So here’s an interesting thing: That new horror movie The Witch, in theaters nation-wide on Friday Feb. 19, is being screened by the Satanic Temple in various U.S. cities.
As far as endorsements that will either get audiences into the theater or make them recoil in horror, that’s a pretty good one. But it should raise a question or two. Among them, what is it about The Witch that’s gotten this one group in particular excited, especially when there are tons of horror movies that get released as well as movies about occult forces of one sort or another?
The film centers on Thomasin (Ana Taylor-Joy), the eldest daughter in a 17th-century Puritan family ostracized by their community. Living on the outskirts of town, her family’s run of bad luck begins when her baby brother vanishes during a game of peekaboo. Things go south from there, and to explain more than what’s offered in the trailer would be cheating you out of a worthwhile scary movie experience. The debut of writer-director Robert Eggers, The Witch generated a lot of buzz with screenings at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals.
The film is being touted by the Satanic Temple as a sterling example of the values its members hold dear. “The Witch is not only a powerful cinematic experience, but also an impressive presentation of Satanic insight that will inform contemporary discussion of religious experience,” wrote the group’s spokesperson, Jex Blackmore, in a statement.
To be clear, the Satanic Temple is a different group than the Church of Satan. In fact, the group professes to believe in no supernatural forces – devil-related or otherwise. While its members are the ones aiming to get a statue of a pagan idol erected outside the Oklahoma state capital, the group functions like an activist group that uses traditional Satanic imagery to push its core tenet of using science and reason to understand the world. Other goals include supporting women’s reproductive rights, supporting abuse victims (especially victims of sexual abuse by priests), and rescuing black cats.
So despite the aims of the group being more practical than, say, devil-worshipping this endorsement of The Witch by the Satanic Temple struck us as unusual and likely to make horror fans more interested in the film than they were in the last dozen films about witchcraft, demons or Old Scratch himself. But is it a first?
No, it turns out. There’s a list of films endorsed by the Church of Satan as well. (It should be noted, again, that this is a different and older group, founded in 1966. Yes, like any other religion, it’s broken into factions of people who believe different things. Who knew?) In fact, the church’s website offers a list of movies that got the Satanic stamp of approval. Some you’d expect: Rosemary’s Baby, for example, or the original 1922 Nosferatu. Others might surprise film buffs. A few are innocuous-seeming family films that most wouldn’t ever consider in this particular context.
So, if you’re a film buff and you’re into new perspectives on well-known movies, check out this list of films that are apparently Satan-friendly. Again, who knew?
No, it’s not because the images in the psychedelic boat ride scene are among the freakiest young audiences were ever subjected to. According to Peter H. Gilmore, a church spokesperson, in an interview posted on the official website, Wonka made the cut because the naughty kids in the film come to justified ends. “Since Satanists value justice, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory presents a scenario where everyone gets just desserts, served-up by Gene Wilder as a most engaging devil.”
The Snowman (1982)
The TV special adaptation of the Raymond Briggs children’s novel also makes the list. Again, no, its inclusion has nothing to do with the subtle creepiness of the “Walking in the Air” theme song. “The Snowman bears a valuable lesson in mortality which can teach children how precious life is, since it is limited and thus not to be wasted,” Gilmore explains in the interview. “Satanists do not believe in any sort of afterlife, considering our lives to be treasures not to be squandered. The passing of the beloved snowman poignantly makes that point.”
This one is half for the reasons you’d expect, half for ones you might not. Yes, the church is down with the first half of the “Night on Bald Mountain” finale, with the big bad demon presiding over a dark Sabbath, but they’re also into the finale, “Ave Maria” and all. Gilmore notes that the demon party is ultimately “quieted by dawn when robed figures process into a cathedral wrought of trees, visually offering nature as being sacred.”
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Again, it’s not for the reasons you’d think. Gilmore dismisses the central premise of the movie – poor Mia Farrow being tricked into delivering Satan’s kid – as “silly” but instead likes how mundane the film’s coven of Satanists are. “The true Satanism of Rosemary s Baby is its showing Satanists to be a wide range of human types, from a shipping magnate and a leading obstetrician to the kindly old couple next door,” he says.
Gilmore dubs the Angelina Jolie update of the Disney classic a “Satanic re-imagining which shows a proud being betrayed, overcoming rage to mete out justice and rebalance the world, favoring nature – shown as darkness.”
Addams Family Values (1993)
Sure, the Addamses are dark, but that’s why they’re funny. Gilmore, however, sees something deeper in their creepy kookiness: “No film shows a stylized version of genuinely Satanic people quite like this one does, celebrating the outsiders who hold their ground against pressures to conform to normalcy,” he says. “And it is full of exquisitely diabolical dialogue.”
Animal House (1978)
As Gilmore describes it, the comedy classic is a pointed take-down of stuffy, prudish morals. “Apollonian rigidity versus Dionysian catharsis is brilliantly etched as carnality opposes pretense and the haughty are brought low via mockery,” he says.
No, it’s not just about a man in a rubber suit destroying a model city, says Gilmore. It’s also “a dark parable warning against mankind’s hubris in maltreating our environment through the abuse of nuclear energy.”
Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters’s underrated musical tells a story about Depression-era folks trying to find a reason to be happy. If you’re wondering what the Church of Satan could find appealing in this parable of people struggling under adverse conditions, an interview Gilmore gave to Gizmodo explains why.
“Pennies From Heaven juxtaposes fantasy with reality, portraying the burning desire to improve one’s lot through surreal song and dance scenes,” he says. “Christopher Walken’s devilishly seductive tap dance scene in a ‘den of iniquity’ exemplifies much that we Satanists cherish, and the overall grim mood punctuated by visualizing what we call an ‘Is To Be’ (desired change in reality) in the musical sequences deftly captures much bittersweet truth about humanity.”
Blade Runner (1981)
Finally, there’s the Harrison Ford science fiction-noir about humanoid robots. It’s a classic, and there’s been no shortage of writing about its significance. But the reasoning on this one is a particular trip: “[Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey] advocated the idea of creating ‘artificial human companions’ as surrogates to be used for sexual and emotional gratification so that actual humans might be spared the consequences of their own or others’ darkest desires,” Gilmore told Gizmodo. “Blade Runner explores what might be in our future should such man-made beings reach self-consciousness and in some ways, superiority.”
Other surprising films on the list? Oh, just All the King’s Men, Zelig, Kiss Me Deadly, Blue Velvet, The Stepford Wives, Westworld and Citizen Kane.