PRACTICAL MAGIC is a very popular film about down-to-earth Sally Owens and her sister, wild-child Gillian Owens, both girls are witches who are raised by their two eccentric aunts (also witches) in a beautiful seaside victorian house on the New England coast. We soon learn that the Owens women are under an ancient curse: Any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will die prematurely. (There is a backstory to this, but I don’t want to give everything away). When they are still young girls, Sally vows to never fall in love, and casts a spell for a man who can “flip pancakes in the air, ride a horse backwards, has one green eye and one blue”. She does this for her own protection, as she feels this is “a man who doesn’t exist”. Gillian finds a boyfriend, and when he starts abusing her, the two sisters use witchcraft to handle the situation in a way that has frightening consequences. This is a very entertaining film. I love how the two aunts walk through the town with their umbrellas and floppy hats, blissfully ignoring the jeers and mocking of the townspeople who all know they are witches. By the end of the film, however, everybody’s happy, even the local uppities, especially when they get invited to participate in a banishing spell. Good film, fun to watch.
THE COVENANT is the story of the Sons of Ipswich, five young men with magical ability who are all descendants of a 17th century coven of witches. Four of them are close friends, and attend a private school, while the fifth was believed to have disappeared years earlier. In this film, magic is a sort of drug, addictive, and makes the “user” hungry for power. When young male witches turn 18, they go through an experience called “Ascending”, when their power is increased tremendously. When Chase Collins, the fifth Ipswich descendant (unbeknownst to the others) arrives at the school, trouble starts brewing as he uses his magic to torment and harass the other sons. He knows that Caleb Danvers will turn soon turn 18 and “ascend”, and threatens to kill the Ipswich families unless Caleb wills to him his power when his Ascension begins. Caleb is the good guy of the story, frequently cautioning the others not to use their magic irresponsibly. The film concludes with a battle between Caleb and Chase, in a fight of good against evil. This film is rated PG-13, as there are some adult themes, partial nudity and some very quick disturbing images. This would have made an awesome TV series, a sort of male version of Charmed.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS is a delightful Disney musical starring Angela Lansbury as an amateur witch, as she and three orphans along with a professor try to find an ancient incantation that will save the country from invaders. This is a very British film, part live-action, part animation, with lots of great music and family fun. One of my personal favorites.
ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK is great adult campy fun, a story about a voluptuous rocker chick who moves to an uptight, ultra-conservative New England town to claim her inheritance of an old house left to her by her great aunt, a witch. Elvira is not afraid to flaunt her assets, which appalls the local snobs who want to run her out of town. Elvira discovers her great aunt’s “cookbook” (which is actually a book of spells), and meets her great uncle, an evil warlock who wants the book for himself. This is a totally hilarious movie, lots of great one-liners, and is not for the kids. We met Elvira in person several years ago at a comic convention in San Francisco, and she autographed my action figure of her. Some people complain about her revealing outfits, but I say if you’ve got it, flaunt it. I know I would.
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is an enchanting film about Ethan Wate and Lena Duchanne. Ethan meets Lena at school and the two become romantically involved, much to the dismay of Lena’s family. The other students do not take kindly to Lena as they all believe her to be a witch. And she is, but as she explains to Ethan, Lena and her family are “Casters” capable of using magical spells to change the weather or create illusions. When Lena turns 16, her true nature will steer her toward either the Light or the Dark. Lena’s family try to assure her that she is a good person and will not become dark. Her cousin and her mother, however, want her to become dark, as they foresee that she will be incredibly powerful and want her to use her power to purge the Earth of humans, leaving behind only Casters. Lena begins studying the Caster spellbook, hidden in a private chamber under the local library (the librarian is also a Caster), and with the help of her uncle, and Ethan, she defeats her cousin and her mother. I really enjoyed this movie, but it seemed like bits were omitted, and I seem to remember seeing things in the trailers for the film that were not in the movie. Still, I found it very entertaining, and Emma Thompson (as Lena’s mother) was excellent. This film was based on the book of the same name, which I have never read, and I hoped they would continue the story, but unfortunately this film did not do well in theatres.
