Second Screenings

By Patricia McIvor

It’s October, which means it’s time to dust off your black hat and broomstick, and get back in touch with your inner witch. From the avocado-hued Wicked Witch of the West to Harry Potter’s super-smart friend Hermione Granger, witches continue to inspire fear and admiration. Using Glinda’s immortal question—“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”—as a guide, you can select the appropriate movie to suit your wish for witches this Halloween.

For good witches, check out Practical Magic (1998)

Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic focuses on the magic and power of sisterhood through several generations of the Owens family. After a family curse claims their parents, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) are raised by their nonconformist aunts Jet (Dianne Wiest) and Frances (Stockard Channing), who instruct them in the magical arts. Largely shunned by their more conservative neighbors, the Owens women support each other through love, death, and bad relationships; the film largely follows Sally and Gillian as they attempt to exorcise an abusive boyfriend.

The magic in the film is an interesting blend of home remedies, superstition, and spells. Sally sells her “potions” as spa products, and the aunts recite old wives tales as gospel (in the Owens household, a broom falling down really does signal someone’s arrival). Their magic is so familiar and accessible that at the end of the film, the Owens family reaches out to their “mortal” friends to help with a large spell. After their neighbors reveal that they’ve also experienced moments of premonition and ESP, Aunt Jet explains that “there’s a little witch in all of us.”

For bad witches, watch Hocus Pocus (1993)

Embellishing the true story of the Salem Witch Trials, Hocus Pocus introduces Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) Sanderson, who are executed for witchcraft in 1693. Three hundred years later, the Sanderson sisters are accidentally brought back to life on Halloween by disaffected teenager Max (Omri Katz) and his little sister Dani (Thora Birch). Max and Dani must stop the witches from achieving immortality with the help of a cursed cat (voiced by Jason Marsden) and a hapless and frequently headless zombie (Doug Jones).

Now a Halloween television staple, Hocus Pocus has become a modern classic thanks to the ghoulishly gleeful performances by Midler, Najimy, and Parker. Bad witches of the old school, the Sanderson sisters only use their powers for evil, literally sucking the life out of children in order to remain forever young. Like antiquated X-men, the sinister sisters have different special powers: leader Winifred directs their witchery with the help of a sentient book; sanguine Mary locates children with her near-canine sense of smell; and ditzy Sarah uses her enchanted voice to lure children to their ultimate doom.

Do you prefer good witches or bad witches? Send me your pick for top witch at