My perennial favourite horror movie, Rosemary’s Baby. Hail, Satan!
Isobel Goudie is a 17th-century Scottish woman famous for having been recorded as confessing to be a witch—to describing a shape-shifting spell and consorting with the devil. Reading about her confession on the Spooky Isles blog, it’s hard for me to believe in its authenticity. To me, her confession reads more like a propaganda pamphlet, which were wildly popular in the nearby London at that same time. True crime stories were particularly popular, and Isobel’s confession reads like a sensational pamphlet. It would be interesting to learn more about this case to see if the origins of the document have been verified as being legal.
Lucifer (composite devil with many heads) being judged by Christ in majesty, while the saints intercede for him. Livre de la Vigne nostre Seigneur. France, c. 1450-1470
A horror cinema review of Robert Eggers’ The Witch by new contributor to the Devil’s Muse, the Bubonic Illiterate.
I’ve always been a fan of witches. Rhea of the Coos, the witch from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower universe, is one of my favourite fictional characters. Many of my favourite films revolve around witches, too—Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, even Hocus Pocus, for the matter. Yet rarely in film do we see an accurate portrayal of the true witch of folklore, the Mother Nature turned rotten, the crusty old woman of the woods who relishes in black magic and carries out Satan’s will. Robert Egger’s witch, however, is an exception.
The Witch is a true period piece. It’s evident that a hefty amount of research went into nailing not only the set and costume design but into replicating the Puritan dialect of the time. As a result of the film’s authenticity to its era, the ensuing horror is both believable and effective.
Here’s what makes The Witch frightening:
• The witch works her way at the family from various angles, and the horror increases with each new burden brought upon them: the immediate robbery of their newborn, their inability to produce bountiful crops, the possession of the family’s eldest son, the deterioration of the mother’s faith. The family crumbles.
• There is more than a menacing witch at work here; the devil is along for the whole ride. The movie is satanic, evil as all hell.
• There are some beautiful night shots of the family’s plot of land—set against a gorgeous backdrop of black woods—that will render you feeling entirely vulnerable.
• She isn’t green-skinned or cauldron-tending. She’s what you want her to be: gross.
Some of the scenes are drawn out and uneventful, and you might find yourself wondering when the real scares are coming. Additionally, some of the dialogue can be tricky to understand. While these things might deter some viewers, I found it greatly worthwhile to stick it out ‘til the film’s end; the final scene crams an abundance of evil down your throat. The camera work is chilling, and paired with the anxiety-inducing score and audio effects, the climax administers a nice dose of dread. Not only is it scary, but the final scene puts a unique spin on one character’s happy ending, which I found to be a wicked (pun totally intended) wrap-up.
She’s the witch you’ve been waiting for, and like her—ruthless and horrid—this film is the one you’ve been begging the genre to produce.
Eggers, Robert. The Witch, A24, 2015.
My favourite literary monster is Sin in Book II of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Satan meets her at the gates of Hell, where she sits with their son Death. She mediates a fight between the father and son, and then sends Satan off to Chaos, where he will find Paradise on the other side.
When I first read Milton’s description of Sin, it felt illicit. I couldn’t believe something so grotesque was sitting in an old English literature textbook:
The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of hell-hounds never ceasing barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there, yet there still barked and howled,
– Book II, lines 650-659
Hell-hounds nesting in her womb? Nowhere else in my life had I ever been given such a horrific visual.
SparkNotes summarizes the creation story she tells Satan:
She explains to Satan who she and her companion are and how they came to be, claiming that they are in fact Satan’s own offspring. While Satan was still an angel, she sprang forth from his head, and was named Sin. Satan then incestuously impregnated her, and she gave birth to a ghostly son named Death. Death in turn raped his mother Sin, begetting the dogs that now torment her. Sin and Death were then assigned to guard the gate of Hell and hold its keys.
Gag me with a spoon! I remember first reading this section of Book II and reading faster because I couldn’t believe how gross it was getting, and it kept getting grosser. My kind of horror story.
In addition to gore, I’m a fan of the Unholy Trinity, as you might tell from my Rosemary’s Baby post. I love that Milton made Mary’s demonic form an allegory for sin, and then dreamt up this nauseating background story of how she came to be and would suffer, in a perverted mirror-opposite of Mary, as the bride of the child made by her creator — yeah, I know, Christianity is twisted.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1667.
Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby
When pushed to answer what is my favourite horror movie, I reply, “Rosemary’s Baby.” I’ve watched it nearly once a year since I first saw it as a preteen.
One of the features that I particularly love about horror movies is that, sometimes, the bad guy wins. Growing up, I always wanted to read a comic or see a movie where the bad guy won in the end. It didn’t make sense to me that the hero always had to have the advantage.
After first seeing Rosemary’s Baby, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the final scene. It was grotesque and perfect: the Anti-Christ was born healthy and would be loved by his mother in a twisted, Satanic retelling of the immaculate conception.
My other favourite aspect of the movie is the psychological horror. Watching Rosemary unravel the secret that her neighbours are “all of them witches” and to watch her be fed to the wolves by the ones she loved and trusted most is, to me, the scariest possible thing that could happen to someone. It is also something that happens to women all the time, especially in the time that the movie was released. To me, it is an added layer of horror to watch her be treated as a possession knowing that the story is likely familiar to so many of my sisters and foremothers.
Polanski, Roman. Rosemary’s Baby, Paramount Pictures, 1968.