F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror THE CRAFT

F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror THE CRAFT

Horrorific content by jessicagomez on July 07th, 2020 | Culture | Supernatural, Teen, Witchcraft

A Monthly Column Dissecting Teen Horror Favorites

Andrew Fleming’s quintessential nineties witchcraft film The Craft remains one of the most iconic horror movies ever made, despite its low death count. Ahead of its time for addressing real issues, including low self-esteem, grief, mental health, poverty, domestic violence, date rape, and racism, this movie is somehow not only watchable, but the kind of movie you can, and will, watch over and over again. A lesson in successful filmmaking. 

Sarah (Robin Tunney, fresh off Empire Records) moves from San Francisco to Los Angeles after a suicide attempt, and her dad enrolls her at a Catholic School, where she’s quickly swept into a group of girls (Fairuza Balk as Nancy, Rachel True as Rochelle, Neve Campbell as Bonnie) that the jocks call the “Bitches of Eastwick” (for you Witches of Eastwick fans). Bonnie catches Sarah secretly using magic, and immediately knows that the group has found “their fourth” - a witch they’ve been looking for to call the four corners of North, South, East and West of the universe in order to experience new capabilities. After seeing the scars on Sarah’s wrists, Bonnie notes, “You even did it the right way”, to which Nancy responds “Punk rock.” Seeking friendship and approval, Sarah goes along with the group, even though she doesn’t always agree with their brash style of living.

Sarah has never understood her own power. While her new friends have learned The Craft, Sarah’s powers come from within - a connection to her mother that she never knew existed, pressing her to learn more to strengthen their bond. Because Sarah’s abilities are pure, it provides a gateway to new powers for all of the girls. It isn’t long before Nancy becomes drunk with this newfound power, all the while jealous of Sarah’s natural ability.

Each of the witches is seeking something different from their lives, but above all, they long for acceptance without conformity - from society, and from themselves. Sarah’s suicide attept is rooted in her loneliness and inability to connect with her dead mother, whose death she feels responsible for. Bonnie has scars so deep that doctors believe they are impossible to clear after painful treatments, but after Sarah joins the group, the scars disappear, giving Bonnie newfound confidence which quickly turns to narcissism. Rochelle wants a stuck-up, popular racist girl on her swim team to stop bullying her and to accept her as an equal, and she even feels guilty for taking revenge on her once she sees that she’s made her feel as badly as she had been made to feel. Rochelle has as much of a conscience as Sarah, but she is easily swept up in Nancy’s dictatorship and follows her direction blindly. Once Nancy realizes she can seek vengeance for people who have wronged her, it isn’t long before she takes it over the edge, and when Sarah dares go against the group, the witches choose their power over her friendship.

While witchcraft may be out of the norm for most, it was secondary to more prevalent themes. The Craft was an account of a realistic high school experience, especially for outcasts - cruel high school bullies, lying jocks, and constant peer pressure. Topics that were normally reserved for adults were put on the forefront for teenagers without patronizing them. These serious subjects resonated with young people who usually aren’t given credit for their real-life exposure to this material. Despite Nancy’s warnings from a prior sexual experience with him, Chris (Skeet Ulrich) becomes Sarah’s love interest, and after she casts a love spell on him, he attempts date rape. In the 90s, rape was really just coming to light as a commonality of high school and college-aged girls’ experience, and it was groundbreaking to expose not a stranger, but a good-looking high school athlete’s capability to turn his desires into something nefarious. Sarah, not for the first or the last time, saves herself from harm.

Some of the most iconic scenes, such as Sarah changing her hair color, Rochelle floating above the floor during a game of ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board’, and Nancy’s traditional witch shoes dragging across the floor before forcing Chris out a window, were also its most revolutionary. Fleming was a fairly new director yet was unafraid to push the boundaries of filmmaking, and it made all the difference when it came to the special effects. 

To cast a Black female actress as a lead in a horror film was ahead of its time, though Rachel True has spoken at length about the difference in treatment from media and events she received in comparison to the other, white lead actors - including exclusions as recent as 2018. Christine Taylor could not have looked more like cheerleader Americana, and for Fleming to cast her as racist was an influential move to prove that racism runs rampant everywhere, especially in popular cliques throughout 90s high schools.

Aside from the real issues it tackled (set to a badass soundtrack), The Craft’s success was due in part to its perfect casting. Skeet Ulrich and Neve Campbell were cast as leads in two horror movies released the same year, proving their on-screen allure; The Craft and Scream catapulted them into teen horror canon. And there remains no witchier actress than Fairuza Balk, who emonated her role so well that you believed she truly had powers and had allowed it to drive her over the edge. Rumors swirled over the years about her possibly practicing Wicca, which hasn’t been proven - though there was a Wiccan hired to keep the details of the occult correct and shown respectfully. Balk did, however, purchase an occult shop while filming The Craft, and a report from the LA Times noted that the film was incredibly influential in millennial interest in the occult, a fascination that continues to this day. 

As I’m sure many others can say, The Craft remains my favorite horror movie for fashion; it’s horror’s Clueless. It made it cool to be weird; the ‘normal’ kids became the outsiders in this tale. You’d be hard-pressed to find a young female viewer who didn’t envy the coven as Nancy throws a kiss to her gawking classmates. Gone were the notions of the stereotypical haggard, ugly witch, casting deadly spells. These witches were young, beautiful, alternative, and strong. Working together and using their divine femininity, they found supremacy that was a force too powerful for any man to stand against - all the while serving up iconic fashion that would influence the sexy gothic look that came to popularity in the 90s.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer paved the way for a beautiful teenager to wield such strength, but this archetype of alternative girls practicing the occult was a new prospect. Films like Practical Magic and the TV series Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch followed the successful formula, casting young, attractive women working together to use witchcraft, but none did it as remarkably or as darkly as The Craft.

In 2019, Blumhouse announced that they had enlisted actress and new writer Zoe Lister-Jones to adapt the original screenplay and to direct. I appreciate that the remake will have a woman’s touch to tell women’s stories, but Peter Filardi’s writing was on the money, and you can only capture that 90s schoolgirl gothic look once before it’s imitation. I only hope it inspires a younger generation to seek out the original. It’s truly magical.

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