Movie Discussion: Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996)

  • Monthly Theme: Witchcraft & Black Magiccraft
  • The Film: The Craft
  • Country of origin: U.S.A
  • Date of U.S. release: May 3, 1996
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Distributer: Columbia Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: $24.8 million
  • Budget: $15 million (estimated)
  • Director: Andrew Fleming
  • Producers: Ginny Nugent, Lisa Tornell & Douglas Wick
  • Screenwriters: Peter Filardi & Andrew Fleming
  • Adaptation? No
  • Cinematographer: Alexander Gruszynski
  • Make-Up/FX: Dave Kelsey, et al.
  • Music: Graeme Revell
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: Yes. TV stars Robin Tunney and Neve Campbell. Character actresses Fairuza Balk and Helen Shaver (The Amityville Horror).
  • Awards?: Best Fight at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards.
  • Tagline: “Welcome to the witching hour.”
  • The Lowdown: With the 1990s came the mainstreaming of counterculture, from punk to skate culture to goth to tattoos/piercings, the aesthetics of the freaks and weirdos became a part of the national zeitgeist in a new way. The Craft was a significant part of this, packaging wicca, teenage girl ennui, Manic Panic, studded leather and twee pop all together in a mainstream Hollywood studio film. The plot is relatively simple. Robin Tunney (who had just rocked a shaved head the previous year in Empire Records) stars as Sarah, the new girl at a Catholic high school in sunny L.A., who manifests an intense natural proclivity for magic. This is picked up on by a trio of mopey hippie/goth girls – Bonnie (Party of Five‘s Neve Campbell) a shy girl ashamed of the burn scars all over her body, Rochelle (CB4‘s Rachel True), a beautiful but insecure girl dealing with racial discrimination at school, and Nancy (Gas Food Lodging‘s Fairuza Balk), an aggressive and unpredictable wild child – who recruit Sarah to be “the fourth” in their witches’ circle. Together, the girl are able to channel unimaginable power, but can they handle it without being corrupted?

If you haven’t seen The Craft our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: The Craft. This movie was made for us.  This and Jennifer’s Body are the most “us” movies that we’ve watched.

Kristine: Sure. But The Craft let me down.

Sean: No. How? Tell me everything.

Kristine: The ending disappointed me. And Robin Tunney’s character, Sarah, thinking Christopher Hooker was “really a nice guy” underneath.

Sean: Oh, right?

Kristine: I wanted it to be Heathers with witchcraft, but the ending confirms the superiority of “nice” girls and punishes “bad” girls and supports the status quo, and basically endorses ideas about punishing self-actualized women.

Sign of the Devil #72: Pointed 19th-century lady-boots.

Sean: I know. Well, here’s the thing: this movie is mainstream conditioning dressed up in goth-girl clothing. It is such a sell-out movie for girls, especially “weird” punk girls. But I kind of love it more for being such a blatant piece of brainwashing. I mean, this is a “guilty pleasure” movie all the way.

Kristine: I loved a lot of it, but it was too problematic for me to fully embrace.

Sean: Fairuza’s performance as Nancy, especially in the last third of the movie, is…. like, Faye Dunaway-in-Mommie-Dearest levels of crazy awesomeness. Girlfriend went for it.

Kristine: Agreed. Like I said, the Heathers moments were my favorite, like when the three “bad girls” are terrorizing Sarah, etc.

Sean: This movie was directed and co-written by an openly gay guy, just fyi.

Kristine: Interesting.

Sean: Think of how different this would have been in the hands of some sassy lady writers/directors. Robin Tunney is one of the most hateable women in the world, for me. I actively wanted to watch her be witch-slapped.

Kristine: Well, here is something I am torn on: on the one hand, I thought the decision to make all the girls’ “wishes” be so basic and obvious and self-involved rang true to teenage girls. But on the other, I thought it really sold the characters short.

Sean: I also want to state that I find Rachel True ridiculously attractive and have a bi-curious crush on her. Wait, sold them out how?

Kristine: “Make me pwetty.” “Make him wuv me.” Especially when you find out that Sarah didn’t cast the love spell on Christopher Hooker for revenge, she really wanted him to like her. Gross.

Sean: Well, I take your point but I also think their wishes were basically about empowerment and about subverting a system of power that was oppressing them (racist white privilege for Rochelle, suffocating beauty standards for Bonnie, hierarchical class structures for Nancy, sexist male dominance for Sarah). But I do think this is where something needs to be discussed: That the ways in which gay men can co-opt and represent female experience can actually be really, really problematic. Sometimes it feels like Lispy McHomo playing with Barbies.

Why are our sleeves so fucking long? Can you explain it to us?

