The Sexualization of Evil
As TK reported this morning, there has been a recent glut of hot Hollywood females cast as Evil Witches and Witch Queens. To recap, there's Charlize Theron in Snow White and The Huntsman, Famke Janssen in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (TK said unknown role, but everything I've read lists her as the Head Witch) and Julia Roberts in Brothers Grimm: Snow White. (Are you sneering because I just lumped Julia "Horse Laugh" Roberts with those other gorgeous ladies? Listen, Roberts may not be your idea of beauty, but I know plenty of people who wouldn't kick her out of the ashram.)
The Evil Queen in any "Snow White" adaptation must, by definition, be beautiful. She is, of course, The Former Most Beautiful Champ Of Them All. She is, also, at least implicitly, a witch, given her deft hand with potions and magical talking mirror. She's a Glamour Witch. The villainess in Grimm's "Hansel and Gretel," on the other hand, is that other witchy standard, The Crone. While this new Hansel and Gretel is a retelling of the Grimm story (the brother and sister are all grown up and kicking Wiccan ass), the news of the Famke casting on the heels of these other Glamour Witches made me stop and think about the treatment of female sexuality and evil in film. Of course, I don't long for the day when Beauty was synonymous with Virtue and Age/Ugliness with Evil, but I enjoy a powerful villainess who doesn't rely on sexuality but, rather, has another well of power to draw on.
Here's a motley list of Evil Witches in film that, unlike, some of my other lists, is based around a question I don't as yet have the answer to. Is the increased sexualization of evil witches in film empowering or a dangerous correlation? I've arranged this list chronologically which also reveals the way in which fairy tale plots (and thus Witches) have moved out of being strictly for children. The fact that more adult (not that kind of adult) films are being made of Grimm and Anderson's works would explain the increased presence of a sexualized Evil Witch. The correlation, however, still troubles me.
1937--"Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs"
Here we have, as mentioned, a plot driven by the pursuit of beauty. Given that this is Disney, the Witch Queen is not overtly sexualized, but is tres glamourous. Interestingly, she drops the glamour and adopts a Crone guise to carry out her ultimate villainy. Changing from this:
1939--"The Wizard Of Oz"
It's the old Beauty/Virtue Ugly/Evil Battle in this film. The only beautiful thing of import to the Witch of the West is her wickedness.
Now, Maleficent is, in my opinion, the total package. She is a Glamour Witch who never once uses her foxiness as a trap. Once again, the Disney stamp may have something to do with that.
1963--"The Sword in The Stone"
I adore Madam Mim. What a Crone, indeed, and almost a match, powerwise, for Merlin. The squirrels are the only ones attempting seduction in this film.
Here's the most "adult" film yet on the list, but Queen Bavmorda is a Crone through and through. No seduction, just raw witchy power.
1989--"The Little Mermaid"
Ursula is a fantastic Evil Witch who, while certainly glamourous when it comes to waterproof eye make-up and lipstick, adopts a sexualized alter-ego "Vanessa" in order to steal Prince Eric.
Ms. Sarah Jessica Parker brings the sex and the glamour to this Evil Witch party. But (with apologies to Ms. Najimy) there's a Crone character too. So it's a mixed Witch bag.
2005--"The Brothers Grimm
Here's where it gets good. In this film, the Mirror Queen is granted eternal life, but not eternal beauty, and must drink the blood of twelve young maidens in order to become beautiful again. The rather scattered plot of this Gilliam film involves the smoking Monica Bellucci repeatedly seducing the hapless Brothers. In her powerless Crone form:
In full Glamour Witch mode:
In a strikingly similar plot, the three Crones in Stardust seek beauty and sexual power. In order to achieve her goal, Pfeiffer's Lamia changes from something Crone-like:
To something a bit sexier:
In fact, in this film, Sex/Beauty and Power are one and the same. Every time she uses a spell, the Witch loses a bit more Glamour.
Right Now--The Harry Potter Franchise
But maybe I'm making a tempest in a pot of tea, because in Harry Potter we have both a Crone:
And a Glamour Witch:
And they're both aces.
Joanna Robinson might lose all feminist cred when she admits to calling that last actress "Hella Wanna Bone Her Carter"