Two movies, two witches: Halloween movie recommendations

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Ore James

Witches are a staple of both Halloween lore and Halloween movies.

Avery James Lester, Staff Writer

Apart from the obvious pumpkin, there’s one symbol that I feel most people commonly associate Halloween with: a witch.

The thought of a witch gives me such a creepy feeling in my gut. I don’t even want to mention their big, tall pointy hats, their vicious cackle, or even those long, cracked fingernails. They are such an iconic symbol of the holiday that the very sound of the word makes me think of October 31.

There aren’t very many “good” movies about Halloween. But there are plenty of great horror films best seen on Halloween. More specifically, the two witch films “Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” and “The Blair Witch Project” are perfect Halloween viewing.

These two films are incredibly different from one another but represent everything I love about horror cinema: they’re entertaining, scary and beyond creepy.

For those in the mood for a film a bit more serious this Halloween, I invite you to step away from your yearly “Hocus Pocus” or “Nightmare Before Christmas” viewings and watch these two films.

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Witchcraft, as a general concept, has always been intriguing to me. I think this is because I used to grow up in a more strictly religious environment where even the mere mention of witches or witchcraft was frowned upon. This certainly created a curiosity – a curiosity that is satisfied when I watch “Häxan.”

“Häxan” is a silent Danish film from 1922 which explores the history of witchcraft while also telling the personal stories of several witches in 1488. There is one elderly witch, in particular, who holds the bulk of the narrative.

Always wait til it’s dark, put on a hoodie so I can put the hood over my head, wrap a fuzzy blanket around myself, sit and wonder why I’m punishing myself by watching this movie, and then push play.”

After many of her fellow townspeople discover that she is a witch, she is dragged into the village church and forced to recount her experiences and to personally fess up for her sins. It is here that much of the true horror in the film begins.

The film cuts to her backstory where she is seen riding on broomsticks with several other witches on their way to a ritual in the woods where the devil himself will be present. After this point, much of the film cuts back and forth to the lives of many witches. As more witches get introduced and as more conflicts arise, the plot just explodes into one horror extravaganza.

The plot of “Häxan” is set up like a storybook: it’s a story, within a story, within a story. This is part of the reason why it fascinates me so much. Each layer of the story gets more complex as the movie progresses to create a truly suspenseful experience.

I don’t want to delve into the inner workings of the film (acting, writing, directing, etc.) But what I do want to say is that the film is profoundly creepy. The subject matter of witches, spells and magic, all told under a Renaissance backdrop, provide creepy cinematic imagery. It’s films like “Häxan” that even made these things scary and synonymous with Halloween in the first place.

The Blair Witch Project

Let me describe to you my process for watching a horror movie: always wait til it’s dark, put on a hoodie so I can put the hood over my head (it helps me when I’m scared for some reason), wrap a fuzzy blanket around myself, sit and wonder why I’m punishing myself by watching this movie, and then push play.

“The Blair Witch Project,” more so than most horror movies, has forced me to follow this exact routine. When I watch it, the visuals on screen manifest themselves so vividly in my brain that it’s hard to get them out.

It takes place in the Maryland woods, where three student filmmakers are on a mission to research, and possibly locate, the Blair Witch. She is, according to eyewitnesses, a ghostlike person who goes around terrorizing and killing people lurking in her woods.

For a period of a few days they camp and hike around – hoping to find something. Each day they are in the woods, the paranormal activity they encounter gets worse and worse. Eventually, it reaches a boiling point and turns into utter chaos.

“Blair Witch” is not only a great drama – it’s a great horror. Its use of the “found footage” style makes everything feel so real. When the characters experience something out of the ordinary, we feel it too. It’s an extremely personal experience.

It’s also a very terrifying experience. The creepiness of the paranormal scenes just adds to the fact that you never know what is going to happen to any of the characters. But it’s also those twists and turns that feed my fascination with the story.

What both “Häxan” and “the Blair Witch Project” succeed at is their approach to horror. Neither film ever uses a jump scare, a cheesy piece of music or any other cheap technique to scare the viewer. Instead, they use something far more powerful: implications.

Not everything scary or horrible in the two films are explained. But that’s the point. The filmmakers’ were smart enough to realize the implications of terror are more impactful than just plainly showing it on screen.

Real horror isn’t seen – it’s felt.