What I love about horror movies is that they have diverse types of horror. You have your creature features, thrillers, serial killers. Then you’ve got your demonic-possession types. It’s not so much the possession scenes that are cool to watch but more the back story behind the entity whose possessing a person, whether that be a demon, ghost, spirit or, oh let’s say, a witch!
Yeah, witches are a big thing in film and they don’t just touch the horror genre. We find them in most fairy tales, classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Disney films, and even in just your basic live action films. Since the silent era, there has been this fascination with witchcraft in film. As time progressed we have gotten different types of witches. They can be ugly, beautiful, evil, and good. Or sometimes they are a pleasing blend of all these and filmmakers have created interesting tales about these spell-binding women that scared the you-know-what out of us, whether it’s because they are violent, use their alluring looks to manipulate people, or just look terrifying.
The newly released independent film The Witch is debuting in theaters and it’s already getting buzz as the scariest horror film in decades. So, I figured we would take a look at some of film history’s most terrifying witches. Check out to see if your favorite wicked lady made the list. Happy reading folks!
13. Winifred Sanderson – Hocus Pocus
Winifred Sanderson is one-third of the most popular group of witches to dominate the ’90s and wonderfully played by Bette Midler. Winnie was the head witch, followed by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sarah Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson. This witch may not scare you so much now but she definitely did if you watched Hocus Pocus when you were a kid. And years after its release, the film retains its cult status. The scene when she and her sisters sucked the life out Emily Binx for her youth will continue to create nightmares for kids for generations to come.
12. Minnie Castevet – Rosemary’s Baby
Minnie Castevet is the type of old lady who will make you regret ever letting her into your house, especially once she reveals herself to be a witch. She (played by Ruth Gordon) and her husband Guy appear very sweet on the surface. She offers Rosemary her company, small gifts, and that delicious looking chocolate mousse. All looks well until you find out she is a Satan-worshipping woman out to make Rosemary give birth to Satan’s little spawn. How creepy can an old lady get? And Ruth Gordon’s performance was eerie. She really makes you think twice about that nice old lady down the hallway from your apartment.
11. Bellatrix Lestrange – The Harry Potter Series
Harry Potter fans don’t take to this lady too nicely. After all she was the one who killed the elf Dobby and Sirius Black. This crazy witch is not one to mess with because she kills just about anyone and anything that gets in her way. Also, she works with Voldemort in his attempt to kill the young boy wizard so that just adds more weight to her evilness. It makes sense that the talented, eccentric actress (not to mention dresser) Helena Bonham Carter, portrayed this crazy witch – no one else could do her justice! Not only does she look deranged, she straight up is. Readers of the series say she is worse in the books but we get the picture.
10. The Grand High Witch – The Witches
Leave it to Angelica Huston to play one to the scariest and sexiest witches ever in movie history. The film is based on a book by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl. Huston plays the Grand High Witch who disguises herself as the alluring “Eva Ernst”. Underneath it all she is pure evil and well… less attractive than we thought. On top of it all, her sole life’s mission is to kill innocent children. In the book, her role is to also punish or reward anyone who works for her.
9. Mombi – The Return of Oz
Portrayed by actress Jean Marsh, Mombi is one of the witches to have scared you if you were lucky enough to see the 1985 film Return to Oz. Surprisingly, this children’s film is the unofficial sequel to the The Wizard of Oz that painted Oz in a light that we are not used to. Mombi was an insane sorceress who loved to collect the heads of innocent young girls so that she could change them whenever her mood changed. She goes after Dorothy’s head but her plot was foiled. The scene when Mombi’s interchangeable heads start talking, including the headless body of Mombi, still terrifies audiences.
8. Lacy, Megan, and Sonny – The Lords of Salem
One of director and rock musician Rob Zombie’s most artistic horror films is Lords of Salem. Heidi, played by his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, is a radio show host who comes across a record from a group called the Lords of Salem, and the music, let’s just say, makes an impact – especially on women. Then Lacy, Megan, and Sonny (played by Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace, respectively) arrive. They seem like just fun and laid-back ladies who are into harmless palm reading. That is until they take Heidi to initiate her into their satanic cult after she learns about their lineage from the witches of Salem.