Kristine: Right. On the other hand, when the girls first create their coven? And they skip school and have a picnic and all the butterflies come? That “goddesses at play” scene was awesome and made my joyful.

Sean: I loved them all being a girl gang.

Kristine: Yes. But so typical that the girls must turn against each other and be petty bitches. Sigh.

Sean: I agree also that when the movie attempts to redeem Christopher Hooker it kind of fucked the whole enterprise. Like, he’s a rapey weirdo. He tried to date rape Sarah. But the movie presented it as “This is your fault, your ‘magic’ made this normally ‘nice’ guy become a rapist and you need to be ashamed.”

Kristine: I loved how Nancy was like, ‘Fuck that’ when Sarah tried to defend him, and then he was like, “I’m sworry” and she destroys him and it was amazing. But also by then it had turned into The Real Witches of Beverly Hills.

Sean: Well, the premise here is “Mean Girls avec black magic.”

Kristine: I know it’s the premise but I hate it. I wanted it to be “Teenage Gang Debs avec black magic kicking ass and taking names.” I hate Sarah with her, “follow the golden rule” good witch bullshit.

Sean: It is the Thirst problem all over again: fascinating, complex female characters punished by the narrative. Do you agree that Fairuza Balk as Nancy in the first part of the movie just exudes this really compelling charisma? She frightened and fascinated me. I loved her and her mom getting money and being happy.

Lady power kills sharks dead. I want a Jaws remake with moody teen witches battling Great Whites.

Kristine: I do. One of my favorite parts was after she summons the higher power, using the ocean as the medium, and then all the marine life ends up beached on shore, and it’s horrible. But Nancy is delighted, seeing it as a gift from the spirit, acknowledging her power. From someone who is used to being so powerless in society (white trash girl) her giddiness at a tangible sign of her power is of course intoxicating, no matter how awful.

Sean: Right. Yeah, that’s true.

Kristine: Remember Rochelle saying the motivation behind Nancy’s spell was “to not be white trash, or something”? It was a funny line, but also really sad.

Sean: Well, if the Mean Girls vibe bummed you out, the consolation is that this show is directly responsible for the existence of Charmed, which ran for like, 8 seasons.

Kristine: Heh. I never watched Charmed. Was it a feminist triumph?

Sean: Well, the girls on the show are total besties. I mean, they get into conflicts but they never go homicidal on each other. It’s a grrrlpower show about sisterhood. And it also reaffirms my belief that TV is really the only place for women’s stories to get told in interesting/multi-faceted ways.

Kristine: So I kind of want to contradict myself for a minute. I said that I was annoyed the girls had such “small” wishes, but I also like the idea that traditionally, in ladies’ hands, magic or power is used for more everyday things. Like, it is just a part of life. This speaks to the whole idea that women are just naturally more in touch with the spiritual world. When men have powers, they use it for grand purposes or great evil. Whereas women just fold it into their ordinary lives.

Sean: This is why Nancy is a total genderfuck and also a threat that must be destroyed. She wants to be powerful in a way that is traditionally branded “masculine.” She has ambition and wants to wield great power. She’s not content with a smaller, “feminine” sphere of power.

Kristine: Right. Exactly. I thought what Sarah did to her was fucked up, even if Nancy DID try and kill her… That scene where she forces Nancy to hallucinate snakes was horrible.

Sean: According to this movie’s politics, we must watch Nancy get “put in her place” and it is supposed to satisfy us.

Movie to audience: Unconventional girls are hideous, histrionic goblins. Just fyi.
Movie to audience: Unconventional girls are hideous, histrionic goblins. Just fyi.

Kristine: Right. Nancy has the Glenn-Close-in-Fatal-Attraction role, and Sarah is the Anne Archer, the indignant supporter of the patriarchy.

Sean: And Satan is the Michael Douglas. But yes, Nancy’s ultimate fate is a bunch of total misogyny.

Kristine: I did think the “binding” of Nancy being strapped down in the loony bin was a good symbolic touch, despite not appreciating the politics of the movie. All the other girls are conventionally pretty. All the other girls are wealthy. Nancy is the only real “freak” of this troupe of supposed “outcasts.” If the project of this movie is to contain feminine power and re-establish the status quo, well they couldn’t have chosen a better ending for Nancy.

Sean: My favorite thing in the movie is the Rochelle/Laura “Jim Crow” conflict.

Kristine: I loved Christine Taylor as the over-the-top white supremacist mean girl. “I don’t like negroids.”

Sean: This plotline actually made me keenly aware of how out of touch I am with female black experience. Is that a common thing for black teen girls in white schools? To have some bitch being like “Your kinky hair is leaking grease all over me”?

Kristine: I imagine so. I bet it is, but it’s probably more common to be adopted as “the pet” of a white girl clique. Total tokenism.

