Posts Tagged Witch Awareness Month

The Season of the Witch – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]

[Beware of spoilers here]

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I am probably going to say this a few times over the course of the review but those who know the man, and especially those who have seen the film will allow me that…

There is an argument that this film should not have been featured in the film list for Witch Awareness Month and I understand this. Hopefully you have taken note of the spoiler warning and are more than prepared for anything I may say from here on in.

The film begins in the dark times of the witch trials in Europe before moving on to the Crusades (yes, I wondered about that myself too), where we are introduced to our two ‘heroes’, Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman. Our protagonists are Crusaders with a sense of morals (I know, I know), cutting a swathe through the Middle East, before realising that women and children maybe don’t need to be sliced and diced for the glory of a benevolent god.

“Sorry, love, my spear seemed to be in your way”

Nicholas Cage as a crusader is a little hard to go for, the suspension of disbelief element is a big ask and I wonder who was responsible for casting this role. There is a sense of the all-American action hero here, which bodes ill for the film but is not too surprising in truth.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

Ron.

In truth, Ron is very similar to Cage in these early stages, as they joke who is getting the rounds in, based on how many infidels they slay in a battle (wait a minute, didn’t the muslims call the christians the infidels? Pay it no mind).

The action sequences are a little unnecessary and start a worry that is not abated for some time, especially knowing that the film is a mere 94 minutes long. The fight scenes are fun, plenty of jokes about killing muslims before Cage puts his spear through a defenceless woman and the brown stuff really hits the fan, he nearly taking the head off the leader of the armies, before Perlman drags him off to a life as a deserter.

It’s here that the film starts to move into its subject as Cage and Perlman are caught by soldiers in a European village and are pretty much forced to help transport a witch to a monastry, so that the monks can no doubt drown her to see if she’s innocent or not and burn her if she floats…

Arrgh, a witch!

Transporting a witch is pretty dangerous business you know: spells, suggestions, tricks of the light and wolves make for a treacherous journey for our two ex-crusaders and their merry little band of misfits and, complete with a shaky bridge scene (you haven’t seen one of those for a while, have you) there is much that befalls them.

As they reach the monastry, they are aware that something is afoot in the state of Denmark and that the witch is even more tricksy than they first thought.

If I go on, I pretty much destroy any reason you may have for watching the film and so I’ll change direction a little.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I mean he pretty much lights up any film, no matter the quality. There’s probably even a film he couldn’t save but I haven’t seen it yet and so I stick with my opinion. Even with the U.S. drawl, and the unnecessary quips, he holds a scene and has fantastic, expressive features.

Cage is way out of his comfort zone. An actor I loved in films, such as: Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart, is not at all at home as a thoughtful, honourable ex-crusader and it has an effect on the film itself, as the viewer constantly tries to marry the characters to the story.

It’s not the train wreck I expected it to be, however, and I was pleasantly surprised by certain things in it, especially as I didn’t know that a certain actor was featured.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

The effects are OK, it’s an enjoyable romp and it features a witch…sort of. It plays out quite a bit better than I thought and considering I was not particularly positive about reviewing it before I watched it can be seen as a positive result.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so sure I would recommend it, as there are far better films, especially about witches, that you can watch but it’s definitely not one of the worse I’ve seen either.

“What do you mean, this isn’t Kansas?”

The choice is yours.

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Film viewing #6: The Season of the Witch

Our sixth film for Witch Awareness Month, is the potential train wreck that is The Season of the Witch.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman!

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow!

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Burn Witch Burn – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month contributor, Ruth Merriam]

[Beware of spoilers here]

How is it that I’ve watched Burn, Witch, Burn  (ake Night of the Eagle – 1962) four times and never before bothered to read the book on which it was based? Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, is not only a masterpiece of supernatural writing, it’s written by one of the most influential authors of the last century. The story first appeared in the April 1943 volume of the magazine Unknown Worlds, was expanded and included in an anthology, then finally published as a stand-alone novel in 1953.

The book and film diverge somewhat from each other, as is often the case. The book takes place in southern New England in the States, while the film is set in the bucolic English countryside. The surnames of the main characters are different in the two mediums. No doubt for the sake of necessity, many other details were changed as well.

Watch the film. Read the book. Even doing so back-to-back will not lessen the impact of either. I couldn’t put the book down.

So what’s this all about, eh? I’ll focus on the film.

They couldn’t help it, I suppose. They just had to start the film off with about 2 minutes of schlocky black screen with a monologue.

“ . . . I am now about to dispel all evil spirits that may radiate from the screen during this performance . . .

And now with a free mind and a protected soul, we ask you to enjoy Burn, Witch, Burn.”

