Women are mysterious; even in our enlightened and educated times, the modern male is aware of the imbalance between the sexes. Women are the ones who give birth to the next generation of life, giving them the driver’s seat when it comes to biology. Women have instincts and emotions that exist beyond the obvious and pragmatic awareness that most males tend to exist with on a day-to-day basis, which some call women’s intuition, and some mistakenly confuse as “being too emotional”. Any man who truly weighs the pros and cons of gender knows that the men get superior physical strength, and that’s about it.
And that is why society and culture (which have been male-dominated since their inception) have spent so much time attempting to keep women “in their place”. In an existence where the male is the more disposable of the two genders, the only choice the disposable gender has is to subjugate the gender that holds more power and sway. In a way, it kind of evens the odds.
So the women get the blame for most things. Bad children? Terrible mother. Man cheated on his wife? It was probably the fault of the trollop who seduced him, or perhaps the wife wasn’t sufficiently loving enough for his needs. Somehow, it always ends up as her problem.
Add to that the irrational fears that cropped up when ancient man believed women to be tapping into “dark powers” because their menstrual cycle was seen to be connected to the phases of the moon, and then you have witchcraft. Though there are men involved in actual witchcraft, known as warlocks, you’d barely know it from the portrayals of witches throughout history, which always portray covens as groups of women with some mysterious connection to evil through their very femininity. The new age ideas of female spirituality, Mother Earth and the traditional worship of goddesses like Diana tap into that same separation of male and female, with female holding a special and unattainable connection for men.
Though a brilliant indictment of McCarthyism in its day, the play “The Crucible” is actually about the Salem Witch Trials, and the play reveals a society wherein witchcraft is so weaved into the female psyche that women of the time even used it against each other. And that struggle, not only to divide men and women along gender lines, but also to divide women amongst themselves, is the interesting keystone to many of the best horror films revolving around witchcraft. Here are four recommendations for further exploration into the sub-genre. (NOTE: Though no discussion of horror would be complete without a mention of the film “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages”, I have left it off this list only because it is a documentary, not a horror film.)
Directed by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, this film is so well known that it needs nearly no introduction. A gothic fairy tale of a woman’s journey to a ballet academy and her slow realization that the school is far more sinister than she could imagine, “Suspiria” is a prime example of 1970’s Italian horror, focused on mood and imagery over plot.
Released the same year as actress Neve Campbell’s other horror film “Scream” and similarly interested in updating a genre for a new generation, “The Craft” follows four Catholic school girls who dabble in the occult to get revenge on those who have wronged them. Clearly influenced by the supernatural revenge themes of films like “Carrie”, it was also equal parts “Heathers” in its mixture of dark horror and high school angst.
Alternately known as “Season of the Witch”, “Jack’s Wife”, and “Hungry Wives”, the film is almost as schizophrenic as the multiple titles would suggest. From “Night of the Living Dead” creator George A. Romero, this was the first installment of his trilogy of smaller titles (along with “The Crazies” and “Martin”) that came before his next huge hit, “Dawn of the Dead”. Though only tangentially a horror title, it touches on many themes of interest to the women’s lib movement of the 1970’s, and is still interesting as a dated entry in the “angry woman” sub-genre.
Directed by Lucky McKee, a man extremely interested in films about women (from his debut film “May” to the appropriately titled battle of the sexes “The Woman”), “The Woods” is a period piece in the mid-1960’s following a young woman encountering mysterious happenings at an all-girl’s boarding school. Influenced by Argento’s “Suspiria” but with a focus on female characterization and a strong sense of location and foreboding, McKee’s underseen film is worth digging up.
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