Reviewing a Cult Classic – The Craft (1996)

This is actually a cult movie and it’s really cool. I don’t want to say something stupid like “it was spellbinding” or “it cast a spell over me” but it was really good.

When I used to watch ‘The Mentalist’ (for Simon Baker obviously), I would see the detective in it and wonder where I had seen her before. Of course, it was Robin Tunney and I saw her in ‘The Craft’.

‘The Craft’ is about Robin Tunney’s character, Sarah moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco with her father and is enrolled in a Catholic school. On her first day, she meets a nice boy, Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) who seems to take a liking to her, but she also catches the attention of another group. Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True) are witches but they haven’t managed anything spectacular because they are waiting on their illusive ‘fourth’ meaning the fourth person to complete ‘the circle’. Sarah knows that she has some abilities and so do the girls, so they pull her into their world. The girls cast spells to make their own lives better but very soon, the power becomes too much and things go wrong.

The first thing to say is that this is one of those stories that is pushed forward by the actions of the characters. They all have things in their lives that they desperately wished they could change… arguably… Sarah’s thing isn’t really that bad.

Sarah really wants Chris to fall in love with her even though she went on a date with him and then the next day, he told everyone that he had sex with Sarah and she wasn’t very good even though she didn’t have sex with him at all. She’s angry and humiliated and then she casts a love spell over him so he becomes obsessed with her and then she totally ignores him. Presumably, she did it to teach him a lesson but it totally backfires. We’ll get into that a little later.

This film is fabulously ‘goth-like’ and the girls have a great sense of style. This isn’t really anything to do with the movie, I just wish that I had Nancy’s wardrobe and I could pull off that look. All the girls look fabulous and it takes me back to when I was a teenager and a hardcore goth.

Witchcraft is the central theme and by the mid-90’s, it feels like ‘The Craft’ was a partial influence on a lot of ‘witchy’ type stuff that came out later on in the 90’s like ‘Charmed’ etc. In fact, one song that is in ‘The Craft’ became the title song for ‘Charmed’.

It feels to me like Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle have been united by the bad things going on in their life and they’ve been convinced that witchcraft is the way to make their lives better. Who was doing the influencing? It’s not said how the girls got together and who brought up the subject of witchcraft but my money is on Nancy.

The first scene in the film shows Sarah and her father moving into their new house and almost immediately, Sarah is accosted by a vagrant who seems to think that she wants a snake. Sarah’s not into snakes and so calls for her father who scares the man away and then kills the snake with a fire poker.

Later, Sarah is with the girls and the vagrant shows up again. Sarah runs across the road and the man follows her but all the girls stare mysteriously at him and then he’s hit by a car. It’s then that the girls know for certain that Sarah is the fourth and the next step is to initiate her into the coven. They call upon ‘Manon’ who is neither God nor the Devil but still someone worth worshipping and they ask him to make their wishes come true.

So, we’ve touched upon Sarah and her thing so let’s have a look at Bonnie. Bonnie’s ‘thing’ is that half of her back is covered in scars and I don’t think it’s ever mentioned how she got like that, but I read that she was in a car accident. Later in the film, she says to Sarah, ‘I’ve spent half of my life being a monster’. Since she’s meant to be in high school then I’m guessing that this happened to her when she was a child. Bonnie is having experimental and painful treatments that are not guaranteed to work at the hospital to try and remove the scars. After the ritual, Bonnie goes to the hospital and miraculously, the doctor peels the scars off her back and shoulders, revealing beautiful, clear skin.

Rochelle’s problem is really bad, and the outcome is very satisfying. Rochelle is an African American student attending a mostly white school and she is being racially bullied by one girl in particular, Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor). Rochelle asks for the power to not hate those who hate her and directly names Laura and so then next time Laura starts her bullshit, her bleached blonde hair begins to fall out in clumps.

Nancy is an interesting character. She lives in a trailer with her mother and her abusive stepfather and becomes obvious in the scene where she returns home that she is desperate to escape her surroundings. Her wish is to take into herself ‘all the power of Manon’.

Interestingly enough, ‘Manon’ doesn’t exist. The deity was made up for the film… but anyway.

Nancy’s wish was a little bit ambiguous to the point that when her stepfather tries to hit her mother, Nancy screams for him to stop and it blows all the lights out. Her stepfather then has a heart attack and dies. It turns out that her stepfather had an insurance policy of $175,000 that is left to Nancy and her mother. With the money, they move into a high-end apartment.

I would just like to point out that this film is only 23 years old and $175,000 is not a lot of money. Even adjusted for inflation, in 1996, $175,000 would only be $286,154.56 and that apartment alone would cost if not that, then almost that. Nancy and her mother would have almost no money left. That’s assuming that they bought the apartment. They could be renting that apartment but even then, the rent in LA would be so high that their funds would dry up very soon.

Throughout the film, the girls play with different magic tricks such as ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ and the ‘glamour’ trick. This film only had a budget of $15 Million and there’s a decent amount of CG going on and the CG is pretty good. Not for the ‘glamour’ trick, though.

