A standard question I get from journalists is along these lines:- ‘So HALF BAD is about witches. Are witches making a comeback in contemporary culture?’
I’m not sure if journalists really expect me to be an expert on this subject (I’m not), and I’m not sure witches were ever a dominant force in stories (apart from Harry Potter of course). Okay, they feature in many fairy stories, but they are usually the bad guys playing a supporting role to show off the nice princess and the heroic prince. However, with Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in the just released Maleficent (the title of the film being that of the witch (hooray) rather than Sleeping Beauty (spit)), maybe the tide is turning.
Anyway, all this got me thinking who are my favourite witches in films and tv programmes, and I was surprised how many I thought of. Here are a few of those who I’d love to see again or otherwise. . .
Maleficent (the Disney version)
Maleficent from Walt Disney’s 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty is the archetypal Black Witch, she has it all from the clothes to the crow. Unfortunately she’s not a witch, she’s a fairy. A fairy!
This perhaps explains why her spells seem to lack true horror. Maleficent performs an enchantment at Aurora’s christening which will mean death by spindle, but the enchantment is countered by another ‘good’ Fairy’s and so sleep rather than death is the result. All I can say is that I’m more impressed by Maleficent’s head gear than by her evil spells. Having said that I don’t expect I’ll be rushing to see Angelina play this part as I can’t see how Disney’s version can be improved on.
Samantha and her mother, Endora (from Bewitched)
Bewitched was one of my favourite TV programmes from the sixties. Samantha is a witch but wants to live the life of a normal human because of the love for her husband, Darrin, whilst Endora constantly tries, and fails, to break up her daughter’s happy marriage. As a child I adored Samantha and feared her mother, Endora.
You will be pleased to hear that I now realise the error of my ways. Samantha is awful – the typical goody White Witch who cutely twitches her nose to make everything alright, and weirdly seems to wear similar clothes to those sported by Dolores Umbridge (more of her further on). Now, I find Endora delightful as Samantha’s frustrated yet rather bored mother who wants her daughter to act like a real witch. Witches like Endora really should be making a comeback.
I have to admit I didn’t watch many episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and when I did Willow always seemed to be reading a book (admittedly a large, leather-bound tome, but still a book) – which didn’t strike me as a very witchy thing to do. Being book-ish is such a good disguise for a witch that I wasn’t sure Willow was one, but a Buffy-mad friend of mine confirmed the truth of it.
I wondered if perhaps Willow was an American forerunner of the even more book-ish Hermione Granger of Harry Potter but it seems they both made their appearance in the same year (1997 was the first airing of Buffy and the publication of Harry Potter) – coincidence or perhaps there is something more mysterious afoot…
The Witches of Eastwick
Oh dear, nothing mysterious here, I think the picture says it all.
Based on the John Updike novel, The Witches of Eastwick – Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer – are (according to the blurb) sex starved…No, I can’t go on. This is just an excuse to ogle scantily clad, beautiful women and for some reason the photo reminds me of Charlies Angels – nuff said.
Hopefully these kind of witches, and I include that lot from ‘Charmed’, will not be making a comeback.
This is more like it. Ravenna, (and I think we all already know that black birds are going to be involved) is the Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman (Charlize Theron as Ravenna). Ravenna is not referred to as a witch but she does use witchcraft to try to kill Snow White, which seems a decent indicator, though all her plans inevitably fail.
One of the great aspects of this film is the magical mirror, which has more personality and appeal than either Snow White or the Huntsman.
Miss Eva Ernst, Grand High Witch of All The World
Miss Eva Ernst, in the 1990 film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, is all that you’d want from a Grand High Witch (including being played by Anjelica Huston), though she has no toes, not much hair and a terrible plan for world domination. I could have told her that trying to organise witches, and to have a convention to do so, would end badly. She only has to watch a few witchy films to know that complicated potions always backfire. Here, the potion that will make all children of England turn into mice so that they will be killed as pests by their parents is consumed (surprise, surprise) by all the witches and the kitchen staff chop all the mice/witches to bits.
Geraldine McEwan as Mortianna in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves is great. I seem to remember that she has an altar, upturned crosses and bones about the place and thinks too much of a reading she has made that foretells her death at the hands of ‘the painted man’, (why don’t they just say tattooed?) Morgan Freeman.
She is nasty, ugly, totally potty and actually a bit scary. More please!
Myca, from The Crow (the 1994 film starring Brandon Lee) doesn’t declare herself as a witch but I think we all know that she has to be one – there’s the unusual name, black clothing (though not much of it), her painted body (tattoos some might call them), the wonderful mix of evil, beauty, sex appeal and pottiness, and the black bird is a bit of a giveaway too.
Myca is also smart and her cunning is the most frightening thing about her (at last the audience can get excited about the possibility of a sensible plan to kill off the hero). She realises that the way to defeat the already dead (but not dead enough) Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) is to use the crow which somehow represents his spirit. Hmmm, already it is sounding a bit complicated and yes, the plan backfires eventually.
I really would like some bad witches like Myca to succeed more often and Myca should come back as she at least felt dangerous.
Jadis, The White Witch
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (one of my favourite childhood books) Jadis has gained power over Narnia and has brought a one hundred year long winter (I still spend too much time wondering what everyone eats: do they ship it in from warmer climes? Have they a big store from summery days?…)
Still, Jadis is frightening and bucks the black trend beautifully. It’s interesting how easy it is to assume she’s nice (and one can sympathise with Edmund for falling for her lies); it would be so obvious she was bad if she wore black. She is evil and cruel yet pushing the addictive Turkish Delight onto Edmund does seem terribly English and a little tame (though hints at food being shipped in from the Med., which puts my mind at rest a little).
Now we’re talking. Of course I could write pages about the numerous witches in Harry Potter books/films, and certainly choosing between Dolores and Bellatrix Lestrange is difficult. But Dolores is unusual for a witch, yes she is cruel and vindictive, she tortures children scarring their hands with a pen that cuts into their skin as it writes, and yes she will resort to the Cruciatus curse, but she also keeps cats, wears pink and speaks in a particularly irritatingly-cutesy voice.
Anyone who demonstrates so clearly that pink is evil wins my vote.