Thankfully, once the monologue is over there isn’t a wasted frame in the film. The acting and cinematography are first rate, the dialogue is crisp and believable, and the interactions of the characters is so well done that watching it borders on voyeurism.

We have Norman Taylor, professor of Sociology and critical thinking, who teaches at Hempnell Medical College – a bastion of learning (and spoiled rich kid students) and gothic architecture (the eagle factors in later, but that would be a spoiler)

Statue

Professor Taylor in his element:

Taylor

In his lecture, he emphasizes that, “I do not believe. I do not believe. So, to recap, four words necessary to destroy the forces of:

1) The Supernatural

2) Witchcraft

3) Superstition

4) Psychic etc. etc etc.”

While summing up, he tells his students, “Aladdin rubbed a lamp, and a genie appeared. Today, we can push a button and the whole of mankind is obliterated.”

He’s a rational man, a thinking man, a man on the fast track to the position of head of his department. A handsome man (played by Peter Wyngarde) with a seemingly charmed life.

But oh . . . those academic jealousies! This is a tale of witchcraft as well as a scathing look at departmental politics.

Norman is married to Tansy (played by Janet Blair), a woman who splits her time between their house near the college and a seaside cottage. Interesting choice of names as the herb Tansy has historically magical properties (it was allegedly given to the Greek mortal-turned-demigod Ganymede to bestow immortality upon him) as well as medicinal properties.

Their home is filled with items that, to the trained eye, are significant for their magical and folkloric properties. There’s a bell hanging hidden at the front door to ward off evil.

Bell

There are statues and significant art ranging from African witchdoctor masks to a statue of Kwan Yin. There’s a broom hanging above an archway. Norman seems utterly oblivious to this. Repeated viewings of the film reveal totems, gris-gris, and charms absolutely everywhere!

Tansy longs to return to Jamaica, where they spent some time while Norman did research. Norman reminds her of the downside, like malaria, but she’s nostalgic. Norman gently scoffs at her fascination with a “warlock” named Carubius with whom she spent time while in Jamaica. Did I mention that she’s also beautiful?

Tansy

Tansy doesn’t care for the bickering and backbiting that goes along with being in academia, but keeps up with her duties as a professor’s wife by hosting a weekly bridge game for other members of the faculty.

Faculty

Snark? They’ve got it. Double entendres? In spades . . . so to speak.

After the bridge game is over, Tansy seems distressed and while Norman sits and reads, she goes through their living room obviously searching for something. She opens drawers, looks under tables, slides her hands along the underside of shelves, but when Norman questions what she’s doing she brushes it off with a weak explanation about a shopping list. Just before they retire for the night, Norman is looking for something in a dresser drawer and needs to remove a drawer that contains Tansy’s things. He finds this:

Spider

Tansy is nervous and upset when she sees that the drawer has been taken out. Norman asks her about the jar, which she asserts is simply a memento from their time in Jamaica and a gift from Carubius. Norman is dismissive of her attachment to it.

After they’ve gone to bed for the night, she gets up while Norman sleeps and returns to the living room to resume her search and finds what she’s been looking for:

Fetish

It’s a fetish that’s been knotted into a lampshade. Tansy takes it apart and burns it, but her sense of disquiet increases.

The next day, while Norman is getting out a jacket to give to a dry cleaner, he finds a sachet that’s been pinned to the underside of the lapel. This prompts him to go back to their bedroom where he rifles through Tansy’s dresser drawers. He finds more than he bargained for.

Potion

When Tansy returns from running errands, she notices that the bell is missing from over the front door. Upon entering the house, she finds a pile of her magical items on the living room table and an argument ensues. She knows that Norman’s success has been heavily influenced by her and that her protective magic has been keeping them both safe in a hostile environment. Norman all but accuses her of being insane. She insists that her magic has been responsible for his rapid career advancement and in keeping him from danger from jealous colleagues.

“What do you want to believe?
“I want some kind of an explanation!”

“Well, isn’t it obvious? I’m a witch.”

Tansy recounts an experience they had in Jamaica in which Carubius saved the life of a young girl by taking the offered life of her grandmother in the girl’s place. Norman had fallen ill, and Tansy, in desperation, thought of Carubius’s magic. Although she didn’t resort to Carubius’s help because Norman recovered on his own, that was the event that started her down the path of witchcraft.

Norman demands that she destroy all her charms and talismans and come to her senses. Tansy says, “I tell you, Norman, I will not be responsible for what happens to us if you make me give up my protections!” While he’s burning everything, he asks if there’s anything that she didn’t give to him. She pulls out a locket that she’s wearing and gives it to him. Behind his photo are some dried herbs and while he’s dumping them into the flames, his photo goes in as well. Tansy panics and begs him to retrieve the photo, but it’s too late.

