Episode 16. Toil and Trouble: Witches in Film


Join Alex and Andrea as they call the corners and delve into the world of witchcraft. By examining The Craft (1996), Antichrist (2009) and The Lords of Salem (2013)  the role of the witch as protagonist/antagonist will emerge and will reveal that there is more to these women than meets the eye (of newt). 


The Craft. Dir. Andrew Fleming. 1996.  [DVD]

Antichrist. Dir. Lars Von Trier. 2009.  [Blu-ray]

Lords of Salem. Dir. Rob Zombie. 2013.  [DVD]


Glamorous Witchcraft: Gender and Magic in Teen Film and Television. An essay about how the young/adolescent witch provides insight into negotiating female power.

The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves. Recommended reading on witchcraft by listener T Quest!


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16 thoughts on “Episode 16. Toil and Trouble: Witches in Film

  1. Really enjoyed this. I always get nervous when people talk about Antichrist because it’s one of my favorite movies, but so many people have really strident opinions against it with readings that I don’t really relate to. I thought you guys had a great take on it–and I liked that you made a point to show how it explored misogyny but was not itself misogynist.

    One thing that really horrified me/interested me was that moment in Antichrist where you realize she had been putting her child’s shoes on the wrong feet–and that was juxtoposed against him crying, probably in pain, and her ignoring him. It’s interesting to me because for a long time we’re meant to think that it’s simply the death of her child which has caused her to have this psychological breakdown–but we see here that it had started before that. And that it was the totality of her role as a woman within a patriarchal society that coupled with her research, pushed her over violently over the edge.

    It would be interesting to see an episode about Antichrist, Possession, and Shock along these lines. Have you read Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women? It really dives in on this kind of woman in horror.

    As for Lords of Salem, I really loved how by the ending, I was really rooting for this upending of patriarchal Christianity. It was a nice use of Zombie’s career interest in making us root for evil–turned into a kind of revenge that actually feels very justified.

    • Andrea says:

      I have read Kier-La’s amazing book and I think Alex has too. We love it! A possession episode is a great idea… hrmm…

      • T Quest says:

        Would LOVE to hear this episode too. Particularly if you’re game to wade into Ken Russell’s notorious masterpiece THE DEVILS.

  2. T Quest says:

    Listen, Faculty of Horror, you really nailed this topic! Witches and the witch narrative are all over the place and you made a great venture into some of the underpinnings of that fascination. And not for nothing does one enjoy an articulate exploration of these issues today, what with notions of misogyny, male entitlement, &c, being somewhat in the fore of many peoples’ thoughts due to current events.

    I saw LORDS OF SALEM shortly before reading Robert Graves’ book THE WHITE GODDESS and they fed into each other very nicely. You are well-read folks so I shouldn’t wonder if you knew it. It is a quite long and circuitous work which touches oft on witch-stories.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Andrea says:

      Thanks for the rec! I’m not familiar with that book but I’ll add it to the ‘extra credit’ section so other listeners can check it out!

  3. Evil Taylor Hicks says:

    Fascinating stuff on witches this week from source material I wouldn’t have thought of. . Was there any thought to discussing Witches of Eastwick? I feel like that has an interesting dichotomy of witches as influenced by the devil, yet at the same time having those witches being the only ones able to defeat the devil. Plus Cher tells Jack Nicholson that he smells.

  4. Diana says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. I’ve always loved the topic and think witchcraft is certainly an aspect of female power possessed and perverted.

    Intriguing to think about the great variety of films available when discussing witchcraft and how it’s portrayed in film — especially when our urban myths of today are articulated (mostly) in these films.

    As always, enjoyed the discussion of the films. I particularly enjoy, however, it when you go off your chosen film(s) into a more wide-ranging discussion of witchcraft (and I could listen for hours so if you had more so say I’d vote for a second installment) For example, I’d love to hear your thoughts and discussion on what seems a new trend (in books and now in films) of role reversal and turning the “fairy tales on their heads”. Alex touched on it when she mentioned the new release “Maleficient”. After all, it was a woman who dared to seize the forbidden fruit of knowledge … I’d like to think of women as daring and courageous rather than guilty for this act. And it’s not as if men did not benefit!

    Great references in terms of how witchcraft was identified as a social/religious punishment tool. Liked the Rosemary’s Baby reference as well. Good point there as to the “suspicious hippie realm”. Had forgotten about Robin Hood’s witch but Andrea’s response to that character adds a new positive layer to a movie I didn’t particularly like (except for Alan Rickman).

    Love the way you two talk and weave your way through your topics! Thanks again. Can’t wait for the next one.

  5. E.S. says:

    Allo there,

    Wonderful episode. Add my voice to the chorus desiring discussion of _Possession_. Perhaps it could be grouped with _Baby Blood_, _The Brood_, _The Stepfather_, _Hellraiser_, or _Martyrs_ for a body horror or domestic horror installment.

    Also, in regard to the attempted sexual assault by Chris in _The Craft_, I would put forward that this was a person that used his position in the school as a means to coerce and pressure sex from his female classmates. He had no issues with employing manipulation to gain sex and thereafter using his position to shame and punish the girls, so I do not think it unreasonable to think that when faced with rejection he might take things further; e.g., the attempted sexual assault. If love and sex are equated, especially in the high school mind, it seems that a poisonous mind, or one with a skewered take on love/sex, would act out as such. Just some thoughts.