7. Bathsheba Sherman – The Conjuring
James Wan’s scariest film is The Conjuring. The film introduces us to Bathsheba. She was a witch who once lived in the house now owned by the Perron family. She had sacrificed her baby to Satan and after placing a curse on all the ones who will live on her property after, she committed suicide. Insidious actor Joseph Bishara plays this ghost witch whereas Lili Taylor plays Carolyn, the mother who gets possessed by her spirit. You don’t really get a glimpse of her until later in the movie but when you do, her face and her actions are what makes this woman so terrifying.
6. The Witches and Other Characters – Haxan
Directed by Benjamin Christensen, this 1920’s silent film explores the origins of witchcraft during the Middle Ages. It is a blend of documentary and fiction, explaining that the people who practice witchcraft are just misunderstood. It even goes as far to claim that they are mentally ill. Whether the film’s claims are true or not, it’s clear that the imagery is unsettling and beautiful, filled with artistic nudes and gore. Though you may have to read subtitles, the look, feel, and the characters of the film are enough to freak out any horror fan. It’s a film worth putting on this list.
5. Princess Asa Vajda – Black Sunday
Black Sunday is one of legendary Italian director Mario Bava’s greatest gothic works. It stars the beautiful Barbara Steele as Asa Vajda, who is a witch and part vampire. She was burned on the stake after being sentenced for execution for witchcraft by her brother. Now she is after her revenge and curses every one of her brother’s descendants. Shot in black and white, the film is one of the horror genre’s scariest (and beautiful) witch films. Steele’s performance as Vajda is enticing. You literally can’t take your eyes off the witch as she kills off those who wronged her for what occurred many years ago.
4. Helena Markos – Suspiria
If you have never seen the 1977 flick Suspiria you need to stop reading this, go watch it and come back. This film, directed by legendary filmmaker Dario Argento, is an Italian horror film about a young American dancer named Suzy Bannion. Bannion heads off to Germany to complete her ballet studies. She soon finds herself surrounded by witches. One of them is the headmistress of the ballet academy, mind you! It’s a slow burn to the reveal of Helena Markos but when you get there, you won’t forget her face. Ever! This classic horror film makes the wait totally worth it.
3. Nancy Downs – The Craft
Fairuza Balk is a gorgeous and petite actress who gives a jaw-dropping performance as Nancy Downs in the movie The Craft. One minute she is cool, calm, and collected. Then the next she has lost her mind. Her character leads a group of two other witches, who leach off the new girl in the group. It helps that Balk was a practicing Wiccan at the time of the shoot. So it’s no wonder that she gave a believable performance. You are always left wondering just how crazy Nancy can get and she leaves you surprised, showing you how far she is willing to go just to have her way.
2. The Blair Witch – The Blair Witch Project
We never see her, except possibly through paper-trails of a stick man lying about in the woods. We also only learn about her thanks to three young independent filmmakers who set out to uncover the legend of the Blair Witch. She was a woman who helped kidnap, kill and disembowel children one by one as they faced a corner, leaving them to only hear the cries of the other victims. Though the tale and the film in general (spoiler alert…?) all proved to be a work of fiction, the idea of the Blair Witch terrified moviegoers. Even to this very day the film still gives people the creeps.
1. The Wicked Witch of The West – The Wizard of Oz
The Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton, is one of the baddest witches of film – ever. This woman became the popular archetype for how a witch should look or act on film. Hamilton’s performance scared kids and adults alike, in a lighthearted sense, but she was nevertheless terrifying as she tried to get Dorothy. And all for a pair of ruby slippers (granted they originally belonged to her sister the Wicked Witch of the East). Remember, she wanted to get Toto, too. Yeah, not cool lady!