And that is when the stuff hits the fan.

The story builds from here with everything from a female student accusing Norman of seducing her to a student with failing grades trying to kill him to Norman nearly being run down by a delivery truck. The faculty politics becomes a nest of vipers. Something tries to break into Norman and Tansy’s home, triggered by sounds coming over the phone. Terrible things escalate rapidly and Tansy becomes desperate to save the man whom she adores.

But . . . Tansy is not the only witch in this tale.

As the tension in the film increases, Norman tries to track down Tansy who has left him a message telling him that she’s going to die in his place. He finds that she’s been at their seaside cottage and discovers stacks of books on witchcraft and black magic. Fighting against reason, but desperate to save her, Norman goes so far as to attempt a spell he finds in one of her books.

Spell

He’s too late, though, and the Tansy who comes back to him isn’t quite the Tansy he knows. The film shifts focus from narrative to her POV and back again at this point, creating a sense of disorientation that’s very effective. Shortly after she comes back to him, they return to their home and things get even worse.

Indeed, Tansy is not the only witch in town.

Witch

I think this is a good place to stop before I give it all away.

Burn, Witch, Burn is currently available on streaming Netflix for those who have access. It’s available on DVD and can be purchased. I cannot recommend this film, and its source book, highly enough. As I wrote earlier, I’ve watched the film four times. I’m certain that I’ll watch it many, many more times and will likely start writing down a list of all the witchcraft-related objects scattered around their house.

Are you wondering why I’m so interested in all those items? It’s simple. Tansy and Norman’s house reminds me a great deal of my own, and of the homes of many of my friends.

Cross

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Film Viewing #5: ‘Burn, Witch, Burn’

It’s time for a classic witch tale with Burn, Witch, Burn, from 1962.

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow.

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Book Viewing #1: ‘The Forever Girl’

Now it’s time for us to move into the new world of book trailers in advance of Carole Lanham’s review later today.

Enjoy and look out for the review tonight.

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Review: Willow

[Written by Witch Awareness Month team member, Delisa Carnegie]

Willow was filmed in 1988 and directed by Ron Howard.

I’ve loved this movie since it came out. The special effects might seem a little cheesy compared to newer movies, but it is still awesome. It is also funny.

I’m going to assume that everyone has watched Willow, so I don’t need to retell you the story. You did watch it, right? Good.

There are many things I like about the movie Willow. The heroes are not traditional heroes. Willow is a dwarf that is bullied and teased. Madmartigan is a criminal and despite what he says, I don’t think he is a master swordsman. Fin Razeil is an old woman and a sorceress. Sorcha is the daughter of the evil queen.

Bavmorda is everything you’d expect an evil queen to be. She is heartless, egotistical and over confident. Her belief that she is more powerful than everyone else, while possibly true, is also her downfall. She underestimates everyone.

Throughout the movie Willow’s confidence in himself grows. He is determined not to let anything happen to Elora Danan. I got the impression that he was protecting a baby more than he was trying to save the world. I think if he would have been focusing on saving the world, it would have been too overwhelming of a task.

Madmartigan grows up. Even though he is and adult he acts like a boy in that he is focused on having fun and doing whatever he wants regardless of the consequences. He isn’t a bad man, he is just living a carefree life. He falls in love with Elora Danan in a fatherly way and it changes him.

Sorcha ends up turning against her mother. She falls for Madmartigan. Even though his first words of love toward her are because he has been hit with faery dust, they are still powerful for her. I don’t think anyone had ever said anything nice to her before. Even without being under the spell of faery dust, Madmartigan shows her a way of being she didn’t know before.

Magic in the movie seems to come from inside and be directed outward through words. An example of this is when Willow is trying to get chosen as an apprentice. He is asked which finger holds the power to change the world. He picks one of the elders’ fingers when the correct choice is his own finger. He holds the magic within himself. When Bavmorda turns the soldiers into pigs, she doesn’t need to preform any rituals or even use special magic words.

Willow needs the wand to transform Fin Raziel. Fin Raziel seems to need the wand to do most any magic. I think the only magic we see her do with out holding the wand is when she is trying to get the wand to come to her after she drops it. Bavmorda uses the the wand when she gets a hold of it. The wand must allow you to preform stronger magic than you could without it. If not, why even have the wand when throughout the movie wand free magic is taking place?

