A Collection of Caliginous Choppings

Posts tagged “Night of the Creeps

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the third slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

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If Santa Claus knocks at your door tonight, don’t answer. — from Roger Ebert’s review

Ho ho ho! Hope you’re in the holiday spirit, I sure know that I am! Today I am getting at the root of the Killer Santa with the original 1972 Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt, directed by Freddie Francis. As far as I can ascertain (from a perfunctory Google search) this film is the first to feature a murderous madman clad in the red and white-trimmed suit. If that is incorrect, and you know of an earlier film with a killer from the North Pole, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Tonight’s treat is stocking-stuffed full of revenge tales and evil-doers getting their just desserts — a common thread through all of my X-mas picks this season thus far! Tales from the Crypt sees five strangers united on a tour of some old English catacombs. We, the viewer don’t know why they’re here, and they themselves don’t either. The central five are quickly separated from the rest of the group and joined by a mysterious cloaked figure — The Crypt Keeper. Now, honestly, Ralph Richardson isn’t The Crypt Keeper that I grew up with — he has much more flesh on his bones and much less cheesy jokes than HBO’s early 90s incarnation. But, as a very dry, slightly sardonic purveyor of eternal condemnation, he works in this role. Plus, he was knighted, so you know that means he’s one of the queen’s own actors. Indeed, the acting is very strong through-out this entire picture, but I also get a sense that they are all playing very familiar roles. With the exception of Peter Cushing, who plays a down-on-his-luck trash collector, the main actors are all well-to-do high society types, that just tend to rub middle-class me the wrong sort of way.

. . . And All Through the House

Case in point is Joan Collins as a money grubbing wife who kills her husband on Christmas Eve. The first thing that she does after clubbing the man in the head is not to clean up the murder scene, but to check the safe to see that his insurance papers are all in order. But then two things happen to up the ante. The first is that the couple’s daughter calls down from her upstairs bedroom. The second is that the radio announces that old crazy guy on the loose from the mental institution trope: “a man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane . . . and may be wearing a Santa Claus costume.” (I know this trope seems well-worn, but the only other time I can actually remember it from a film is Night of the Creeps.)

Now the murderous mother has to deal not only with cleaning up her crime scene, but also keeping the madman outside, and her daughter on the inside. The TV version of this episode has much more back and forth between the woman and Santa, but the ending to that plays out much the same here in the original. I won’t ruin either of them for you if you haven’t seen them. Just note that the Santa here is more likely to be seen on a Macy’s float while the latter Crypt Santa is more akin to the drooling on his straight-jacket in a padded cell sort of criminally insane.

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Reflection of Death

The second story in this anthology stars Ian Hendry as a man who leaves his wife and children to run away with his mistress. Only, obviously, things don’t go as they planned. Hendry wakes up from a nightmare during the drive, and moments afterward they are involved in a pretty wicked car crash. The car flips upside down several times, with silly slow motion cuts of each of them banging around the car’s interior. Then, seemingly moments after the crash, the man awakes to find himself in the English countryside, near his burned out car. As the viewers, we follow his POV shot through the woods looking for help, but everyone he stumbles upon runs or drives away. He returns to his wife’s house to have the door slammed on his face and her scream in terror. The reveal of whatever is so hideous and repulsive about this man doesn’t happen until he visits the apartment of his mistress and sees . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. I felt that Reflection of Death was the weakest of the tales in this film. It was one of those easy to see twist endings, as well as one of those weird, too funny to take seriously dream endings. It’s all very well shot and well acted, but just not up to the standard of the rest of the stories.

