9+ Witchy Picks to Scratch the Spooky Itch
Double, double toil and trouble!
Welcome to TBP’s big, bad Halloween double issue, where you’ll find enough chilling, thrilling movies and enchanting TV series to fill your every free hour between now and trick-or-treat time. Also bubbling up: An All Hallows Eve advice column, a celebration of pint-size Thora Birch, and a coloring page that’ll make you want to get on the stick.
See How High She Flies…
Hocus Pocus (1993; Disney+): Hang on to your heads, ladies and gentlemen! Though in no way a hidden gem, this Sanderson sisters classic cannot be topped when it comes to spooky-scary family fare. In addition to an excellent-as-always performance by little Thora Birchas our human heroine, Dani, the three witchy women are a charmfest: Sarah Jessica Parker appears to be having the time of her life as hottie witch Sarah (“I am beautiful! Boys will love me!”). Kathy Najimy slays as always as jolly witch Mary—a kindred spirit to her Sister Act nun, Sister Mary Patrick. And I guarantee you that if this movie came out today, there’d be Oscar buzz around queen Bette Midler’s performance as wide-eyed witch-in-chief Winifred.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971; Disney+): Starring a sneakily babe-ish Angela Lansbury as witch-in-training Miss Eglantine Price, this is a must-watch for fans of Mary Poppins (the similarities are many, but this one chalks up its magic to witchcraft as opposed to a nanny with “gifts”) and those who like a slow-burn (it clocks in at more than two hours). L.B., 10 years old at the time, sat through the entire “weird but good” movie, while H.B., then 14, slunk off once animated creatures began showing up.
Bewitched (1964-1972; free without subscription on Tubi): Our kids have watched every single episode of this sitcom about brilliant witch Samantha Stevens posing as a mortal in midcentury suburbia—yes, from black-and-white to color, from original Darrin to new Darrin. They’ve ruled it the second-best vintage show on the planet, losing only to The Brady Bunch. But in my spell book, it will always be number one: Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery)—gorgeous, crafty, and cool—always saves the day with style and class, the 1960s clothes and decor are delicious, and the writing is shockingly feminist for the era. (Men who misbehave are very frequently turned into dogs.) Mad Men fans who haven’t watched Bewitched since spending time in the world of Sterling Cooper are in for a treat—Matthew Weiner has copped to gleaning much inspiration from the Sam show and spotting the similarities makes for a fun bonus game.
The Witches (1990 and 2020; HBO Max): Their father might tell you that I showed our kids the first Witches movie when they were far too young (three and seven—gulp). But I was just really excited to share the original adaptation of the Roald Dahl story with our little people! And guess what: Despite all the kid-to-mouse transformations and Angelica Houston’s memorable performance as the gorgeous-then-gruesome-faced Grand High Witch, they survived. During last fall’s pandemic scramble, HBO Max delivered the Anne Hathaway-starring remake straight to our living room. Naturally, my mom, 10-year-old L.B., and I carved out an afternoon for the occasion. Like her predecessor, though with what we’ll call needless extra makeup, Hathaway really sells the part (and makes #witchlife look like a blast—a theme of the genre). Jahzir Kadeem (boy-lead Bruno) and Octavia Spencer (Grandmother) tug harder on the heartstrings than even the original duo. Still, call me old-school, but I’d choose Houston over Hathaway any day of the week.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003; Hulu): Paying subscribers of TBP (thank you!) may recall that this sweet, half-hour show did not make L.B.’s definitive ranking of tip-top tween-girl sitcoms. Why? “Because it doesn’t have great fashion!" she says. But wardrobe aside, L.B. devoured all 163 episodes (!) of Melissa Joan Hart’s second-best-to-Clarissa Explains It All high-school series. Please note that there is also a legitimately scary, much-more-grown-up series of the same name on Netflix starring Kiernan Shipka—that is NOT the Sabrina TBP is recommending!
From the Mail Bag!
Q: I loved The Craft when I was younger. Should I recommend it to my middle schooler?
A: We too have a kid intrigued by the occult, but we are doing everything we can to save The Craft for high school…or grad school. I rewatched it recently to be certain that it wasn’t just my Bible Belt upbringing that made me a little afraid of this one, and friends, it’s even more R-rated than I’d remembered. Also, better than I’d previously remembered! Nobody broods or stares or skulks quite like Fairuza Balk.
For kids seventh grade-ish and up, The Sixth Sense (1999; free on Peacock) and The Others (2001; rent from $2.99 via Amazon Prime et al.) are better options. (They’re also pretty similar to each other, which is worth keeping in mind if planning a double feature.) There’s also always TBP favorite Now & Then (1995, rent from $2.99 via Vudu et al.), which is both friendly to upper-elementary schoolers and involves seances. For younger kids, the original Jumanji (1995; Netflix) is scarier than the new Rock-ified version, but not too scary.
Q: My teenager is really into arty filmmaking. Should I let her watch The Witch?
A: Goodness no! It still gives nightmares to at least one 45-year-old I know.
What about the parents while the kids are out ding-donging and/or in a candy coma? Thanks for asking! Paid subscribers will receive grownups-only treats straight to their inbox, so smash the button before it’s too late!
A perhaps-controversial ranking of Thora Birch’s top childhood work:
All I Want for Christmas (1999; Paramount+): Thora plays Lauren Bacall’s granddaughter—and gives her a run for her money in the best-ever rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
Paradise (1991; rent for $3.99 via Apple TV et al.): Thora steals the show from Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson, and Elijah Wood in this PG-13 grief drama.
Hocus Pocus: See above!
Now & Then (from $2.99 via Vudu et al.): Thora does amazing things with friendship—and pudding.
For my money, sexy-silly SJP is the best SJP—see also 1992’s Honeymoon in Vegas and 1996’s First Wive’s Club. Sorry, Carrie!