With recent talk of prequels and sequels for some of my favourite witches in modern film and TV, we’re closer than ever to a witch-revival. To hopefully get some witchy-newbies on board, here are 5 of my favourite witch films and TV shows to get you started. From 90s child classics to iconic sex sirens, there’s something here for every one of you future witches!
Practical Magic (1998)
Practical Magic is a film that critics never “got” and the fans hold dear to their hearts. It warms my soul on a bad day and it’s been my go-to feel good film for half my life. Witches in modern film don’t always have to be evil, and they definitely don’t all need to look like The Grand High Witch. Sometimes, they’re Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock), your next door neighbour who makes herbal creams for a living. Or they could be the local sex siren, Gillian Owens (Nicola Kidman), who you’ve always been wary of around your husband.
Like Charmed, though the characters are witches, there’s a lot more going on in their life. The overall concept of this style of witchcraft-on-screen, is how their ‘normal’ outside life can collide with their secret of being a witch. Practical Magic is sequential, when placed on a linear timeline of witchcraft. It makes a lot of sense for witches to be everyday people who happen to have a dark secret they’re unsure of sharing with the public. How do they find love? What happens when they resist the very thing that makes them unique?
Set in 17th century Salem, the series delves deep into the threat of evil and sin on a fearful town. You could say that Salem is an example of hybrid reality; which in short is when a documentary and fiction collide. Salem presents what we already know about Salem’s history, but imagines what it would have been like if witches did exist there.
Historic figures of the time such as Cotton Mather – an influential New England Puritan minister in the 1600s, play a big role in the series. Our protagonist is thought to be based on two women of Salem. Mary Walcott, who was one of the ‘afflicted’ girls called as a witness at the Salem witch trials, and Mary Woodrow Sibley, Walcott’s aunt. The latter was sent to trial after providing a friend with the recipe for a “witch cake”, which when fed to a dog, could lead them to the person(s) that was afflicting them.
The day is September 21st, 1685, the day the town publicly torture and shame a ‘fornicator’, and Mary willingly gives her unborn baby to Satan. So you think you know what’s good or evil? Think again. As relentless on its characters as Game of Thrones, and as theatrical and story-driven as Once Upon A Time, Salem will unravel every moral belief you hold. Imagine if there were real witches in Salem. What could have really happened?
Charmed was the only TV series I had time for as a teenager. Growing up as the youngest of 3 girls, I always felt connected to the younger Halliwell sister, Phoebe (Alyssa Milano). She, unsurprisingly, is the catalyst that pushes the story forward in the first episode.
On returning to the Halliwell’s ancestral home in San Francisco after a fruitless and rebellious stint in New York, Phoebe begins to receive signs and messages that lead her to explore the previously locked attic. Here she stumbles upon the Book of Shadows. In Wicca, a Book of Shadows contains magical rituals and is either shared amongst a coven, or owned by an individual witch. Phoebe finds the Book of Shadows belonging to the Halliwell ancestral line, that has been passed down through each generation. Having recently lost their Grams (maternal grandmother), Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Phoebe are the last in their family line, and known as The Charmed Ones. Charmed follows the three sisters as they find their feet in their new roles as protectors of the innocent.
Without wanting to reveal any spoilers to newcomers of Charmed, the programme came to an end in 2006 and although there has been a ‘Season 9’ comic book series, I am fairly certain that the TV story is finished. However, over the past few years, talk has been building of a Charmed reboot, so here is what I know. The reboot is said to be set in 1976, which would make Prue – 5-6 years old, Piper – 3 years old and Phoebe – <1 year old (for any fans out there, this would mean Paige doesn’t exist yet). A script was written for the reboot, but wasn’t what CBS expected so it has gone back into development.
As much as ’70s San Francisco and the beginning of The Charmed Ones legacy is truthfully all I could ask for in a prequel, I’m sad to say it seems unlikely that the location and characters will be the same. There has been talk that Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty and Holly Marie Combs are all up for doing a sequel set in the present day. Although Combs has denied these rumours, Milano has been a little more open about the prospect of appearing in a reboot. I’m unsure how it would work with the whole Prue storyline though, what part would Paige play in all of this?… Whichever direction it may go in, fingers crossed this goes ahead next year!
The Love Witch (2016)
Dripping with the essence of a ’60s sexploitation horror movie, The Love Witch aimed to deliver us a femme fatale, and it succeeded with the narcissistic, vampy and bewitching Elaine. Elaine is everything the Salem puritans would have been terrified at the prospect of; a freely sexual woman luring men to their untimely death. However, we’re no longer in that time or world. The Love Witch is set in the modern day, with 60s-inspired aesthetics that would enthuse any Wes Anderson fan. It is as much a celebration of design aesthetic, as it is a glorification of the ‘bunny boiler’.
The Love Witch is a provocative and melodramatic account of the fantasy-woman gone rogue. She has one aim; to find love, but it’s posing a little difficult. Elaine plays an important role in the sexual political discussion that even when a woman fulfils all feminine and domestic roles expected of her in society, men still wouldn’t be capable of loving her as strongly as she wants or needs them to. And if they do? Well, it would destroy them. The question is, can Elaine find a love that will survive the ultimate test?
The Witches (1990)
Finally, The Witches. Our house was filled with books when I was growing up; from Babysitter’s Club to Goosebumps, Agatha Christie to Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl’s stories have always played a huge part in children’s early reading and have inspired many film adaptations. In the 90s, we were gifted with the weird and wonderful James and the Giant Peach (1996), magical Matilda (1996) and The Witches (1990) – possibly the most terrifying children’s film of the 90s (aside from Jumanji, that shit was scary).
The Grand High Witch is a formidable character that carries the 90s vamp-chic look with ease. She is intimidating and deliciously wicked. As she frees herself from her “flesh prison”, we’re presented with a much uglier story. Underneath her raven-black wig, is a bald, blistered scalp. Her nose, chin and claws all hold the characteristics of a classic evil witch – elongated, crooked and monstrous to behold. Anjelica Huston as The Grand High Witch is one of the best performances in children’s film. Though children will either love it, or leave it feeling a little disturbed!
Witches in Modern Film and TV | Honourable Mentions
So there it is, some of my favourite witches in modern film and TV for you to try out for size! And, just incase you’re feeling like I missed out one of your favourites, here are a few honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut for my top 5:
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch (shake your whammy fanny!)
- The Craft. After celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Craft last year, there has been talk of a remake, or potentially a ’20 years later’ film. Fingers crossed!
- Harry Potter (obviously). I fell in love with the Harry Potter book series when I was a kid and I am a proud Ravenclaw. However, I see them more as ‘wizards’ as opposed to the authentic idea of a witch. To most, wizard and witch are the same thing – ‘isn’t a wizard just the male version of a witch?’ A male witch is actually a Warlock. (Warlocks aren’t necessarily all evil, they’re just more likely to take the dark path). It’s a long story guys…
- Hocus Pocus. I don’t remember liking Hocus Pocus much as a child (scaredy cat). It grew on me during my teenage years when Halloween became my favourite holiday. Today, I appreciate it so much I put it on to my Top 10 Fun Halloween Films post and will most likely forever stay there!
- Game of Thrones. Melisandre is one of the most interesting witches currently on TV and she may yet prove the importance of her character in what is left of the series. I look forward to seeing her story unfold a little more!
Who are your favourite witches in modern film and TV? Let us know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, why not take a look at more of my favourite films and TV shows.