The idea is that Sarah changes her appearance using magic and Nancy uses this later on. First, Sarah changes the colour of her eyes which doesn’t impress. Nancy even comments that the trick can be done with contacts which is probably how they did it since different coloured contacts are pretty cheap and Robin Tunney wouldn’t have had them in for very long, but eye colour changes can be achieved through CG.

Since the ‘eye’ thing doesn’t impress, Sarah takes it one step further and with one movement and in shot, she turns her auburn hair blonde and it’s a very CG blonde. Since Robin Tunney is wearing a wig anyway (because she shaved her head for the last movie she was in and was bald when she was cast so she wore a wig for the whole film) I’m guessing that she wore a green or blue wig and that would make it easier for the FX department to impose the auburn turning into blonde. You can see in the scene that the wig is the same one that she wears throughout the movie but in the shot where she changes her hair, the colour is the same, but the wig is styled ever so slightly differently. I’m convinced of it because in the shots before and after she changes her hair colour, her wig has more layers. It’s all a bit sketchy but these days, that shot would have been a lot easier.

There’s a rule of ‘the power of three times three’ and that throwing things out of balance will mean that they’re spells will come back on them times three.

Soon after their spells start to work, things start to wrong and the girls start exhibiting some worrying behaviour. Bonnie is a little too happy with her beauty and becomes completely narcissistic. Rochelle sees Laura having a full-on breakdown in the school showers because of her half-bald head and shows regret and remorse in casting the spell.

Sarah’s spell goes particularly bad. Whilst her spell did make Chris fall in love with her and as I mentioned above, becomes totally obsessed with her, he starts appearing at her house in the middle of the night Sarah soon realises that she is actually humiliating him. It all comes to a head when Sarah reluctantly agrees to go out to dinner with him, but he drives her out into the middle of nowhere. Then he tries to sexually assault her. She manages to fight him off and run to Rochelle’s house. She tells the girls what happened, and Nancy has already been on a power trip, but this is the final straw.

Just before this, the girls stand on the beach and ‘call the corners’. Each girl has a corner (north, south, east and west) and they also have an element (earth, air, fire and water) and they call upon Manon in a ceremony known as ‘invoking the spirit’. At the end of the ceremony, Nancy is struck by lightening and the next morning, the girls watch Nancy walking on water and if that wasn’t weird enough, it becomes evident that her powers have grown.

It’s also evident that she has a history with Chris. I don’t think their relationship gone into in depth but it’s implied that she was used by Chris. Now, she’s powerful and fearless and this man that she already heavily dislikes has attacked her friend and she’s going to enact some revenge.

Nancy goes to the party and finds Chris. She takes him into a bedroom and disguises herself as Sarah using magic. The real Sarah walks in on them as they’re kissing and Chris realises that she is a witch but he says something that really triggers Nancy.  He accuses her of being jealous. Nancy flips out and the end result is Chris falling out of a window and dying.

Now things are serious. Two people are dead arguably at Nancy’s hands and so Sarah performs a spell to bind Nancy’s powers but it doesn’t work and the girls start to turn on Sarah.

In desperation, Sarah goes to the magic shop and talks to the owner, Lirio to help her invoke the spirit. Sarah also learns that her mother (who is dead) was a powerful witch and passed on her abilities to her daughter. Sarah and Lirio begin to invoke Manon but Sarah has a vision of the shop in flames and leaves.

Now is the grand finale.

Sarah returns home and finds Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle who are taunting her and trying to convince her to take her own life by writing a suicide note in her handwriting claiming that Sarah feels guilty over Chris’s death. Things get to the point where Nancy cuts Sarah’s wrists.

I get the feeling that Bonnie and Rochelle are following Nancy and don’t really care about what happens to Sarah. Nancy is full of power and seems to be convinced that she is all powerful and no one can touch her and she’s super crazy! She’s very quickly losing her mind.

Sarah manages to turn the tables and scare Bonnie and Rochelle into leaving which just leaves Nancy. It’s difficult to describe but Sarah ends up kicking Nancy into a mirror. Sarah then binds her powers properly and that’s enough of that.

The last scene shows Sarah and her father packing up to move away and she is visited by Bonnie and Rochelle. They no longer have any powers and although it’s not said, I read that Manon took away their powers for abusing them. Sarah isn’t interested in being friends with them and rightly so because they did take part in trying to kill her. Bonnie and Rochelle joke that Sarah doesn’t have any powers but she does and conjures up a bolt of lightening to strike a tree branch and nearly crush the girls and after which she utters a warning that the pair don’t want to end up like Nancy.

Nancy has been committed to a mental hospital and she keeps screaming and babbling that she is powerful and can fly but she’s strapped to a bed and has to be sedated.

I mentioned that ‘The Craft’ had a budget of $15 Million and the film made $55.7 Million at the box office which is good. That’s a good amount to take for the budget but the film has gained a cult following.

To finish, I love ‘The Craft’. It’s a really good movie and I think that Robin Tunney was brilliant; Rachel True did a great job, this was the same year that Neve Campbell starred in both ‘The Craft’ and ‘Scream’ and she’s amazing in both and Fairuza Balk looked stunning and is a great actress and it’s a shame that we don’t see more of her. I’ve seen her in this and in ‘Waterboy’ with Adam Sandler and that’s it.

Also, there’s going to be a remake… Yeah… Good luck with that.

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