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Poetic Justice

The third story features the late great Peter Cushing as a down-on-his-luck Mr. Rogers type character named Mr. Grimsdyke. All of the neighborhood children love him, and frequently visit his home to take in puppet shows and recieve gifts. Unfortunately, Mr. Grimsdyke is unfairly hated by his very well-off neighbor played by Robin Phillips. This entitled bastard takes it upon himself to get Grimsdyke to leave the neighborhood in an effort to ease their property taxes. It is laughable to see what the neighbor’s call a veritable pigsty actually be so clean and tidy. Perhaps they were offended by Grimsdyke’s finger-less hobo gloves. So, this young prick makes Grimsdyke’s life hell by first tearing up another neighbor’s rosebushes and getting the police to take Grimsdyke’s dogs away. Next, he gets him fired from his job as a trash-collector and then makes all the families in the neighborhood keep their children away from him. And if that isn’t enough, he sends the poor old man a bunch of NASTY Valentine’s Day cards.

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This kindly old man just can’t take it any more. Distraught after all of the vitriolic hatred, he decides to end his life by hanging himself in the pantry. With smug satisfaction the entitled young man and his father find the body, and for them at least, all is finally right in the neighborhood. Only, poetic justice is served, when one year later Grimsdyke rises from the grave to deliver his own Valentine’s Day card. This story is probably the best of the bunch in part to Cushing who was playing a character pretty similar to himself. Throughout Grimsdyke talked to the photograph of his deceased wife Helen when in reality Cushing’s own wife Helen had passed away about a year before this film. (I can’t comment on the actor’s use of a ouijia board or automatic writing device to contact her though.)

Wish You Were Here

The fourth story is a classic spin on that old story The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. In fact, they even reference that story in this one! Richard Greene plays a business faced with mounting debts. Either he can go into bankruptcy, or sell off all of his collected artwork to stave off financial ruin. Surprisingly, he decides to be honorable, and sell of his excesses. That is when his wife stumbles across an oriental statue that promises to deliver them the standard three wishes. Immediatedly, despite a caution from the businessman himself, she wishes for their wealth back. Lo and behold, they get a call to meet with their lawyer, but when Greene goes he is chased by a skeletal biker, crashes, and dies. The wife, however, becomes well off because of her husband’s ample life insurance.

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Knowing that she has still has two wishes, and distraught about her husband’s death, she uses another wish — again, despite the warning from the lawyer — and asks for him to be returned to her just as he was before the car crash. Some mysterious undertakers bring in the husband’s coffin and lay it out saying he had a heart attack right before the crash. Second wish wasted. She also wastes the third wish to ironic effect, but I won’t say what happens, except that of all five protagonists, this guy gets the rawest deal in the end, and actually given what happens, he shouldn’t be with the others in the Crypt Keeper’s prescence. It is the foolish wife who brings down all the trouble on this man.

Blind Alleys

The movie’s last story sees Nigel Patrick as Major William Rogers, the newly appointed superintendant for the Elmridge Home for the Blind. He addresses his men in the most military of fashions, and turns the home more into a barracks than a convalescent home. The blind men are not pleased, especially as the major and his German shepherd feast on steak and wine while they must eat meatless slop and sleep in their frigid beds on cold, heatless nights. When one of the blind men dies the others have finally had enough. They decide to take over the hospital and punish the major (and his dog) for how they have treated him.

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The blind men lock up the major and his dog in separate cells in the basement. Then they go to work with wooden boards, saws, hammers, and nails, blindly shambling through their construction zone like zombies. Once they are finished, they open the door to the major’s cell, and he is faced with a Saw-esque torture hall covered with exposed razor blades. There is no going back, and he must proceed . . . to his doom!

This was such a fun film. It much less cornball than the 90s TV show, but I think there is still a healthy amount of sardonic charm and cinematic irony to make this fun for the whole family. It is only rated PG after all! It is well acted with a nicely rounded cast. Also, this is just dripping with Gothic charm as the visuals of a rundown cemetery at the opening and the music, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the opening and closing, contribute to something that is very British, sophisticated yet atmospheric. It also doesn’t betray its comic book roots, as the blood throughout is bright vivid red. There isn’t anything too gory, but there madman Santa, as well as the Peter Cushing zombie have been iconic images in the horror genre.

If you haven’t watched Tales from the Crypt recently, then the holiday season might be just the time for you and yours to enjoy something shocking, yet pleasing for all, young and old.


