While the human cast of Robert Eggers cinematic juggernaut, THE WITCH, excels on every level (Anya Taylor-Joy’s portray of Thomasin is Oscar- worthy) a member of the genus Oreamnos proved a consistent scene-stealer. Black Phillip is a burly, yellow-eyed hulk of a Billy goat with an intimidating set of horns; he exemplifies everything haunting and unnerving about Capra hircus.
The Canadian bovine (whose real name is Charlie) turned out to be a real-life nightmare for Eggers and his crew; Black Phillip’s dangerous magnetism proved extremely difficult to harness. He described his experience working with the beast in a recent interview with Fangoria:
“But the animals were a real nightmare—actually, the hare and the raven and the horse and everything else were all fine. It was really just ‘Black Phillip,’ or Charlie, the goat. He basically wanted to sleep and attack Ralph [Ineson, who plays William]; those were his only two modes. It was so trying, and I was very concerned that we didn’t have a film when we wrapped, because I was just worried about the goat.”
Goats have become nearly synonymous with Satanism. While the species may have an unnecessarily sinister reputation, there’s no denying that there’s something deeply unnerving about both the domestic and mountain varieties. For me, it’s all about those bizarre rectangular irises that seem to see everything and nothing simultaneously. Not to mention those I-don’t-give-a-fuck smirks!
The goat-headed deity Baphomet was originally associated with the Knights Templar, but his image became central to Black Sabbath mythologies and witchcraft folklore. In his esoteric study, Dogme et Rituel occult author Éliphas Lévi described a 17th century illustration of the iconic immortal, supposedly culled from an authentic record of black magic:
Below this figure we read a frank and simple inscription—THE DEVIL. Yes, we confront here that phantom of all terrors, the dragon of the all theogenies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the old serpent of the Hebrews, the fantastic monster, the nightmare, the Croquemitaine, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and—worse than all these—the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemist, the obscene deity of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath.
Is it long-standing associations like these that have branded goats with such macabre connotations, or is it something even deeper? The fact that they have such formidable defenses (i.e. horns) means that even domestic goats are inherently more dangerous than other herd animal. And mountain goats seem to have an almost supernatural ability to navigate cliffs and valleys. A goat’s bleat can sound like a baby crying—or a grown man screaming. Goats are a naturally curious species with excellent night-vision, making them prone to mischievous nocturnal excursions. Goats will eat almost anything. Even without their unholy connotations, goats are incredibly creepy.
Producers of THE WITCH were well aware of Black Phillip’s power to captivate, having set the goat up with his own Twitter account several months ago. (You can follow the fiend: HERE.) And just as the film is destine to rank high in the chronicles of Horror History, Black Phillip is chilling enough to warrant his own spot in the Horror Villain’s Hall of Fame (at least as their mascot!). You’ll be haunted by many disturbing scenes and images in THE WITCH, but Black Phillip will likely be one of the most enduring.
Here’s one last fascinating fact about goats: They have 60 sets of chromosomes, while humans have just 46. Chew on that for a while.
Follow me on Twitter @josh_millican.