31 Lists of Horror: David Demchuk’s Halloween Witch-tacular

Howev­er you want to say and/or spell it—Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hal­lows Eve, All Hal­low Even, Old Scratch’s Feel­go­od­ery Funtime—October 31 is indis­putably the choco­late industry’s spook­i­est time of year. With that in mind, I present 31 Lists of Hor­ror, of my own and of my lit­er­ary brethren both near and far.

These are per­son­al, high­ly sug­ges­tive lists of rec­om­men­da­tions, avoid­ances, and/or rem­i­nis­cences. I make no guar­an­tees, save one: if you don’t read the whole of each list, you will be cursed for all eter­ni­ty. I don’t make the rules.

Today’s special guest lister: David Demchuk

A mas­ter of bow­el-loos­en­ing ter­ror” (Globe & Mail), David Dem­chuk has been writ­ing for stage, print and oth­er media for more than thir­ty years. His debut nov­el, The Bone Moth­er, was pub­lished by ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions in July 2017, and was named to the 2017 Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize longlist.

October 2, 2017

David Demchuk’s Favourite Halloween Witchery


My debut nov­el The Bone Moth­er (ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions) cen­tres on a selec­tion of crea­tures and fig­ures from East­ern Euro­pean fairy­tale and folklore—including the leg­endary Baba Yaga. Hal­loween is heav­i­ly iden­ti­fied with witch­ery of var­i­ous kinds, so I thought I’d present a list of some of my film favourites:

Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava’s debut may be near­ly 60 years old but it still has the pow­er to shock. Bar­bara Steele is unfor­get­table as the woman tor­tured and burned as a witch who returns from death to seek her revenge.

Burn Witch Burn aka Night of the Eagle (1962)

A col­lege pro­fes­sor dis­cov­ers that his work­place is rife with witch­es, includ­ing his beloved wife. Based on the Fritz Lieber nov­el Con­jure Wife, this British film is briskly paced, eerie and effec­tive.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Campy and charm­ing roman­tic com­e­dy, with Kim Novak as a mis­chie­vous witch who uses a love spell to seduce neigh­bour Jim­my Stew­art. Surprise—the ‘lifestyle’, as the film por­trays it, is a thin­ly dis­guised anal­o­gy for the clos­et­ed gay cul­ture of the time.

The Witch (2015)

Sub­ti­tled ‘A New Eng­land Folk­tale’, the lit­er­al­ness of this peri­od-per­fect chiller, about an out­cast pil­grim fam­i­ly ter­ror­ized by the tit­u­lar fig­ure in the woods, baf­fled and frus­trat­ed some view­ers. For those who suc­cumb to its spell, the film builds to a fero­cious inten­si­ty before its enig­mat­ic finale. [ED: Also known as The VVitch, because why not]

The Witches (1990)

Angel­i­ca Hus­ton has a field day as this Roald Dahl tale’s vil­lain­ess, a Grand High Witch whose plan to turn the chil­dren of the world into mice is foiled by a plucky young boy with plans of his own.

Suspiria (1977)

There is no rea­son why this Dario Argen­to clas­sic should work at all—but it does. A stern­ly run Swiss bal­let school turns out to be a haven for witch­es pro­tect­ing their ancient mis­tress, the Moth­er of Sighs, amid a nerve-jan­gling clam­our of pul­sat­ing colours, throb­bing death met­al, writhing mag­gots and gush­ing wounds. Now screen­ing in a gor­geous 4K restora­tion in a city near you.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski’s flaw­less adap­ta­tion of the Ira Levin best­seller sug­gests, cor­rect­ly, that ambi­tious young actors would sell their unborn children’s souls to the dev­il to advance their act­ing careers. Mia Far­row is alter­nate­ly frag­ile and tena­cious as preg­nant new­ly­wed Rose­mary, and Acad­e­my Award win­ner Ruth Gor­don is per­fec­tion as the quin­tes­sen­tial nosy neigh­bour Min­nie Cas­tavet. How­ev­er, the director’s unre­solved 1977 rape case makes it impos­si­ble to rec­om­mend his films with­out reser­va­tion.

The Craft (1996)

A clutch of out­cast teens turn to witch­craft to right wrongs, set­tle scores and, what the hell, enhance their looks in this live­ly cult clas­sic. Neve Camp­bell and Fairuza Balk are the stand­outs in an excel­lent cast, and keep the film watch­able even when it turns against itself in the final act.

Haxan (1922)

This lav­ish Scan­di­na­vian silent-era doc­u­men­tary on witch­craft through the ages includes dra­ma­tized scenes of tor­ture, nudi­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty that were far ahead of its time. Visu­al­ly stun­ning and still some­what scary, the film remains essen­tial view­ing after near­ly 100 years.

The Love Witch (2016)

A young woman uses witch­craft to find the per­fect man, but her repeat­ed dis­ap­point­ment leads to trag­ic, and vio­lent, con­se­quences. Anna Biller’s utter­ly unique com­e­dy-dra­ma at first seems to be set in the swing­ing six­ties, but then grad­u­al­ly reveals its cen­tral character’s aes­thet­ic is as retro as her con­cept of rela­tion­ships. Con­tains what is arguably the finest depic­tion of a renais­sance faire ever com­mit­ted to film.

Dumplings (2004)

Fruit Chan’s dark­ly satir­ic look at an aging actress’s obses­sive quest for youth requires a strong stom­ach. Miri­am Yeung is superb as Mrs. Li, whose anx­i­ety about her fad­ing beau­ty brings her to the doorstep of a sexy young chef incon­gru­ous­ly named Aunt Mei (Bai Ling, also excel­lent). The rare case where the end­ing of the short film (which can be seen in the anthol­o­gy Three: Extremes) is even more unset­tling than that of the fea­ture ver­sion.

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