The Infestation of the Nutty Joes

Sometimes you don’t have time to sit down for a full length movie. Sometimes you get tired of tearing through episode after episode of your favorite TV show. Sometimes life is just too busy, and then you have to get your horror in shorter bits and pieces. That’s when it’s best to go with a short  film. In my time of scouring the depths of the internet, I’ve found a treasure trove of horrific short films that I’ll be blogging about here. The first of which is a creepy claymation film titled The Infestation of the Nutty Joes.

This is a weird, fun little ride through a city that is plagued by a unique type of zombie. The title is apt in calling them nutty, because rather than eating their victims, they laugh them into — not death, but conversion. Get close enough, and hear a Nutty Joe’s jabbering for long enough, and your own head will explode, only to be replaced by a Nutty Joe. In this way, it is a bit like Pontypool, in that the virus or disease or whatever is spread verbally.

There are plenty of zombie movie tropes in this one, but what I love the most is how it flips around the zombie outbreak source falling from the sky (ala Night of the Comet or Night of the Creeps) and makes that a giant brain. Out of which pops our initial Nutty Joe! Also, it’s not a spoiler to say that this short work has a typical zombie movie non-ending, akin to Demons. (Too be fair though, it seems like a sequel was planned, but never made.)

The Infestation of the Nutty Joes was created by Jan Stephens. He is an animator and illustrator living in England. Check out more of his creepy, weird, and downright nutty works on his website.


American Horror Story: Coven — “Burn, Witch. Burn!”

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American Horror Story: Coven continues to wow me! This week’s episode, “Burn, Witch. Burn!,” has upped the ante on typical television (The Walking Dead) zombie gore, with an outrageous sequence of Zoe (Taissa Farminga) wielding a chainsaw. Along with the extended zombie attack, there was an initial seed of character progression with Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) who was attacked with acid in the last episode. And of course, as the title alludes to, there was a witch burning at the stake.

Synopsis

First, the episode opens on All Hallows Eve in 1833 with a reinforcement of Madam Delphine (Kathy Bates) LaLaurie’s despicability, as she shows off her chamber of horrors to the suitor of one of her daughters. He is grossed out by a dish full of eyeballs and a string of eviscerated intestines. Following this incident, LaLaurie catches her daughters plotting against her, and she has them abducted from their beds and imprisoned for a full year. These daughters are now zombies on the steps of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies where LaLaurie, Zoe, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Nan (Jamie Brewer), and neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon) are trapped.

Nan says that the people besieging the house are dead, as she cannot hear them. Luke thinks that it is all a prank, so he goes outside to tell them off. For a moment they are in a catatonic, unmoving state, and neither Luke nor some teenagers (complimenting their awesome prosthetics) can rouse them. Then Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), floating in her voodoo chamber, tells the zombies to “BEGIN.” They kill the random teens, and would have gotten Luke as well, if Nan hadn’t ran outside to save him. Zoe instructs Spalding (Denis O’Hare) to hustle the others upstairs, (but not, he silently indicates to his room), then she goes outside to find Nan and Luke trapped inside a car.

Zoe calls the zombies to pull them away from the car, but it seems to be a poorly thought-out plan, as they quickly chase her into a shed. Back inside the house, LaLaurie sees her daughter and opens the door to let her in. While LaLaurie seems to be rediscovering her humanity (unconvincingly, I might add), the living dead daughter has lost whatever remained of hers, and she attacks her mother. The shot cuts away with LaLaurie being held up off her feet, and the ghoul with a stranglehold around her neck. Unexplainably, later this same zombie is upstairs, and stalks Queenie after bludgeoning Spalding with a candle stick. Queenie uses a shard of glass and slices her own throat, transferring the effect with her human voodoo doll powers, and dusty gore sprays from the zombie’s throat. It doesn’t die though, until LaLaurie (frazzled, but seemingly unharmed) shoves a firepoker through its back and out its front.

