Horror Cinema: The Witch (2015)

A horror cinema review of Robert Eggers’ The Witch by new contributor to the Devil’s Muse, the Bubonic Illiterate.
the-witch-a24-trailer-fbpic
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.

the-witch-poster

Eggers, Robert. The Witch, A24, 2015.

Crosstown Traffic – Ottawa, Canada

If you’re in Ottawa, Canada, Crosstown Traffic has the best collection of horror comics. I picked up these over the past few months:

The Worst of Eerie Publications
The visuals in this collection look gruesome! I bought this one today, and I can’t wait to dig into it!

Weird Love #1
I bought this one while working on a horror story. I wanted the plot to echo the cheesy love triangles of old. Unfortunately, most of the stories were too dated for a 2016 audience, and I dropped the idea. But, the collection was great, and I would recommend it.

Haunted Horror Pre-Code Cover Coloring Book
The title pretty much says it all. I plan on making some scary watercolours with these images. Friends, be prepared for some ghoulish art for your birthdays!

Harvey Horrors Softies – Tomb of Terror (Vol 1)
I loved this collection. Both the visuals and stories were classic horror: ghouls, monsters, the living dead. For a small collection, it packed a strong punch of good comics. I am waiting for more volumes to appear on the shelf at Crosstown.

crosstown horror books

TV Monster: Sweetums

Sometimes I wonder about Sweetums’ back story before he joined the Muppet Show. Was he a mean monster turned softy after a particularly traumatic experience? Had he always been a sweet monster; was that part of how he was as a species? Or, was he an outcast from his aggressive family? I usually think of him as an outcast because, for the majority, all of the Muppets are outcasts, and he finds his family among them. Oh, Sweetums!

Horror Lit: Paradise Lost

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,
Within unseen.

– 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.

satan sin and death - milton

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1667.