  6. James Hare says:

    I liked the witch episode as an opening into a discussion of gendered power as currently understood. I agree that these films are interesting and important in how they discuss or present these issues (Antichrist echoing Jane Eyre mad woman in the attic motif etc).

    The part though on the Inquisition was for me a little difficult. I think it is important to consider how our understanding of this event is informed by our relative historical position rather then being an understanding of the event itself. As such might this not be better positioned as a reflection of our own worries and concerns rather then a historically accurate account? Sort of a sounding board for the modern ear rather then an accurate echo of that period of history? Given how different we are from those people socially, technologically and spiritually and the incomplete historical record that has been handed down to us I think it becomes very dicey drawing any substantive parallels between these this and that period in history. Applying our understanding of a thing called patriarchy, conceived in and applied to recent history, might not be accurately understood or applied to a society from the past and serves as a reflection of us more then to illuminate of history?

    The book you noted is Malleus Maleficarum or Der Hexenhammer by Heinrich Kramer.

    • Andrea says:

      They say hindsight is 20/20! It’s important to do our best to understand the times we’re talking about and we did touch upon feudalism, but the fact that they didn’t recognize patriarchy back then doesn’t mean it wasn’t going on! These modern movies that deal with historical themes are certainly reflective of our current understandings of history but I’d argue that this is also how we understand/appreciate film.
      Thanks for the footnote on the book! Have you read it?

      • James Hare says:

        No, I’ve not had a chance. The author Heinrich Kramer was involved in inquisition activities but according to what I’ve read he was on the extreme side of the reformist movement in the Catholic Church. As such, his works were condemned by the inquisition proper as breaking with moral, ethical and legal church principles. As such they were not sanctioned for use by inquisitors. The problem also arose due to very different, non codified or church sanctioned superstitious beliefs in different communities of Christians in Europe and later the colonies. Of course this lead to a lot of variances in judicial and legal processes and standards. This lack of predictability was one of both the defining features and the reason for the suppression of the inquisitional movement from the sources I’ve had a chance to read.


      • James Hare says:

        There is a secondary thread that might be of interest in this discussion. What is the effects attributed to witches were real? As in people did suffer physical and psychological effects consistent with being cursed or targeted by black magic? I’d draw your attention to this video by CGP Grey on the nocebo effect. As the video states the pain felt by the people experiencing it is real. Thought this might interest you in relation to witches as the effect is not in the thing but in the belief about the thing. We currently understand this type of transference but probably not so much in the past.


        While this is a stretch it also ties in with many of the cases of mass hysteria typical and strange accounts from witnesses of witch trials.

  7. The Acolyte says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. Had to skip over the part about ANTICHRIST because I have not seen the film yet. Liked what you had to say about Rob Zombie’s vision; this dates back to the artwork on/design of White Zombie’s first LP’s in the 1980’s and to the music videos he later directed for that band. In my opinion, this vision came across clearest in feature film form in DEVIL’s REJECTS, at least as far as its roadfucked outlaw rock-n-roll elements, but I enjoyed LORDS OF SALEM much more than most people seemed to and it was refreshing to hear someone take it seriously in a podcast. Criticisms were understood, though I loved the landlady and her sisters perhaps most of all. The juxtaposition of traits in those characters reminded me, in some conceptual, non-specific way, of Ruth Gordon in ROSEMARY’S BABY. Imagery/music/soundtrack was powerful. You’ve seen witches burned in movies before, but not like this. As far as “past sins revisited on an alternative woman” goes, I highly recommend you watch Charles Pinion’s ultra-low budget, shot on videotape 1992 film RED SPIRIT LAKE (if you haven’t already seen it) for a raw, ultra-gory, sick and twisted dramatization of gender politics as they pertain to witch trials in the “witches executed sometime in the past take revenge” subgenre. The protagonist is an unapologetically independent woman and both the supernatural and corporeal planes of the film are portrayed as battlegrounds between male and female forces. A great movie to fall asleep to stoned. It would be great to hear you guys do a follow-up episode on that, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1943 DAY OF WRATH, the latter two of which look at the witch trial era in exclusively non-supernatural terms. I found this episode especially thoughtful and look forward to future ones. Thanks for contributing, along with some other podcasts, to my ability to get through work without having to think about things that piss me off.

    • Andrea says:

      Thanks for your comments! It was challenging to pick only 3 films for this episode; maybe a part 2 is in order!

  8. Baines says:

    13 minute in. of coarse the melodramatic creeps in and the most stable a who seems the most strong has this problem. what you put out comes back 3 fold! DEMANDING MORE THEN WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER IS DANGEROUS. They had a warning. the steps fallowed to manifest ones desire has a backlash. making the universe and natural law pay attention to you and your desire to make your will happen here and now. takes its toll. the movie is very accurate in its depiction of the black arts. that is why things escalate like they do in the movie. leaving people dead. they do not abide by the wisdom told to them. always listen to your elders. but instead being teenagers (like we all do or have done) think they know everything and are full of themselves. manifesting and receiving with out giving back. like a crack head with out a credit card.

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