Queenie says, “Holy shit, you killed it!” And this point proves that we aren’t in Romero zombie territory, but instead the witches are battling something more akin to the tele-fantastic zombies from The Video Dead — they have to be damaged enough to be killed again. Instead of discussing how to kill the rest of the ghouls, LaLaurie wallows, saying “She had a monster for a mother. This last act was the only kindness I ever did for her.”

Back outside, Nan and Luke make a run for the house, but Luke collapses and is too weak to move from blood loss. All seems lost as the zombies bear down on them, until Zoe appears with a MOTHERFLIPPING CHAINSAW! She does her best Bruce Campbell impression and slices and dices the dead until the chainsaw predictably sputters and dies. Instead of dismembering the last zombie, Zoe outstretches her arm and says some magic (Being of nature?) words. It collapses, as does Laveau in her voodoo chamber, who remarks, “I don’t know what that was, but they got some real power in that witchouse now.”

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Elsewhere in New Orleans, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) accompanies Cordelia to the hospital after catching a glimpse of a black-cloaked figure leaving the bar. Fiona has a breakdown after learning that her daughter is now blind. What follows are several dreamy sequences of Fiona walking down hospital corridors (complete with flickering lights and abandoned wheelchairs), pilfering pills from a storeroom, receiving a weird message from a creepy-looking (diaper-wearing) patient, and resurrecting a stillborn baby for a grieving mother. These shots are blurry, and coupled with the camera-work bouncing back and forth, give the viewer some insight into Fiona’s mental state.

Later Cordelia’s murderous, secret-life living husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) shows up to the hospital. Fiona has an angry spat with him, including the great jab “You’re one step up from the men who stand in front of Home Depot.” Ultimately Fiona leaves him alone with Cordelia, and as he holds onto her hand, Cordelia has a sudden vision of all of Hank’s secrets.

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The next day sees the witches burning a big pile of zombie corpses, which apparently nobody else in the neighborhood much minds the smell of. Fiona tells Nan that Luke can stay until he is fully healed, and she also praises Zoe for protecting the coven. Then LaLaurie tries to bond with her over their shared terrible mothering skills. While LaLaurie hopes that their tragedies will bring them closer together, Fiona puts her in her place, telling her that “I doubt it, you are after all, the maid.”

The council returns and informs Fiona that she must abdicate her Supremecy of the coven. Instead Fiona pulls a political power play that fingers (acid-burned) Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) as the one who has committed all of the recent (and past) transgressions against the coven. Fiona produces photographic proof that Snow had been spying and plotting against her, and then has Queenie put acid burns on Snow’s hand to implicate her as Cordelia’s attacker. With all of this evidence, the Council has no choice but to condemn Myrtle Snow to death by burning at the stake.

Snow takes these accusations in stride. She decides it would be better to die than to stay connected to a coven that has become so polluted and mislead by Fiona’s personal ambition and lust for power. She says, “I go proudly to the flame. Go ahead. Burn me.”

Which they do. The witches’ albino mafia-looking goons tie up Snow, douse her with gasoline, and then Fiona ignites her with a lit cigarette, all while Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time plays over the scene. Snow burns for several agonizing seconds until her spirit seems to fly outward. The others are all mesmerized by the flames, but Fiona calmly walks away.

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The episode is essentially over here, except for a quick scenes that indicate where the story will be going in the next week:

  • Queenie expresses guilt about her part in implicating Snow, but Fiona placates her with the idea that she’ll help her to become the next Supreme of the coven.

  • Spalding sprays a lot of aerosol to cover up the stench of Madison’s visibly rotting corpse, stuck inside a trunk. He is dressed (bonnet and nightgown) for a teaparty, but when he tries to pull Madison out, her arm snaps off.

  • The episode ends with Misty Day (Lily Rabe) finding Myrtle Snow’s burned corpse. She uses her power of resurrection to bring Snow back to life.

Some Thoughts

I reference The Video Dead earlier in this blog, but the zombies also seem a bit like those from Burial Ground in their tool use, wielding hoes and axes. Also, the sequence held a bit of Night of the Creeps for me.