A large part of Willow’s journey is spent getting the wand and Fin Raziel together and turning Fin Faziel back into her human form. At the end while they help Willow save Elora Danan, they aren’t they main things things save her. Willow tricks Bavmorda into thinking Elora Danan has disappeared. Bavmorda, in her anger, destroys herself by knocking over the potion or blood (whatever was in those bowls) that was intended for the ritual to banish Elora Danan’s soul and banishing herself.

Bavmorda, in her attempts to stop the prophecy, actually fulfills it. She is so focused on destroying Elora Danan before she grows up and has the chance to fight back, that she creates the circumstances that lead to her own destruction.

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Witches in Computer Games

[Written by Witch Awareness Month, contributor Andy Yates]

I feel that witches have a bad rep in video games. Well, OK, not just video games, but too many times they so often appear to be the bad guys or “in” with the bad guys. Evil Lyn from He-man, the White Witch from Narnia and the evil sorceress Ultimecia from Final Fantasy 8.

Ultimecia – obviously an evil witch..

So for Witch Awareness Month it made sense to bring awareness to some of the witches in games that are not necessarily evil (and maybe one that is) but who, more importantly, have remained memorable for me.

Starting with the Voodoo lady from Monkey Island adventures. Telltale games have brought out some of my favourite game series in recent years, and this continuation of the famous Monkey Island games was just excellent. These are interactive adventure games where you direct the gallant hero, Guybrush Threepwood, around each area picking up useful items and then completely misusing them elsewhere to progress through the story.

The Voodoo Lady in action.

The Voodoo lady sits comfortably in her lair practicing her powerful magic, performing tarot card readings and carefully manipulating the cast around her. While a rather over the top character I kind of liked that Telltale had no problem in portraying her as a plus sized Jamaican woman. Kind of brave from within an industry that is famous for its head-sized boobs and arm sized waists. The only other game I’ve known this happen in is Saints Row 3 but that’s a whole other story.

While the Voodoo lady hardly has a starring role in the game she does come up a lot and you’re never quite sure if she’s on Guybrush’s side despite her clues and help throughout the series.

Let’s move onto a completely different kind of game and a completely different kind of Witch. Dragon Age: Origins was the acclaimed new game and IP from Bioware back in 2009 and sported quite traditional western RPG mechanics and Tolkien-ish settings featuring huge castles, elves living in forests, powerful magic and epic battles against undead enemies (in this case called the Blight).

Your chosen character was part of a company which included the lovely Morrigan. And what a character she was; tough, intelligent, sharp tongued but also somehow very human and just evil enough so that you thought you could change her if you were nice enough! Although her dress sense was a little … unconventional, again this was most likely designed to appeal to the male dominated audience of the time (have things really changed that much though?)

Morrigan really provided an opposing balance to the team of otherwise mostly good characters and also had some of the best dialogue in the game. This was helped by having the best voice actor in the game, too.

Morrigan

Now we move from the slightly borderline evil to the most definitely evil Witch from Valve Software’s multiplayer action game series; Left4Dead and Left4Dead2.

This game pits you and three friends (or computer controlled players) against a zombie horde where your objective is to reach several safe zones and then be rescued in dramatic last-minute style! As well as the usual, generic standard (but quick) zombie there are also some special zombie types which includes the “Witch” special character. Ironically, where most games call their Witches “Mages” due to their special powers, the Witch in L4D has no special powers as such. She’s just very, very fast and very, very tough!

By default she’ll be sitting on the ground somewhere sobbing away, or slowly shambling in a random direction, also sobbing (aww). However get too close or foolishly take a pot shot at her and you’ll turn that sadness into a rage that has no end! To my mind the Witch is the most interest zombie you come across. This is because with most of the zombies you’ll do your best to take them head on and take them out, but the Witch is definitely best avoided. And because avoidance is the recommended strategy the “director” (the AI that controls the zombies) is very good at placing Witches in just the wrong (or by its judgement right) place so they’re bang smack in your way. Avoidance is not always possible and there’s just no way around them so you have to take them on. Usually this means one poor team-mate (sacrifice?) angering the Witch and taking the brunt of her attack while the others do their best to take her out!

So there we have it, three witches (well, OK, a mage, a voodoo lady and a zombie) that make up my fantasy football-coven of computer game characters. It’s a shame really that very few games use the term witch at all. Perhaps “The Witcher” which isn’t really a game about witches ironically enough. Or perhaps the Facebook game “Bubble-Witch Saga”, which I couldn’t bring myself to mention in full.

In fact I think I’ve yet to see a mainstream game that has a witch as a main character, but who knows in future! Maybe when the point-and-click adventure game conversion of Hedge Witch comes out we’ll finally have that experience.

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