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The 12 best underseen witch flicks

Contributed by
May 30, 2018

Just about everyone has a favorite witch movie. You might be like me and have 10 or 20 favorite witch movies, minimum. Even if you are a noob, I'm sure you can at least name one, or, if you can't, there are plenty of lists out there on this great big internet that will give you a great idea of the best witch movies to get you started on your journey into this beloved subgenre.

This list... isn't that. Unless you have a strong interest in cult movies, you probably won't have heard of most of the movies here. In fact, most of them have never quite gotten their due, but it's not because they don't deserve it. So, if you've sailed through The Craft, The Witches, Hocus Pocus, and Practical Magic, yet found yourself wanting more, fear not! These A-movies, B-movies and even sometimes Z-movies are all here for you.

Trigger warning: A lot of these films are not just horror films, but horror films from decades past. Many of them have graphic violence, and some of them have stuff I don't think would make it into a movie nowadays.

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Onibaba (1964)

Set in 14th-century Japan during a civil war, Onibaba is about a woman whose son goes off to battle while she and her daughter-in-law are left to steal things off of weak soldiers they slay in order to survive. A man named Hachi shows up, and the two women, who remain unnamed throughout the course of the film, are beholden to him when he gives them valuables from a soldier he himself slays. Hachi makes advances on the younger woman, and their affair threatens the older woman's way of life, causing her to spiral. The movie was filmed in a field of susuki grass over three months, thus the set was apparently a fairly unhappy one, and the sense of dragging misery permeates the film and grants it an extra sense of horror. This movie is dark and scary, and it really freaks me out, but that's why I love it.

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Eve's Bayou (1997)

This is likely the most famous entry on this list, but I was compelled to include it because, well, it's amazing. Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons, Eve's Bayou is a compelling drama that just doesn't get its due. Eve is a young girl who catches her father cheating on her mother, and who grows disillusioned with him over the course of the film. Meanwhile, her admiration for her sister, her mother, and her aunt only grows as she attempts to navigate the mysteries around her. The unreliability of memory comes into focus again and again, as Eve is persuaded to question things she has seen, and the people around her seem not to notice things that are going on right under their noses. Eve's Bayou perfectly represents the time in all our lives when we slowly start to lose our naivete and come to terms with the fact that our heroes may not be what we think they are, and our villains might be more complex than we initially believed. Also, there are witches.

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Mystics in Bali (1981)

Listen. I have seen a lot of weird movies. You might have noticed that based on the rest of this list, I delight in a deep dive into obscure pop culture like nobody's biz. My entire background is built around watching weird movies, so you have to understand how much I truly, from-the-bottom-of-my-heart mean it when I say this is one of the absolute weirdest movies I have ever seen. Made in Indonesia, and utilizing a great deal of baffling special effects, the story is about a young woman who comes to Bali to write about witchcraft, then just sort of decides to go ahead and full out become a demon instead. That's about the last thing that makes sense in Mystics in Bali, so I'll end my description there. This one is not for the faint of heart and features a lot of incredibly surreal gore. It's not that scary, but it did still manage to give me some very strange dreams after I watched it.

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Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)

OK. You know that when I say the title of this movie, maybe we're not talking about fine art. But maybe we are because Satan's Cheerleaders actually kind of rules. Starring Yvonne De Carlo as a particularly over-the-top evil witch, the story revolves around a group of cheerleaders whose clothes are cursed. I realize that plot might not have won you over, but here's what will: the cheerleader Patti. This movie is definitely made for a pervy dude audience, but it excels due to the completely low-key performance by the witchy cheerleader and her complete lack of alarm throughout the entire film as she walks around saying Zen Buddhist stuff and saving the day. While there's a ton of awful stuff in this movie (mostly a creepy janitor that follows the cheerleaders around for most of the film), Patti is the glowing highlight that got me through. I was prepared to hate this movie from start to finish, but something about her really just pulls you in.

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Baba Yaga (1973)

Loosely based on a French comic called Valentina, Baba Yaga is about a young photographer who becomes momentarily ensnared by an older woman, in this case, a witch named Baba Yaga. Baba steals Valentina's garter belt, then later returns it along with a doll in bondage gear. I'm just saying, if you're going to ask someone out, be creative, you know? Valentina immediately starts having dreams, alternating between erotic and horrifying, about Baba Yaga, and eventually storms into her eerie old house to confront her. Baba Yaga is sufficiently creepy while fulfilling her role as a stereotypical, somewhat one-dimensional “predatory lesbian,” which is a trope you saw a lot of in horror around this time. While it's a little slow, it's still stylish and weird enough to keep your interest for its 80 minutes of screentime.

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The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

Fans of The Craft might appreciate this entry, which follows a vaguely similar structure. A young woman named Sarah joins a sorority, slowing realized that she has psychic powers. She absolutely does not need said powers to deduce that the sorority she joined is a coven of witches led by a wonderfully over-the-top Shelley Winters. Sarah's sister Patty joins the sorority, but Sarah doesn't trust them and finds herself at odds with their leader, a student named Jennifer. It all escalates in somewhat predictable, occasionally Carrie-esque fashion, but as campy late-'70s made-for-TV movies go, you could do a whole lot worse.

