft, but never has the opportunity to return it because she very quickly disappears.
Soon her friends begin to investigate and find that the same old witch cult, run by the same witch who was executed 300 years ago, is still flourishing in the town. And, of course, they prefer attractive young women as human sacrifices.
This really is another great movie with Christopher Lee in a non-vampire role, which is really when he’s at his best.
4. The Devil’s Daughter (1973)
I saw this great T.V. movie when it first ran and I remember it well, not only for the wonderful title, but the performance of Shelley Winters as Lillith. She was truly frightening in classic style. Among this great cast, you’ll, also, recognize Johathan Frid (Yes, the original Barnabas from Dark Shadows), Joseph Cotten and Diane Ladd.
This is great from start to finish. The main character, Diane, was promised to the devil by her mother, who was once a member of Lillith’s cult. Frid’s character is a mute chauffeur who tries to warn Diane as Lillith tries to exercise control over her.
This movie has a number of surprises toward the end as well as a spectacular surprise ending.
5. The Devil’s Partner (1961)
An old man sacrifices a goat to the devil in return for a few more years as a young man. He fakes his own death and returns, posing as his own nephew. He begins meddling in the affairs of people in the small town where he lives and taking revenge on anyone who stands in his way.
I love the old hillbilly or early cowboy movie feel of this movie combined with the occult elements. This old timer has the ability to shape shift, not only into a young, handsome man, but a horse and a serpent. He has complete control over his body temperature, too.
One of the most fun parts is the conjuring ritual he uses and the great way shadows are used to convey events and meanings.
6. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
This is a beautiful film by Hammer Film studio, which is known for great horror on a small budget. Christopher Lee stars as Duc de Richleu, a man knowledgeable about the dark arts and well versed in ceremonial magic. In fact, one of the highlights of this movie is a partial rendering of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram by Lee.
De Richleu’s purpose is to rescue Simon from the clutches of a black lodge whose members engage in human sacrifice. There are lots of great scenes in this movie for horror fans and those familiar with the occult. The various circles and symbols, powerful and realistic appearing apparitions and talented hypnotists are all part of the mix. It’s a great movie worth watching more than once.
7. The Spell (1977)
This was a great T.V. movie starring a very young Helen Hunt as the sister of an unpopular girl who has developing telekinetic powers. Wow! She really is a dead ringer for LeeLee Sobieski from Eyes Wide Shut! This fact fascinated me all throughout the movie upon re-watching it recently.
This is a fun movie on so many levels. The house that its filmed in is really beautiful and very stylish at the the time. It has a heavy Gothic feel to it that adds to the mood. The main character, Rita, is a 15-year old girl who is over-weight, which is believed to be the cause of all of her problems, at least, according to her father. In Carrie-like fashion she strikes out against those she perceives as her oppressors as the story progresses. But, this is more than about telekinesis, Rita is honing her telekinetic skills by learning about witchcraft.
My favorite lines from the movie are these:
“The only power you have is the power of your own will,” says her mother.
“That’s right,” says Rita.
8. Race with the Devil (1975)
This is a wonderfully fast-paced movie starring Loretta Swit (“Hot Lips” Houlihan) and Peter Fonda. Because it is not one-dimensional like other action-packed movies, it spends about 20 minutes or so introducing you to the characters, their circumstances and their relationship to one another. The main thing to know about them is that they are just regular folks. They are Mr. and Mrs. Joe American who believe the world is very much the way it is presented to them. They believe that when they see a crime, they should report it to the police and that if they do the right thing, everything will be all right. But, they’re about to learn a lesson in Reality 101.
They stop their camper one night across the water from what, at first, appears to be a bunch of kids having fun. Soon they realize it is much more and they have become witnesses to a human sacrifice ceremony performed by a cult of some kind.
After the fact, the cult realizes they have been seen and begin their pursuit. Instead of getting out of town when they had the chance, they go to the local sheriff’s department. The viewer quickly realizes this was a big mistake.
The rest of the film is the four of them trying to figure out what happened to them while they’re being pursued by the cult, which apparently has a lot of power within law enforcement agencies.
I love these kinds of movies because they reflect some of my own life experiences. People, places, agencies, etc. are not always what you think they are. Knowing too much can be dangerous.
9. The Witches or the Devil’s Own (1966)
This is a really good British-made movie with a great story, starring Joan Fontaine as an English teacher in Africa who suffers a mental breakdown after a frightening brush with black magic. The special effects in this film are a little unfortunate, but you get the idea.
She returns to England and takes a teaching position in a small town and begins her recovery. Except it appears that there’s something going on in the town involving the disappearance of one of her pupils.
There are some wonderful things in this movie. I especially like the cat who plays the role of witch’s familiar and spy as you begin to get the hint that something is really wrong in this place. All is revealed at the end, including the head witch who has a hold over the entire town.
This movie is near the end of my list because it is a little cheesy, especially at the end. And, we never really understand why the English witches’ ceremony bears such a strong resemblance to African tribal religious practices. The head witch wears a headdress reminiscent of the head wear worn by women to celebrate the feast day of St. Lucy in Scandinavia, a headdress in the shape of a crown with lit candles all around it. Despite these little oddities, it tells a good story and is well worth watching.
10. Simon the King of Witches (1971)
This film obviously had input from someone familiar with Franz Bardon’s work, in particular, his book “Initiation into Hermetics.” We see his ideas throughout the film, from the interpretations of The Fool card in the tarot deck, to his use of magic mirrors and methods of magically charging objects. The name “Simon” in this film brings to mind Simon the Mage, the gnostic leader and “heretic” of the New Testament who was a skilled magician by apocryphal accounts. He could divine, levitate, perform miraculous healing and do many of the things Jesus was said to have done.
In this movie, Simon is a black magician who places a curse on a skeptic whose payment in the form of a check for a tarot reading bounces. Simon is a magician after my own heart and that’s why this movie makes the list. He places a nasty curse on the corrupt District Attorney.
It’s at the end of my list because it’s just not the kind of movie I would want to watch, again. There is a kind of adolescent humor that runs throughout it. Maybe it was aimed at young, male audiences and that’s why it just doesn’t have a strong appeal to me. Although, I was amazed at the attention to certain details and the seriousness with which certain ideas were approached. It is a good movie and one that has accumulated a cult following for a reason. In fact, it may be one of the best movies on this list, but I found it the least appealing on a personal level. Nonetheless, I urge you to check it out for yourself, especially if you are familiar with Bardon’s work. It’s worth it.