It’s no wonder February is shaping up to be the perfect time to binge on witchy happenings– the start of the month is marked by an important pagan festival, Imbolc, a time of “weather divination” (Groundhog Day!) and looking out for the first indications of spring and omens. No better way to help you seek out those good omens than an esoterica art show, curated by Pat Grossman of Phantasmaphile, a blog chronicling the fantastical. But to avoid the rather hellish indications that winter will continue from here until eternity (guys, that snow is going absolutely nowhere until July) we suggest you hole up at BAM, which will play host to another Phantasmaphile effort, “Witches’ Brew“– a series spotlighting the major cinematic witch tropes throughout film history.
Premieres Tuesday February 16 at 7:30 pm, standby tickets only: $16
The centerpiece of the series is the New York premiere of The Witch, from director Robert Eggers (who also made a black-and-white silent film adaptation of Hansel and Gretel). The Witch takes us back to the era of the Salem witch trials, and flips the switch. We have The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, and subsequent awesome film adaptation starring the one-and-only Wino 4 ever, which presupposed the witch hunt was the result of mass hysteria, religious fanaticism, and sexual rivalries. You know, what scholars and historians think.
But this film takes a totally different persective. BAM describes The Witch as “one of the most hair-raising horror films in years,” and even from the trailer it’s clear that this beautifully shot movie elicits a chilling take on this historical snippet of human frenzy. We’re all for these feminist reexaminations of the witch hunt that call out the persecutions for what they were: a way to oppress and even murder women who were “out of line,” so to speak. While The Witch definitely celebrates the sort of logic that allowed those women to be shackled, at the same rate, there’s a chance that Eggers’s supernatural take on the 17th-century witch panic provides an opportunity for a story of powerful femininity. Or maybe it’s just spooky. Either way, we’re intrigued.
Bell, Book & Candle
Wednesday February 24 at 8 pm: $14
Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak (the same duo who led Hitchcock’s Vertigo) star in this light-hearted, rom-com look at witchcraft, Bell, Book & Candle (1958). We’re almost certain this film caused many a fellow to lose his sea-faring legs and plop straight on the cinema’s lush carpet ground– what with a catchline like, “a very bewitching comedy on a very enchanting subject… sex…”.
This quirky film predated Bewitched, and while BBC skirts some of the horrendous misogyny of the television series, it still manages to call forth some eye rolls for those moments when Jimmy “Aw Shucks” Stewart reminds us how crafty women are. Complete with a late-’50s love for all things exotica.
Thursday February 18 at 7:15 pm: $14
It’s hard to believe how old this “proto-exploitation danse macabre” actually is, given that the imagery feels so embedded in our current vocabulary for witchcraft and the supernatural. Swedish director Benjamin Christensen made this OG mockumentary in 1922, focusing on the history of witchcraft through the Middle Ages. Christensen (who cast himself as the Devil) actually set out to show that the 15th-century conception of witchcraft was, you know, a hoax and the product of ignorance, but he utilized fantastically horrific images of horned beasts, naked women, and fiery ritual sacrifices to paint ornate “Bosch-influenced visuals.”
And stay for the double feature. Häxan: Witchcraft throughout the Ages (screening Thursday, February 18, 9:15 pm) is the 1968 reexamination of the 1992 original which features probably the best narrator anyone could ever cast in such a role, William S. Burroughs, whose creaky drone compels the film (along with a freaky free jazz soundtrack) to psychedelic new heights.
Sunday, Feb. 21 at 6:45 pm: $14
If ’90s nostalgia is your game, try not to blow your lid when you hear that The Craft is screening. You heard right, it’s your chance to relive the misadventures of the high school girl coven that you and your pals were perpetually imitating from age eight on up. It took me a long, long time to come to terms with the fact that a Ouija board was not going to win me any admirers– I can only assume any American woman around my age who enjoyed The Craft as much as I did had similar experiences of getting ousted from sleepovers by angry moms who found seances to be an “inappropriate” replacement for boardgames. I mean c’mon, magic was out of the question, but these were the same people who sent a bunch of kids to the basement with nothing but a game of Twister and threw away the key.
If The Craft gave you the willies, then maybe Hocus Pocus (screening Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4:30 pm and 9 pm) was and remains more your speed? A classic in its own right starring Sarah Jessica Parker as the skanky blonde witch and Bette Midler as the unstoppable, spell-casting Queen Betch, this 1993 comedy is not to be missed.
Witches’ Brew runs from February 16 through February 29 at BAM. See the full lineup of films here.