Sean: I mean, this is one thing about the movie that is awesome then. Just putting that on screen. And I think Laura the racist’s fate was like, not even that bad while still being so over the top. How she was like, in the shower rocking catatonically with her wispy head?

Kristine: I know. It made me mad that Rochelle felt bad. Fuck Laura.

Sean: Yeah, don’t feel bad, Rochelle, Rochelle. But I did not get why Bonnie and Rochelle iced out Sarah. What was their motivation?

Kristine: She was stopping their fun. She was slowing their roll. And I think they wanted to prove they had power, too. Nancy wasn’t the only one.

Sean: I wish they had stayed protagonists and not become antagonists. Protagonists can be in conflict without going full evil.

Light as new pleather, stiff as denim kulats.

Kristine: Agreed. But also, who would you rather join forces with? Nancy or Sad Sarah?

Sean: I have such a deeply-ingrained hatred of bullies that, I’m sorry, but I am against Nancy, even though that means I am buying into misogyny.

Kristine: What did you think of the elder stateswoman witch who ran the magic store? Because I thought she was… a snooze.

Sean: She was a lesbian predator.

Kristine: She wants to travel through Robin’s Tunnel

Sean: Can we talk about all the gay girl vibes in the movie? I liked that it was subtextual and there was no Jennifer’s Body boy-baiting makeout scene. It felt more true to repressed 1990s teen drama.

Kristine: Sure. Most strikingly when Nancy changes into Sarah whilst seducing Christopher Hooker.

Sean: Well, I really felt it in Bonnie’s gaze when she first notices Sarah. And, of course, all their “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” talk about “just put your finger…. THERE.”  But Christopher needed to get killed sooner. Also, Skeet Ulrich is not cute. Newsflash.

Kristine: He is disgusting. I did think it was a feminist nod when Christopher Hooker, under the love spell, acts like a typical possessive teenage boy. His behavior wasn’t “crazy” at all. It was, sadly, pretty typical of teenage boy asshole freaks. But then it was all making the victim blame herself.

Sean: I liked Bonnie and Sarah delightedly exploiting him with carrying books and such. Girlpower.

Kristine: That was cute. But doesn’t Sarah as self-blaming-near-rape-victim enrage you?

Sean: Yes I said. Okay, I have frivolous questions. What were your favorite “OMG it’s the 1990s!” details?

Kristine: I liked the turning-Clueless-on-its-head wardrobe. The knee socks, et al.

Sean: Totally.

Kristine: You?

Sean: Nancy’s studded choker.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: The soundtrack.

Kristine: I was a little disappointed by the soundtrack… sorry.

Sean: What?

Kristine: The soundtrack wasn’t all I hoped it would be. Some choices were great, don’t get me wrong, but they could have done better.

Sean: Well, they did the thing of all these indie rock classics covered by nothing buzz-bands. Like “How Soon Is Now?” being covered by Love Spit Love. Well, that’s not even that bad because that band has members of the Psychedelic Furs in it. But also, fyi, that cover of “How Soon Is Now?” became the title credits song for Charmed. I told you this movie is totally responsible for the existence of Charmed. But they had Letters to Cleo, Elastica, Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Sweet. I’m sorry but my little teenage 1990s alt-rock loving nerd self can’t help but be romanced by that. But then – ick – Sponge? Fuckin’ that band Tripping Daisy? Heather Nova? Spacehog? Vomit.

Teenage boys have circle jerks. Teenage girls have menstrual power ceremonies.

Kristine: Sure.

Sean: Tell me your dream soundtrack for this movie. What would be on it?

Kristine: Oh god, I don’t know. But here is a comment on the film’s score from Amazon, left by one Artemis Moonsong and I am not making that up. She says: “If you’re a fan of the movie like I am, then I highly recommend that you purchase this score. It takes you on a hauntingly beautiful journey through the movie, from its wonderful and frightening moments to the end, where you’ll want to play it again. Mr. Revell has superbly captured the musical soul of the movie and the characters through his use of drums and exotic voices on the album. And no, you don’t have to be a witch to like it, but I would highly recommend it to witches too for the music. I especially like to listen to some of the tracks to help put me in a meditative state. Wonderful score to a wonderful movie.” Sean, Artemis Moonsong loved it.

Sean: I am dying.

Kristine: “And no, you don’t have to be a witch to like it, but I would highly recommend it to witches too for the music.”

Sean: In reality, teen witches would be annoying vegan hippie stoners and love Lilith Fair folk music.

Sean: I have questions three for you before we wrap up.

Kristine: “I have questions three.”

Sean: 1) Which of these four girls were you in high school?

Kristine: Oh god. Not Rochelle. Not Bonnie. I think I was a cross of Nancy and Sarah. You?

