Film Review: The Love Witch

A new independent fiction film exploring Witchcraft has hit the festival circuit. Anna Biller’s latest film The Love Witch is a colorful feast of pathological obsession, violence, narcissism, love and Witchcraft. Filmed in 35mm, the film contains a remarkable retro flair combined with a contemporary sensibility. Through the film, Biller explores both modern themes, such as the expression of female fantasy and non-traditional religious practice, along with age-old struggles involving gender politics and romantic love. In an interview, Biller told The Wild Hunt, “I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to make this film, but it initially came from getting interested in pulp novel covers and being struck by the images of witches on some of them.”

The Wild Hunt’s Book Picks

Since the Yuletide season is fast approaching, I thought I would take some time this weekend to share some new book reviews in hopes that it might make your gift-giving preparations for Yule, Solstice, Saturnalia, or other Winter Festival, a bit easier.Have you ever wondered why “The Exorcist” is scary? Why “The Wicker Man” managed to amass such a loyal following? Why even very bad horror films can sometimes affect us deeply? Then you need to read Douglas E. Cowan’s new book “Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen”.”Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power–and the powerlessness–of religion.”Cowan has written an engrossing and deeply knowledgeable book analyzing the religious elements in horror films. Of particular interest to modern Pagan readers will be his exploration of the religious “other” in many of these films, particularly the way pre-Christian religion, Pagan revivals, and witchcraft (Satanic or otherwise) are treated in cinema, from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Craft”.

Horror Films and Religious Illiteracy

John Morehead has posted a brand new interview with author and academic Douglas Cowan (author of “Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet”) concerning the interface of religion and horror films on his excellent TheoFantastique blog. In the interview Cowan discusses popular Pagan-themed films like “The Craft” and “The Wicker Man”, and how movies and other popular entertainment mediums have helped reinforce the notion of the religious “Other” as dangerous. “In terms of new religious movements – or any religion, really – three things are significant here: a basic religious illiteracy that is pandemic in our society; the sociophobic power of the word ‘cult’; and three decades of media stigma and stereotyping that has contributed to both of these.”While exploring these topics, Cowan mentions Stephen Prothero’s recently released book “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-and Doesn’t” (which I’m currently reading) which posits that religious education has deteriorated to dangerous levels in our society. As a side effect, many people learn about Catholicism through films like “The Exorcist” or Wicca through “The Craft”.”People who watch The Exorcist or The Craft – the former allegedly based on a true story, the latter which had a real Witch as a consultant on the production – cannot discern which are the ‘real bits’ and which are pure Hollywood. In The Craft, actual lines from the First Degree Initiation into Gardnerian Wicca is mixed with more sensationalized action sequences.

Exploring Sacred Terror

Missional Christian, and researcher of new religious movements John Morehead, interviews Douglas Cowan at his TheoFantastique blog. Cowan, who is the author of “Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet”, and the forthcoming “More Than Pointy Hats: The Material Culture of Modern Paganism” discusses sacred and religious themes within horror films.”So many horror films start from the premise of the supernatural that to suggest they have nothing to do with religion is absurd. I remember reading a review of Rupert Wainwright’s Stigmata, for example, in which the reviewer began by commenting on how unusual it is to see religion and horror together. This just means that the person either hasn’t been paying attention, or has far too limited a view of what “religion” is. Of course, much of what I am proposing hinges on the definition of religion that informs the work.