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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.