Sean: I was a Bonnie: body dysmorphic wallflower with a secret edge. She’s the Heather Duke. Nancy is Heather Chandler.

Hello, I am ugly. But you have to pretend I’m not, Sarah. The gay director said so.

Kristine: True.

Sean: And Rochelle is Heather Macnamara.

Kristine: Yep, yep.

Sean: 2) Tell me about this movie’s parallels to your own high school girl gang.

Kristine: Well, it really captured the intoxicating fun of being bad with your girlfriends, and also genuinely loving them. And girlfriends turning against each other and forming draconian alliances. The early girl gang scenes definitely rang true, but sadly, so did the bullying scenes. Oh. And letting a boy come between girlfriends.

Sean: Did you ever do “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” and put your fingers on each other?

Kristine: Oh course we did.

Sean: That was one of my favorite scenes.

Kristine: And also my best friend N’s suicide attempt(s) and scars were echoed by Nancy’s general unhingedness.

Sean: A-ha.

Kristine: I liked the mom coming in and asking if they were getting high. That was sooooooo N’s mom and also mine.

Sean: I also had a girl gang, just fyi.

Kristine: Did this ring true to your girl gang days?

The Exorcist-meets-The Yellow Wallpaper. With a flash of black satin panties for good measure.

Sean: Kind of, yes.

Kristine: Were you a mascot or full-fledged member?

Sean: Um, well I was best friends with the Nancy/gangleader like, from nursery school. So it was weird. I was like, her attaché of gayness, but kind of peripheral to all of the arcane female secrets going on. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way: being a gay guy doesn’t automatically give you a passport to Girl World. At best, you’re a visiting dignitary with special privileges. I think some of the girls were like “This fagioli needs to go.”

Kristine: One last thing that was very true-to-life was how girl gangs select and choose you, rather than the other way around. My friend N decided I was going to join her gang and then it was so.

Sean: Also, all those girls were having sex and hooking up with boys and I was a perpetual virgin, which was torturous agony.

Kristine: Aww.

Sean: It made me a mean kid. Last question: Do you think The Craft should be remade? But by female writers/directors?

Kristine: Sure.

Sean: Can you imagine Lena Dunham remaking this? What would her version of The Craft be like?

Kristine: That suggestion just fried my brain. Wasn’t there a young male witch/warlock movie a few years ago?

Sun-dappled sisterhood is the BEST kind of sisterhood.

Sean: Yes. Directed by… RENNY.

Kristine: Right.

Sean: It is the gayfuckest movie ever. The Covenant. It is about being a gay muscletwink.

Kristine: Okay, so they don’t use their powers to drop panties?

Sean: Also there’s a string of homoerotic direct-to-DVD warlock softcore porn movies.

Kristine: I am having déjá vu, We have had this convo before, right?

Sean: Probs.

Kristine: That is such a weird porn niche, Sean.

Sean: We’ll watch one at a sleepover sometime.

Kristine: Good night, Artemis Moonsong.

Ratings Roundup

The Girls Rating: Problematic but fun as hell. AND I would have loved this movie in high school.

The Freak’s Rating: Problematic but fun as hell.

Super-mad

10 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996)

  1. ” This speaks to the whole idea that women are just naturally more in touch with the spiritual world. When men have powers, they use it for grand purposes or great evil. Whereas women just fold it into their ordinary lives.”

    You guys should really read the Terry Pratchett Discworld movies, especially those that deal with the Wizards, the Witches, their differences and them meeting to compare notes. On the side there is a “tween” series with a young witch who discovers her powers (‘A Hat Full of Sky’ and others.)

    1. Hi Herman! Never read Pratchett. Is the connection that the Discworld books reaffirm the idea of women being drawn to small, limited spheres of power? For me – I’m not sure how Kristine feels – the fact that The Craft seemed to support that idea was one of the things that made me most frustrated with it. Like, because Nancy dared to have grandiose ambitions and want REAL power (not just domestic power), she had to be destroyed. Have you read The Magicians by Lev Grossman? It’s got some more nuanced attitudes towards gender, power and how “magic” manifests between them (though there’s a gay character that’s basically just a finger-snapping queen sashaying around, dispensing bon mots – not that I don’t love a queen but come on!)

  2. I really resent you implying that Sarah is a ‘supporter of the patriachy’. NANCY is the one who is desperate for Chris to make love to her, to the extent that she has to disguise herself as Sarah to get physical contact with him – and yet you dare say that she is the rebel and Sarah is the conformist? Sarah has to turn to the witch in the shop for help, who helps her understand her divine powers. And by the way, that god Manon that Nancy is obsessed with? That’s a male god. Don’t get your ‘patriachy’ accusations twisted!