This episode really had a B-movie quality that I loved. Lange wandering around a creepy looking hospital was straight out of something like Session 9, Silent Hill, or akin to Laurie Strode in the deserted hospital in Halloween 2. Also, the fact that the zombie that attacks Kathy Bates illogically ends up in another part of the house, without killing Bates adds to the B-movie lack of logic. I think it is deliberate. While a show like The Walking Dead does (and should) take itself seriously, AHS has much more leeway to have fun.

I don’t like how Kathy Bates’s character is so hard and evil in the 1830s but rather grandmotherly in the present day. I’m not saying that this shift in character can’t (or shouldn’t) happen, but I don’t believe that it could have happened so quickly. It’s not like she changed during her time underground. She goes in a racist old coot, comes out a racist old coot, and then in the span of a few days becomes a softer, more grandmotherly person. Again, I like that her character is changing, but I don’t think it has been earned yet, especially when it opens by reinforcing how much of a wretched person she used to be.

Lily Rabe is back but only in a short bit. I have a feeling that she’ll play a bigger part in the next episode by teaming up with Frances Conroy’s character. Perhaps they’ll join with the voodoo sect against the coven, or maybe it will be Misty Day that has to chose between joining the coven and betraying Myrtle Snow, or sticking with the other witchy outcast.

I’m curious now to learn more about Hank and Cordelia’s relationship. I mean, obviously he knows she is a witch, but it seems that she has no idea about his secret life until this episode. Does he possibly have some superpowers in him too? Or is he just a murderous scumbag?

Come back later in the week for more witchy woman B-movie on TV goodness when American Horror Story: Coven returns with “The Axeman Cometh.”


American Horror Story: Coven — Bitchcraft

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The Beat-by-Beat

American Horror Story is back with an all new season — Coven. And if you couldn’t guess from the subtitle, this story is all about witches. ‘Bitchcraft’ (the episode name tells me these ladies be sassy!) opens in New Orleans in 1834. Kathy Bates is Madam Delphine LaLaurie, the sadistic mistress of a large mansion who hosts opulent parties in the front rooms, while up in the attic hides away tortured slaves shackled to the walls or stuck in cages too small for human bodies. And those are the lucky ones who haven’t been flayed alive. LaLaurie has three daughters, one of which is openly defiant and brazen in her sexuality. The madam takes her kin in stride though, as she is all too concerned with keeping her girlish looks by painting on a red concoction of blood and pancreatic secretions (all in the name of beauty). When LaLaurie’s youngest is caught cavorting with a black freedman, she has the man taken up to the attic of horrors and mounted with the head head of a bull!

Cut to present day. Young Zoe Benson, played by Taissa Farmiga (missing from last season’s Asylum series, but present in AHS’s first, Murder House), is having her very first sexual tryst with a boyfriend. This first lesson of carnal knowledge also comes with the revelation that she is not a regular teenage girl. Things do not end well for her partner, as Zoe discovers that she has the power to suck the life out of men.

Zoe, obviously distraught over this turn of events, is informed by her mother that she is indeed a witch, despite the genetic trait having skipped a generation or two. Consequently, she is sent away to a boarding school (a regular Hogwarts) in New Orleans. Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is run by Cordelia Foxx (AHS alum Sarah Paulson) and hosts a coven of three other witches in training: Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a Lindsey Lohan-esque party-girl actress with the power of telekinesis; Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) a human voodoo doll who can inflict pain on others by physically harming herself; and Nan (Jamie Brewer, another AHS season 1 returnee), a clairvoyant.

The coven is rounded out by Fiona Goode (played by the fabulous Jessica Lange). Fiona is the “Supreme” of this witch generation, meaning that she is the most powerful (and likely also most ambitious) witch walking the Earth. Her powers are tantamount to those of all the other witches combined. She can levitate, do Jedi-mind tricks, toss people aside with a mere flick of the wrist, and steal the life-force away from a man with a single kiss. This last power seems to be waning however, and Fiona is depicted as being on a quest for youth. Following a failed injection of vitality serum, she soulsucks the scientist who developed it, and then decides to drop back in on her estranged daughter Cordelia and the school’s bevy of neophytes.

