As I compiled my 2017 cinematic Year-Ender, I was struck by something: Did I really see that many witch movies? My hands-down #1 was The Witch, Robert Eggers’ masterful tale of Salem-approximate deviltry. The number three went to The Love Witch, Anna Biller’s delightful exercise in retro-hexploitation (though, to be fair, part of me instantly wished I could flip it it with my #4 pick, especially in light of Amy Adams’ shocking Oscar snub). Further down the list you’ll find Belladonna of Sadness, a recently exhumed proto-anime mindfuck about– you guessed it– a sexy witch. And while it didn’t make the list, Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch was my roundtable pick for “Most Underrated.” Was I going crazy, or were witches suddenly everywhere?
As anyone who’s been anywhere near Salem could tell you, I’m not going crazy (at least, not in this respect); witchcraft is officially Having A Moment. Perhaps, as the war on women becomes disturbingly literal, it follows that more and more women adopt one of the oldest and most fearsome symbols of female subversion of the patriarchy. Or maybe it’s just that black hats and baphomets will never not be cool. Whatever the reason, the new wave of witchy interest makes this a perfect time to revisit some (oc)cult classics.
The Brattle has been hosting its “Dead of Winter” occult series off and on for several years now (I can recall making the gut-wrenching decision between the finale of American Horror Story: Asylum and a rare 35mm print of Witchcraft Through the Ages as early as 2013), but this year, they’re pulling out all the stops. The series opens Friday night with a panel discussion between the Brattle’s unholy trio of guest programmers: Phantasmaphile blogger Pam Grossman, who will also be hosting a presentation of her manifesto What Is a Witch? on Saturday, 1/28; Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, who will return on 2/1 to introduce the Hammer Films Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out; and author and poet Janaka Stucky, perhaps best known to local midnight movie fans for his alter-ego J. Cannibal (Stucky – and not Cannibal – will return on Groundhog Day to introduce Alejandro Jodorowsky’s brain-melting The Holy Mountain).
Apart from the abovementioned films, the selections for this year’s series cast an impressively wide net. Classics are well-represented, including Jacques Tourneur’s psychological masterpiece Night of the Demon and the kooky Jimmy Stewart/Kim Novak vehicle Bell, Book & Candle (a film very dear to my heart, about which I will be writing more in the coming days), as are more recent films, such as Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England and all three of my witchy picks from last year, and some honest-to-god (pardon the expression) rarities, like George Romero’s little-seen Season of the Witch and Ken Russell’s gloriously blasphemous The Devils. It’s a perfect way to spend an evening in uncertain times. Just be sure to legally park your broomstick – Harvard Square traffic cops are more ruthless than puritans.
7:00 PM: Cinema of the Occult panel
8:30 PM: The Witch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers
10:30 PM: Lord of Illusions (1995) dir. Clive Barker
4:30 PM: The Witch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers
7:00 PM: What is A Witch? Female Magic & Transgression in Pictures (presentation by Pam Grossman)
8:30 PM: The Love Witch (2016) dir. Anna Biller
11:00 PM: Belladonna of Sadness (1973) dir. Eiichi Yamamoto
5:00 PM, 9:15 PM: Season of the Witch (1972) dir. George A. Romero
7:00 PM: Bell, Book & Candle (1958) dir. Richard Quine
5:30 PM, 9:30 PM: Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) dir. Sidney Hayers
7:30 PM: Night of the Demon (1957) dir. Jacques Tourneur
7:00 PM: The Devil Rides Out (1968) dir. Terence Fisher (intro by Peter Bebergal)
9:30 PM: The Devils (1971) dir. Ken Russell
5:00, 9:30: A Field in England (2013) dir. Ben Wheatley
7:00 PM: The Holy Mountain (1973) dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky (intro by Janaka Stucky)
CLICK HERE for tickets and additional info