HARRY POTTER is an immensely popular 8-film series about a boy wizard and his destiny to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. The films are based on the seven book series written by Scottish author J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter is the biggest selling book series in history, and has been translated into 73 languages. (In the film industry, the Potter movies are the 2nd highest-grossing films ever. The Avengers holds the number 1 spot). Audiobooks of the series are also available. Harry Potter quickly became a world-wide phenomenon, the popularity of which eventually spawned two theme parks, fan websites, Harry Potter conventions, it’s own officially recognized genre of music (Wizard Rock), a sub-culture of Harry Potter ‘Lifestylers’, and a spin-off movie series. The first of this spin-off series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, opens in theatres November 2016. The release of the Potter books and films caused quite a bit of controversy, particularly with radical conservative Christian groups who claimed the books and films were luring children to Witchcraft, Wicca and Satanism. This is ridiculous, of course, as Witchcraft and Wicca have nothing to do with Satanism. Witches do not believe in a Satan/Devil figure. I am grateful for the fact that Harry Potter caused a lot of discussion to happen, about Wicca, Witchcraft, Mythology and the real practice of magic, which is not at all like the special effects “magic” we see in the films. (Would that were true!) Intelligent people educated themselves, while others chose to believe the lies of church leaders who condemned the books as “Satanic”. Harry Potter brought Witchcraft (a pseudo-fictional version, anyway) into the mainstream and made it normal. On the other hand, what you read in the books is not entirely fiction. Part of the genius of author J. K. Rowling is that even though these books are fantasy, there are bits of truth scattered throughout. Rowling included things from folklore and added some true magical concepts into the stories, which gave them an air of realism. There are subtle hints from Celtic mythology and if one looks a little deeper, one can find several metaphysical themes hidden between the lines. J.K. Rowling stated in a recent interview that there were no Wiccans at Hogwarts, however, I find this very unlikely due to the very subjects taught at the school (Divination, Herbology, etc). These subjects are part and parcel of Wiccan practice. The popularity of Harry Potter continues to grow, conventions are still going strong, and Rowling’s Pottermore website gives fans more details to absorb from these wonderful stories. Harry’s story has changed many lives, including my own. As a friend of mine said, “Harry has come to re-introduce magic to the world”.
So, that is my list of films that present witches in a positive light.
But what about…
The above films are about good witches fighting evil and darkness, which is why I have left out The Craft, I Married a Witch, Bell, Book and Candle, Hocus Pocus, The Witches of Eastwick and even that horrible Bewitched movie. What’s wrong with these, you might ask. Well, let’s see…
THE CRAFT is about goth girls who use witchcraft to hex and torment anyone who even slightly offends them. It is very unfortunate that this is the movie many people think of when you talk about Wicca, because it presents a horribly false idea of who witches and wiccans really are. We don’t all wear black lipstick and goth gear, and 99% of us don’t use magic to take revenge on people. If this film has any merit at all, it is that magic will have dire consequences if used improperly.
I MARRIED A WITCH is about a young witch who uses her magic to seduce a man away from his fiance. She and her father concoct a spell to make the man fall in love with her, and they totally play on the whole idea of witches causing havoc and mayhem. In the end, she acknowledges “Love is stronger than Witchcraft” and she loses him after all.
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE is about yet another witch using magic to seduce a man away from his fiance.
HOCUS POCUS is a very popular Disney film that portrays witches as the stereotypical wart-nosed witches on broomsticks. I know a lot of people like this movie, and I have watched it many times, but here we are again promoting a false stereotype of witches being evil and ugly.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (is it even available anymore) is about three witches who become involved with the Devil (Jack Nicholson). As much as I love CHER, this movie does not present witches in a positive light. Granted, by the end of the film they realize he is using them and they try to get rid of him, but here we have yet again, the false presumption that witches are in league with the Devil. When this movie was due for release, Salem witch Laurie Cabot launched a campaign to have it removed from theatres but was unsuccessful.
BEWITCHED is a movie version of the TV series with a few unnecessary twists. A witch named Isobel moves to Los Angeles, and is discovered by a narcissistic actor (Will Ferrell) who wants her to play Samantha on a tv remake of “Bewitched”. He intends to overshadow her on the series and make the show about him. He soon discovers Isobel really is a witch and that’s where chaos begins. Isobel is a good witch in this film, however, she has moved to Los Angeles to have a “normal” life without magic. And, to put it bluntly, Will Ferrell was horrible in this movie. It if were someone else, I might have liked it but he was trying too hard to be funny and upbeat and you could totally tell it was fake. I was very disappointed with the Bewitched movie. They could have made a really awesome film adaptation of the TV series and they ruined it. Don’t waste your money.
Sometimes when I complain about false representation of witches in the media some people ask me, “Why can’t you just enjoy it as entertainment? You don’t have to take it so seriously”. The truth is, if we want to tear down stereotypes, we do need to take these things seriously. Many people form opinions by what they see on TV or in the movies. Would you consider it “entertainment” if something important to you was being misrepresented in a movie or a TV program? I don’t think so. If you don’t speak out about things and educate people, they will get worse.
I am always on the lookout for films and TV programs that present witches and witchcraft in a positive light. Have you seen any that I missed? I’d love to know about them.