CULT CORNER: The Craft (1996)

Richard tells us why teenage hormones and witchcraft shouldn’t go hand-in-hand.  

Who made it?: Andrew Fleming (Director/Co-Writer), Peter Filardi (Co-Writer), Douglas Wick (Producer), Columbia Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer.

Tagline: “Welcome to the Witching Hour.”

IMDb rating: 6.2/10.

In keeping with horror month, I have decided to review The Craft, which I feel is a teen drama first and a flick about a witches’ coven second. I say its a teen drama because its about four teenage girls who don’t fit in with any of the social cliques at their school, but are also trying to find ways to deal with their various life situations and find some acceptance. They discover that they all possess magical powers and use them to gain things they want. I feel, with this premise, the film explores the main underlying theme which is the consequences of one’s actions. They all selfishly want various things and use their powers to get them, but don’t consider the impact this might have on those around them. In this review, I will be delving into the various character motivations and explaining why they use their powers for their own purposes, and how each one fits into the main theme.

The character of Sarah played by Robin Tunney has low self-esteem and wants to be loved by others and wants to love herself more. On the face of it, she doesn’t appear to have too many problems as she has loving parents, the house she has moved into is pretty big, and she seems to be a perfectly normal teen girl starting at a new school. But she says at one point that she used to have nightmarish visions of snakes and other nasty creatures, and it got to a point when she tried to commit suicide. She has a lot of inner-pain and she also caused the death of her mother during childbirth, mainly wanting to come to terms with what she caused. Her mother was also a witch, and although Sarah doesn’t realise it during the beginning of the film, she has a lot of untapped potential. She decides to cast a spell on a boy she wants to fall in love with her, and at first likes the attention Chris (Skeet Ulrich) gives her, but it definitely gets out of hand when he attempts to rape her. But Sarah decides not to use her powers to gain revenge and hopes that things will work themselves out, as she doesn’t want events to be taken too far, but of course, this doesn’t end up being the case.

Nancy, played by Fairuza Balk, is the leader of the coven and lives with her prostitute mother and abusive step father in a trailer. Her life is easily the worst out of the group and, on one hand, I can sympathise with her situation and understand her reasoning behind using her powers the way she does. But, unlike Sarah, Nancy becomes more and more power hungry, using her abilities to improve her life and to take revenge on those who may have wronged her. What I like between the characters of Sarah and Nancy is their parallels. Sarah is naturally powerful and wants to use her gifts for good, whilst Nancy delves into really dark magic to become godlike and abuses her powers for her own selfish gains. Though Sarah is an upper middle-class and fair-minded young woman, Nancy is of a lower social standing and doesn’t possess the realisation that you can only go too far before the consequences become overwhelming.

Nancy goes to a party thrown by Chris and disguises herself as Sarah, tricking him into making love to her. Sarah walks in on them and Nancy changes back to herself and “punishes” Chris for mistreating women by using her magic to throw him out of a window. Bye Chris. Nancy is, by this point, somebody who is only interested in gaining as much power as possible regardless of the affects, thus fitting in with the main theme of the film perfectly. It also shows why she is a great parallel to Sarah. I’m a huge fan of the two sides of the same coin motif, and I don’t mind that it was used here.

Bonnie, played by Neve Campbell, wants to use her powers to get rid of the burn scars which cover most of her body. I’m not really sure why her body is plastered with them, but I assume it was from a childhood accident. But what I like is how Bonny has had to live with this deformity for most of her life, and this makes a good motivation for why she wants to use her magic the way she does. But, unfortunately, this leads to a negative change in her character that, at the same time, is completely understandable. I’m not really sure how I would react if I went through something like she does. I would probably react in a similar way; Bonnie as a result of her transformation becomes more stuck-up and less of the kind person she was before. I think the intention here was to show you can be the most beautiful person in the world on the outside, but if that affects who you are on the inside, then maybe it isn’t the most important thing in the world. In other words: beware of what you wish for.

Rochelle, played  by Rachel True, is probably the weakest character in the film. She wants to use her powers to take revenge on one of the popular girls, Laura, who keeps bullying her because – and I quote – “I don’t like negroids.”  That’s not to say I have a problem with Rochelle because she is black. I do, however, take issue with the fact that the only motivation for her power use is the least interesting. I don’t like films which use the race card for a character’s reasoning to achieve their main goal, and this is certainly a weaker aspect of the movie. However, with that said, Rochelle does realise the spell she casts on Laura has gone too far when she sees all of her hair falling out. This is the part of the film I could do without, given how strongly the other three main characters are written, and I just don’t find Rochelle’s motivations or her role that interesting. But since she does fit in with the main theme (albeit in a somewhat underwhelming and uninteresting way), I guess I will give it a pass.

To sum up, The Craft isn’t by any means a perfect film but I like how it takes an old idea of a witches’ coven and updates it to a modern setting. And it has teenage girls as the witches who face everyday problems and all want to do something to improve their situations, which makes for an interesting take. It all works for the most part and I especially love the acting from Balk; she really is an underrated gem and somehow manages to pull-off the part of a crazed power-hungry witch rather convincingly. Plus, Tunney brings a lot of life and natural likability to her role. Campbell is fairly good as Bonnie and True tries ever so hard to make Rochelle interesting, but like I said, I just feel the character wasn’t written that compellingly. Plus, Ulrich (who also starred with Campbell in Scream) shows natural star power as Chris. In fact, whatever happened to Skeet? I think he was a pretty decent actor.

Anyway, The Craft has an interesting premise, three really good main characters, a somewhat weakly-written one, and the special effects are a bit outdated in some areas, but as this came out in 1996 I can forgive that. I like watching the characters change over the course of the film, and considering how young they all were at the time, they all have remarkably good chemistry with one another. You truly believe these four girls are friends and, as a result, you take the fact they are witches seriously and you want to see how things work out for each of them. If you want to see an interesting take on the age-old witch idea, then I highly recommend this film.

Best Scene

It’s like a bad episode of Bewitched. Or maybe that’s every episode technically.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Robin Tunney wore an orange-blond wig throughout filming because she had shaved her head for her role in Empire Records (1995) which wrapped up filming only a month before production on this movie began.
  • Actress Fairuza Balk is actually a Wiccan in real life. Balk was also able to help the makers of the movie keep the storyline as realistic as they could, and was able to give them Wicca contacts to help them in areas she couldn’t.
  • One scene involved using over 3,000 snakes including pythons, boas, water snakes, garter snakes, rat snakes, and a 10-foot Amazon constrictor – even rare albino snakes.

Richard Bal

My name is Richard, I like beer, heavy metal and movies, but maybe not necessarily in that order.

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