Rewind: From Hags To Hotties
by Karl Heitmueller
Like so many other Hollywood films, 'Bewitched' insists on sexing up its witch.
Once upon a time, if you asked someone what a witch looks
like, they'd probably describe a bent, haggard old woman with
huge, hairy moles, crooked yellow teeth, squinty black eyes,
an elongated nose and chin and a green complexion. Adjectives
such as "craggy" or "hideous" would likely be applied.
Today, the response would probably be, "Witches are hot —
like Nicole Kidman."
In the new film "Bewitched," the lovely Nicole plays Isabel
Bigelow, a real, live witch who gets cast as Samantha —
alongside Will Ferrell's Jack Wyatt as Darren — in a remake of
the classic '60s TV show.
But this is not the first time Kidman has cast cinematic
spells. In 1998's "Practical Magic," Nicole played one of two
sister witches alongside the likewise attractive Sandra
Bullock. So: how (and when) did the image of the witch change
from hag to hottie?
Maybe the first cinematic depiction of an alluring sorceress
was in 1942's "I Married a Witch." Veronica Lake plays
Jennifer, a reanimated victim of the Salem witch trials who
finds herself in love with a cursed descendant of the man who
burned her at the stake. (Boy, talk about resentment issues!)
The eternally vampy Lake set the template for the glamorous,
gorgeous witch in this semi-screwball comedy — no doubt
optioned by Tom Arnold for an upcoming remake.
The sexiness was amped up a notch by Kim Novak as Gil Holroyd
in 1958's "Bell, Book and Candle." In the movie, urban
sorceress Novak uses her mystical powers to steal the charming
neighbor (played by Jimmy Stewart) away from his undeserving
fiancée. Novak slinks through the film in sexy black gowns and
robes, until the audience might reasonably assume that her
magic is almost superfluous. (She certainly didn't need
supernatural powers to cause Stewart to become obsessed with
her yet again that very same year in Alfred Hitchcock's
It's safe to assume those two movies served as the
inspiration for the TV program "Bewitched." Premiering in
1964, the show tweaked the convention of the suburban domestic
comedy by adding a twist: The housewife was a witch. As this
was '60s sitcom TV, Elizabeth Montgomery had to keep her
sexuality in check as the cute but somewhat demure Samantha
Stevens. Still, Montgomery got a chance to bring some
semi-dark salaciousness to the show in the dual role of Sam's
seductive, devil-may-care cousin Serena. (Hey, where is she in
the new movie?)
In 1971, another cute enchantress hit the small screen in the
animated version of Archie Comics' "Sabrina the Teenage
Witch." The titular star was a freckle-faced, white-haired
teen living with her more traditional broom-riding aunts,
Hilda and Zelda. In 1996, Melissa Joan Hart starred in another
live-action TV version, which then spawned another cartoon
about Sabrina's adolescent years. Strictly G-rated, these
versions all excluded the comic book character of Della, the
sexy head witch who was perpetually annoyed by Sabrina's
insistence on being a "good witch."
Della was no doubt happier with the teenage witches in "The
Craft" (1996). Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and
Rachel True play four outcast high school girls who learn
witchcraft and go about wreaking revenge on the popular kids
who made their pre-witch lives a living hell.
But one of the first things the girls do with their powers is
make themselves more attractive and more desirable to the guys
who previously spurned them — which makes sense. Admit it: If
you had the power to do so, wouldn't you cast a spell to
correct all your imperfections? Or at least make the object of
your unrequited crush suddenly notice you?
The quick-thinking Bugs Bunny realized this potential in the
1954 cartoon "Bewitched Bunny," when he used the hideously
ugly Witch Hazel's potions on her, turning her into a comely
female rabbit. Of course, it was just a fling for Bugs, whose
climactic aside to the audience, "But aren't they all witches
inside?" belies the misogynistic attitude that's kept him a
bachelor for 67 years.
Maybe the witches of "Hocus Pocus" (1993) were too busy
plotting to drink the life essences of the children of Salem,
Massachusetts, to be bothered with altering, i.e., bettering,
their appearances. All three of the Sanderson Sister
sorceresses in the film sport some classic witchy features,
from Bette Midler's razor-like teeth to Kathy Najimy's horned
hairdo to Sarah Jessica Parker's bumpy, outsized nose.
Similarly, the masks worn by "The Witches" to hide their ugly
true selves in the 1990 adaptation of the Roald Dahl tale of
the same name were disguises, not enhancements. These witches
embraced their hideousness.
"The Witches of Eastwick," however, were far more
narcissistic. In the 1987 movie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan
Sarandon and Cher play three bored, passion-starved women who
use witchcraft to summon a male plaything. But when the man
who fulfills their every hedonistic desire — Daryl Van Horne,
played to the hilt by Jack Nicholson — turns out to be Satan
himself, they realize that maybe canasta would've been a safer
pastime. Nevertheless, no Hollywood film illustrates witches
using their powers for sensual gain more gleefully than this
adaptation of the (even randier) John Updike novel.
In the '90s, TV threw some more comely conjurers at us in the
forms of Willow from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Alyson
Hannigan) and the women of "Charmed." Played by Alyssa Milano,
Holly Marie Combs and Rose McGowan (who replaced Shannen
Doherty after three seasons — we shall refrain from any
imitation-of-life jokes), the Halliwell sisters use their
powers to fight the forces of evil, as does Willow. What, TV
can't give us any bad witches anymore?
And really, don't we already have enough impossibly beautiful
women in the movies and on TV? How about a return to a little
old-school nastiness? We'd love it if in the next Harry Potter
film, for instance, one of his new schoolmates were an ugly
little girl with green hair and a nose like a carrot. But
we're not holding our breath. If the classic Krofft Saturday
morning show, "H.R. Pufnstuf," is ever made into a live-action
movie, Puffy's arch-nemesis Witchiepoo is likely to be played
by Charlize Theron. Zap!
For the comprehensive study and practice of true Witchcraft, read The Satanic Witch by Anton Szandor LaVey.