The night before Fiona’s return is a deadly and eventful one, when Zoe accompanies Madison to a frat house party. There, Zoe meets Kyle (AHS stalwart Evan Peters), the mature fratboy of the group (who doesn’t mind being reduced to a stereotype). While the characters of Peters and Farmiga were fated to love each other for eternity in AHS: Murder House, this pair hardly has a chance to get their relationship started, as a drugged Madison is being raped upstairs by Kyle’s frat brothers. Kyle puts the kibosh on that and tries to talk some reason into his fraternal brethren, but only gets knocked out for his trouble. Zoe and the now conscious Madison follow the fratboys out to their bus, where Madison uses her power to get revenge by toppling over the bus and setting it ablaze.

The next day, in a powerplay that is sure to continue throughout the season, Fiona defies Cordelia’s wishes and takes the students on a tour of historic haunted New Orleans. First stop: the LaLaurie Mansion! It is here that Fiona realizes that her aims coincide Madam LaLaurie’s, who had been poisoned and presumed dead, but whose body was never found. Fortunately Nan is able to locate the body buried near a fountain, and wouldn’t you know it, after Fiona has a few men dig up the chained coffin, out pops a rather befuddled, but altogether alive Madam LaLaurie.

Following the encouragement to embrace their powers by Fiona (rather than Cordelia’s method of self-preservation through hiding) Zoe goes back to the hospital where two of the fratboys had survived the bus crash. She is dismayed to see that Kyle was not one of the survivors, but she is able to extract a bit of vengeance by killing the one who initiated Madison’s gangrape. Sexual promiscuity equalling death is one of the oldest tropes in the horror genre, but never has it been so hamfistingly clear as when it is portrayed by a witch deathfucking a comatose victim.

My Thoughts

This season of American Horror Story has started out in a much more linear fashion than the last season. It is much less schizophrenic, which is a good thing, considering the change of setting. Last season got away with showing a lot of crazy stuff because the main theme was sanity. This season seems like it will stick to a traditionally told (main storyline told chronologically, with some flashbacks to the 1800s).

The initial voiceover with Zoe seemed a bit amateurish at first, but it was much less annoying during the ending of the show. These younger actresses (Taissa Farmiga & Emma Roberts) have quite a bit of work to do to get to the level of a Jessica Lange or Kathy Bates. But being on set and able to perform with such veterans should give them quite the leg up. One of the best aspects of this show (apart from being the best written horror series currently on TV — sorry Walking Dead) is the fantastic acting. Lange can really chew up the set pieces if given the right material, and I thought that Sarah Paulson really shined last season too. The interplay between these two (as well as Bates) should be captivating to see.

I didn’t mention in my beat-by-beat about the short appearances by other American Horror Story alumnae Frances Conroy and Lily Rabe, but they were both good too. Conroy was the one who personally shuttled Zoe to New Orleans, so I assume that she serves as some sort of talent scout for the coven. I’m sure we’ll see her character again in the series, probably in a more limited role like last season. Rabe, unfortunately, played covenless witch Misty Day who was discovered and burned at the stake. Although it looks like she is dead, given that this story is about witchcraft and one of their powers being resurrection, she may return.

Also, Angela Bassett was the witch (voodoo priestess?) who poisoned Bates. Certainly we haven’t seen the last of her!

The fratboys in the deadly bus crash reminded me of the similar scene in Night of the Creeps. I doubt American Horror Story will feature any brain-dwelling alien slugs though (at least not this season anyway). Also the subject of rape and fraternities is all too topical these days given this rapebait email scandal.

Finally, it seems to me that witches are presently having their day in the sun (er, full blood moon night). One of the summer’s biggest horror films was The Conjuring, and this show as well as the surprisingly not terrible Sleepy Hollow TV show prominently feature witches. I’m all for it, and say, let the zombies shamble on into the sunset; this is a witch’s time to shine.