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Viy (1967)

This movie is freaking amazing. Three seminary students get drunk and wander around the countryside on a break, then ask an elderly woman if they can sleep on her farm for the night. She agrees, but later torments one of them by putting him under a spell and riding him around the countryside like a horse. He becomes enraged and tries to kill her, which causes her to transform into a beautiful young woman. It turns out, said young woman is the daughter of a very important guy, who demands that the young man come and say prayers for his deceased daughter while, wait for it, he's locked inside a tomb with her. For three nights, the student gets completely wasted, then unwillingly enters the room until sunrise, at which time, night after night, the witch rises and attempts to murder him. It's incredible. Highly recommend, both for the great special effects and for the surreal, dark humor.

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The Girl on a Broomstick (1972)

Hot on the heels of the seminal Czech New Wave movement that brought us masterpieces like Daisies and Valerie's Week of Wonders, we have The Girl on a Broomstick. It might not quite be an art house masterpiece, but it is definitely a highly entertaining film. Featuring a great soundtrack and some low-key brilliant comedic performances, the story revolves around a young woman unenthusiastically attending magic school. She often refuses to follow orders and fails her classes, showing a marked disinterest in the spells her classmates are entranced by. She frees herself from the school, and attaches to a well-meaning young man, moving into his bedroom without the knowledge of his parents. School bullies from the real world and the administration of the magic school pursue the young woman, causing all kinds of wacky hijinks. Mostly unknown and definitely one of my favorite movies on this list, The Girl on a Broomstick is a more psychedelic Sabrina the Teenage Witch with a less likable main character. Disaffected at best, she kind of shrugs her way through the chaos, only showing interest in her boyfriend, who struggles to do the right thing and protect her from the problems she's caused herself.

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I Married a Witch (1942)

Utilizing a now familiar formula repeated later in Bell, Book & Candle as well as the TV series Bewitched, the general plot of the film and its title are one and the same. However, I Married a Witch stands out for a few reasons. Veronica Lake had painfully few quality roles in Hollywood before she left the studio system, so it's fantastic to see her here as a mischevious, centuries-old witch, tormenting Fredrich March's straight-laced politician while also giving his career a substantial boost with her spells. Meanwhile, her father, also a witch, does everything in his power to stop their wedding, which adds a genuinely threatening quality to some scenes. Due to some extremely inappropriate comments by co-star Fredrich March prior to the beginning of filming about the then 20-year-old Veronica Lake, there was a considerable amount of friction on the set, and the slight adversarial aspect of their partnership isn't completely diminished by the script, adding a slightly playful and antagonistic quality to their dynamic. All in all, I Married a Witch is one of director Rene Clair's better offers, and for people who have never seen Veronica Lake in a movie, this is a good place to start.

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Drums O' Voodoo (1934)

This movie is both extremely exciting and a huge bummer. First of all, the plot is better left unsaid for the most part, because it doesn't really get resolved. It's sort of about a preacher with a secret past including a stint on a chain gang, it's kind of about a young woman and her betrothed, and it's also somewhat about an old witch who practices voodoo and talks the hardest smack of anyone I have ever heard in my life. Some of the stuff she says in this movie I wouldn't say to my worst enemy! She's great, and at one point even leads a group of young men in a voodoo dance, chanting, “Beat them drums!” The downside is the movie appears to be missing a good 20+ minutes of footage, seemingly ending about halfway through. Drums O' Voodoo may or may not be the first horror film with an all-black cast. The lack of information available on it is frustrating, but I hold out hope that eventually the rest of the film will be found and we'll be treated to another half hour of Laura Bowman playing the ominous, cursing witch I grew to love in the 45 minutes of this movie that is currently known to exist.

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Burn, Witch, Burn! (1962)

Also known as Night of the Eagle, this move focuses on Norman and Tansy Taylor, a married couple who live in a small town. Norman is a professor and a rationalist, and begins his part in the film in front of a classroom, telling them that, in the face of the unexplained, all that is needed is to say the words, “I do not believe," and it shall have no power over you. Obviously, he's only saying this to prove himself wrong later, and we discover his wife is a practitioner of conjure magic she learned on a trip to Jamaica. Norman insists that she burn everything despite the fact that she tells him repeatedly that her magic is the only thing protecting them from harm. She reluctantly burns everything in their fireplace, which causes a huge chain reaction in their lives. As with many horror films of this time, this movie is often delightful, if not often genuinely scary. Although Burn, Witch, Burn! doesn't exclusively focus on Tansy, villainizes other female characters, and centers around her husband's lack of faith in her beliefs, it is worth noting that the moral of the story is that Norman definitely should have listened to Tansy from the start and they could have avoided the whole mess. It'd be a stretch to call it feminist, but at least Tansy does completely rule.

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La Strega in Amore (1966)

Based on the novel Aura by Carlos Fuentes, La Strega in Amore falls somewhere between fantasy, art house, and Giallo to create a somewhat unique film. A man named Sergio goes to a mansion to apply for a job, meeting a woman named Consuela who he antagonizes throughout the interview. The job is supposed to be translating a library of erotic literature, but Sergio doesn't end up spending much time there. He's introduced to Consuela's niece, Aura, and her abusive live-in boyfriend. Little does Sergio know there's a lot more to the story than all that, but before he can realize it he's trapped in the mansion with Aura, who tricks and torments him. I had a revelation about 20 minutes into the movie that I was actually kind of enjoying it. The banter between the characters is intriguing, and the backdrop of the inside of a mansion lends itself to an unnerving claustrophobia. While it is low-budget, violent towards its female characters, and occasionally a little too proud of its own cleverness, La Strega in Amore is still a pretty decent entry in the world of underground film.