Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We are the weirdos, mister.

The Craft (1996) is one of the films that defined my early adolescence. A well worn VHS copy of the film still lives at my parents' house with many fond memories of my younger self trying to get other girls to watch it at sleepovers which, of course, was met with little enthusiasm. I've been thinking back about the films that shaped my interest in horror and The Craft was one of those films that came out that I was dying to see but too shy to actually say so. I believe I got my parents to take me by saying I was really, really bored so they dutifully and lovingly shuffled off with me to the cinema and watched it with me.

The Craft has changed in meaning throughout my life. When I first saw it I idolized those girls (mainly Sarah) because they were so unabashedly different. They were weird but cool and I'd never encountered anything like that. Throughout high school (possibly because I was so precocious) I abandoned the film for the classics that invented the genre like Rosemary's Baby or the earlier Hammer films. However, I very recently went back to the film and was so pleased that I watched it over and over when I was growing up. While it's not a perfect film it's a film that has really strong female characters but never hits the audience over the head with the feminist undertones. It's an "alternative" film that happens to deal with interesting female characters.

The film follows Sarah (Robin Tunney) who is revealed to be powerful natural witch as she moves to L.A. with her father and step-mother. She befriends Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk). They form a coven and are able to perform powerful spells that begin to spin out of control. The film explores and (possibly) problematizes the notion of sisterhood and feminine power. The witches must work together to control and maintain their powers but in the last act of the film the power hungry Nancy spins out of control killing and endangering those around her. Watching it again, I believe the "power-hungry" Nancy is a by-product of the inherent patriarchy of society. As a young woman she has no real power; her reputation at school has been hi-jacked by the douche-tastic Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and the broken home she lives in is very broken indeed. The "revenge" spells that these characters cast is out of a need to gain power that is continually taken away from them by outside forces.

I think the rise of The Craft in importance in my mind has shift since I've become a writer and film journalist. If we look at something as simple as The Bechdel Test it is truly terrifying how many films fail in that regard. There are so few strong female characters in popular culture that aren't defined by a relationship to a man. I love that this film is like an inverted fairy tale. The "prince" is actually a frog (aka a ho-bag, sexual assaulter) and the witch has the power within her the whole time. Much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz expect she doesn't need some gaudy-ass shoes to get back home. Sarah discovers her power through self-acceptance.

Watching this again made me think of my four year old niece who is happily watching Dora the Explorer and princess movies where the aforementioned princesses ride around on unicorns or whatever it is they do. I can't wait till I can show her this movie. 


  1. I was in college when this came out. I had no interest in it until a male friend told me it was good. I believe the phrase "like The Lost Boys, but with witches," was the selling point. Funny thing is, he was one of the most blatantly sexist people I know (or puts up that front anyway).

    I loved it immediately, and I still love it now. Your post gives me more ammunition to defend it to those who would give me shit about it. Viva La Craft!

  2. Does the film seem dated to you at all? To me, it's a totally 90's "feeling" film (if that makes any sence) and I think the timing of it's release couldn't have been more suitable with "alternative" and gothic subcultures being quite en vogue at the time.

  3. @Marvin we are right. It is a really fun film and deserves a lot more credit than it generally gets.

    @Tom The film does definitely have dated elements but I find they are pretty minimal. (actually the most dated element is the couch in Nancy's new apartment after they get the life insurance. it looks like a reject from the "Friends" set) Watching it last week there was a sense that it capture that "alternative" moment in the 90s so beautifully. I also occasionally teach at a high school and those alternative groups still exist and think they're doing it for the first time. Awwww....

  4. I'll take your word for it, it had been a good while since I'd thought of the film before I happened on your post. I will say that looking back one thing it didn't have was a predictable soundtrack. You'd think the soundtrack for a film about high school outcast witches from 1996 would be filled with stuff like Nine Inch Nails and Marylin Manson, not Jewl and Our Lady Peace.

    1. It's definitely worth a re-watch. It's not without its problems but I thought a nostalgic love for the film would carry me through the viewing, it's actually quite good in my opinion.