“We Are the Weirdos, Mister.”
I remember back in 1996, as a newly-sprung-from-rural-Texas college freshman, wanting desperately to see The Craft. I barely even knew any Real Life Witches myself but here was a whole movie! About Real! Live! Witches! (sort of) that had used Real Live Witches (sort of) as consultants (sort of). Bring it on!
There was a huge outcry over the movie when it came out, and understandably so, because apparently the “consultant” the filmmakers hired was largely ignored in favor of what would make a more flashy Hollywood horror flick. The basic needs for such a movie are: girls fighting, preferably without bras on; an alpha female who, when given too much power, goes insane, cuz them there womenfolk can’t handle that kinda power; and of course lots of slow-mo walking toward the camera (again, braless if possible).
If you go into The Craft expecting to see Wiccans doing Wicca, well, woe unto you. The teens in this movie who get into the titular Craft worship some kind of being called Manon, which is “like if god and the devil played football, Manon would be the stadium they played in.” Okay, well, I could go with the vague notion of panentheistic deity. And of course, since this was during that time in the 90s when Wicca was big business and the popular literature did its best to reel in the disposable income of teenagers, referring to mystical concepts like the Law of Three (don’t get me started) and ideas like glamour and “invoking the spirit” (a form of Drawing Down the Moon, near as I could tell).
There’s just something about the idea of moving to a strange city and being taken in by the mysterious outcasts who seem to offer answers to all of your pain and alienation: magic. Magic, they’ve realized, can fix anything, wreak vengeance against any wrongdoing, bring wealth and beauty…with no consequences! Awesome! Sign me up!
Sara, the new girl in town, has strange abilities that she hides from everyone…except the three outcast girls (known as the Bitches of Eastwick by the odious jocks of the school), each of whom is ostracized for a different reason: Bonnie, because she’s covered in burn scars; Nancy, the leader, because she’s white trash; and Rochelle, the token black girl, who is taunted and baited by a particularly nasty blonde girl on the swim team.
With Sara’s arrival, the circle is complete and suddenly the coven’s spells begin to work in shocking ways: Bonnie’s scars disappear completely, Sara gains the attention of the (jackass) jock she likes, Nancy’s horrible stepfather dies and leaves her and her alcoholic mother a fortune. For a while it seems like the universe is handing out favors to its mistreated daughters without question or consequence.
Except that there are consequences, as the Voice of Reason (played by Assumpta Serna) tries to impress upon the girls. Lirio, the only adult in the film
connected to Witchcraft who you would think the girls would look up to as a teacher, mostly goes ignored while the foursome shoplift from her store and eyeroll her advice. I would say that’s a problem with the movie, but really, most teenagers do exactly that when an adult tries to educate them on the spiritual consequences of their behavior. I mean, come on. You’re 16 and suddenly boys like you, you have money, and everything’s going great. Who wants to hear about karma?
Unfortunately like so many young women in Hollywood films, our girls are unable to handle the power that they find. They simply aren’t strong enough to be badass without going dark. This movie came out during the Buffy the Vampire Slayer era when treating the supernatural as symbolic of the perilous lives of teenagers first became part of the conversation, and The Craft has it in spades. The girls act and dress sexier as Witches, leading one to conclude that sexual power = female power, and female power = uncontrollable and must be stopped.
The sprinkled-in lessons of real magic that the movie adds are mostly lost to the snakes and spiders, but still, they do try: Lirio tells the girls that their actions will have consequences, and if you take the magic to a dark place, it will consume you. Now, if they listened to her and learned an Important Lesson on Magical Living, the movie would be much shorter and involve far less screaming. In the end, when her friends turn on her, Sara the protagonist is left to invoke the same power that drove her friends to evil, but has to rely on her own inner strength and the legacy of her mother to use it for good. Even though she succeeds, we are left wondering just how much Sara really has learned, as she is willing to use her power for a dominance display over her old friends, warning them to be careful or they’ll “End up like Nancy,” who is now in a mental hospital shrieking and writhing.
Let’s be straight here: The Craft is a pretty crappy movie. The acting is uneven and in the case of Robin Tunney, who plays Sara, utterly wooden. The script is basic teen melodrama stapled between supernatural set pieces.
And yet, for all its obvious glaring flaws, I freaking love this movie.
Like most young Wiccans I felt like an outcast wherever I went. The idea that I could find a community even in such an insular little world as a private high school gave me a pathetic sort of hope that I wouldn’t always be alone in waving my wand around. This was just after I moved to Austin, and still didn’t have many friends, but I was starting to find real Pagans, and my hopes and dreams were encapsulated by Sara finding this group of young women who accepted her and wanted her even with the psychic abilities that had kept her apart from everyone her whole life. They were all broken, but they all found power in the broken places.
Moreover, I loved how the movie showed Witchcraft as a natural force that moved through nature, not just as purple fireballs or some other nonsense. When the girls cast a Circle in the woods, butterflies flock to them, landing all over their arms. Seeing the rituals I was learning represented on film was so strange for me, and so wonderful, that I rewound those parts again and again just to see Nancy say, “It is better that you should rush upon this blade than enter the Circle with fear in your heart. How do you enter?”
I loved the altars that the girls built. They reminded me so much of my own. I liked that the characters read books, and meditated, and had slumber parties together where they tried out those old saws like “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” and got phenomenal results.
Up until the point that everything goes wrong and Nancy goes bat-shit (which, to be clear, Nancy was bat-shit from the get-go, and having magical power just made it more obvious), I loved the coven, because it seemed like they cared about each other and were fumbling toward a deeper connection, albeit in a ham-fisted adolescent sort of way. They were doing what I wanted to do.
And aside from all the dead fish, and a few of the special effects, the portrayal of magic in The Craft was really very believable; as I said, it moves through nature, so when something’s happening the wind blows, the fire dances taller, butterflies gather. That’s how it happens in real life, too. Subtle cues that let you know…someone is listening, and you are not alone.
So, my final analysis: Don’t waste your energy getting offended. Just enjoy it for what it is. The Craft is not a political statement, or a how-to guide, or anything but a cheesy horror movie that has Witches in it and some great imagery.