The witch story has always been popular in horror fiction. Tales of dark magic users dealing with the devil or casting curses on their hapless enemies or secretive covens meeting in deep forests to enact sacred rites have long excited the imaginations of readers. Frequently, in these tales, witches were the antagonists, portrayed in negative and terrifying ways. Lately, however, witches and wizards have enjoyed a rise in popularity due to stories like Harry Potter, and like the vampire, because of this, witches and wizards have lost some of their inherent scariness.
Additionally, as witchcraft and Wicca have become more recognized as religions, witch horror has begun to take on aspects of religious horror, where the religion is portrayed in a positive light. In this case, witches will often be protagonists of stories and use their powers to fight against malevolent forces. Whether casting the witch in the role of protagonist fighting against dark forces or the malevolent antagonist, modern witch horror still has all of the magically captivating elements of earlier tales. There are still dark curses, deals with the devil, and secret rites. There will be elements of magic and the supernatural in witch horror.
The level of violence and graphic detail will vary in witch horror because witches have attracted writers from all corners of the horror genre. Here, you will find novels by the extreme horror icon, Richard Laymon, but you'll also find creepy and atmospheric tales. Regardless of the violence or whether the witch is the protagonist, there's plenty of creepiness to be found in witch horror.
Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in witch horror varies, but in general, tends to be moderate to high, particularly in more modern stories. In more modern witch horror, the witches are given more depth beyond simply being a magical, and possibly evil, character.
Level of Plot: The level of plot in witch horror will be low to moderate. In general, if a witch is the protagonist of the story, the story will center around the witch discovering her powers. If the witch is the antagonist, the level of plot will be similar to that of any other form of supernatural horror, where the witch will terrorize a character or group of characters with magic, and these characters will struggle to stop it.
Level of Supernatural: The level of supernatural in witch horror is very high as witches often use magic or employ the aid of supernatural creatures.
Level of Scary: The level of scary in witch horror is moderate to high as witch stories tend to more graphically depict spooky events than less scary subgenres horror, which merely suggest it.
Level of Violence: The level of violence varies widely in witch horror, but expect at least some violence to occur as dark curses cannot be cast nor evil demons fought without some level of violence.
Typical Setting: Similar to supernatural horror, small towns seem to be the most likely settings for witch horror, and Salem, with its history of witchcraft, seems to be a particularly popular setting.
Due to the magical nature of witches, supernatural horror is naturally related to witch horror, as are other subgenres that are often lumped together in the "occult" horror subgenre. These include: voodoo horror, and Satanic horror. Dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and cross-genre horror could also be related to witch horror as these all use similar elements of magic.
Magic. If you are looking for more realistic thrills, or if you prefer your supernatural to be more suggestive than explicit, witch horror is probably not the genre for you. Additionally, as witches tend to be predominantly female, if you don't want stories with strong female characters, the witch horror genre may not be for you.
Dreams in the Witch House by H.P. Lovecraft- Walter Gilman, a student at Miskatonic University, rents a room in a house that is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a witch who disappeared during the Salem witch trials. Immediately, Gilman has strange dreams that involve the witch and some spooky and unearthly creatures, but are these merely dreams?
Dark Mountain by Richard Laymon- When two families go hiking in the California woods, they quickly realize that they are not alone. An old witch and her violent and depraved son stalk the families, and soon, the group knows that curses are all too real.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- In this series opener, Rowan Mayfair returns to New Orleans following the death of her estranged mother and learns of her family's secret history and her own terrifying power.
Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber- A college professor convinces his wife that her witchy ways are a result of age-old superstition, but when she abandons the craft, their comfortable life begins to unravel.
Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli- When his mother dies, Thomas inherits the responsibility of caring for his brothers, conjoined triplets who can foresee the future. He also inherits a prominent position in the backwater county of Kingdom Come, a responsibility that the local witches feel that Thomas has neglected, which can only mean trouble for Thomas.
Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- When scholar Diana Bishop accidentally discovers a lost manuscript, sought after by a horde of unsavory supernatural creatures, she must unleash her own power and rely on the protection of a handsome vampire.
Sacrifice by John Everson- In the sequel to Covenant, reporter Joe Kiernan becomes a reluctant hero when the beautiful but insane, Ariana learns the secret of summoning dark and malevolent spirits.
Witches of Eastwick by John Updike- Magic is alive and well in the 1960's town of Eastwick, Rhode Island. A small coven of witches lives rather peaceably until the arrival of the dashing Daryl van Horne.
Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe- Harvard graduate student, Connie Goodwin unearths a dark family secret when she is asked to handle the sale of her grandmother's home in Salem.
Wither by J.G.Passarella- Evil seeps into the town of Windale, Massachusetts when three young women become the targets of the ghosts of centuries old witches.