Faustus uses an eldritch terror to pervert the world to his purposes.
The Craft. 1996. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Screenplay by Peter Filardi & Fleming.
Starring Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer, Nathaniel Marston, Cliff De Young, Assumpta Serna, Helen Shaver, Jeanine Jackson, & Brenda Strong. Columbia Pictures Corporation.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
The 1990s were an underrated time for horror. Certainly not the best decade, but most certainly not appreciated enough. An era that gave us Scream, Braindead, Hardware, It, Nightbreed, The Blair Witch Project and other lesser loved bits of horror cinema such as Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain, Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, among many other titles. Particularly with Craven’s Scream there was a new renewal in the studios’ interests to cater towards the youth market. Not that they ever stopped. Yet The Craft is a coming-of-age tale, wrapped up in the fantasy of witchcraft and packaged in a neatly bowed horror romp. And while this definitely comes off as a movie marketed towards teenagers, looking back on it 20 years later it’s more than just a teen horror flick. Inside the story of four witches who come together during high school there are themes of good, evil, innocence, guilt, and plenty of other interesting subjects. With a solid cast in the four main women this horror goes further than being relegated to being a horror ‘chick flick’ or a movie better left back in adolescence. Director Andrew Fleming’s first film was the trippy 1988 horror Bad Dreams, but after The Craft he really abandoned horror for comedy and television mostly. Too bad. Because between those two horrors he has a talent for the macabre. This story of four young witches is better than a casual movie to give you a little creep, it has lots of terror to offer, making high school appear even more violent, volatile and nerve wracking than it has been since Carrie.
Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) and her family move to a new city. She’s had plenty of tragedy in life, as her mother is dead and her father tries his best to raise a teenage girl. Things get intense once Sarah meets three girls rumoured to be witches – Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True), and their fiesty little leader Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk). Slowly, the young women come together in a quartet and finally realize all their collective powers, summoned from the deep darkness.
What follows begins as a group of friends exploring their natural talents, an antiquated power in a modern world.
However, soon enough the ugly head of competition appears, and Nancy doesn’t like that Sarah’s powers are stronger than the other girls. And this sets off a deadly series of events which Sarah must either stop, or be swept up in. Is her power truly the strongest? Or does Nancy hold the full power of the occult and Hell at her fingertips?
The theme of outsiders is clearly central here. And it’s all amped up even more. First, you’ve got a group of teenage girls; from boys to interpersonal relationships to the general race of high school to win popularity and acceptance. Then they’re also witches, sitting on the fringe of society, both as a whole and in the microcosm of grade school. Plus, there’s periods, and mean boys, and mean girls. Added to all of that, each of the main girls has their own issue. Nancy (Balk) is poor, dealing with a stepfather whose interests lie a little too close to his wife’s daughter. Rochelle (True) is black and has to face the ignorant racism of a lily white girl that says she doesn’t “like negroids.” Bonnie (Campbell) has scar tissue all over her body, it makes her self-conscious and the treatments to try curing her are extremely painful. Finally, Sarah (Tunney) laments the death of her mother, and it’s obvious she’s filled with dark, sometimes suicidal thoughts. So part of why The Craft touched me deeply, as a drama mixed with horror, is because we’re essentially watching four young women who want to escape from their dreary reality. They want something better, something bigger, and they get it. How many of us didn’t want to make the bullies at school pay? Well here we live vicariously through Rochelle, whose spell makes the popular blonde girl’s hair start falling out, and through Sarah who puts a heavy love spell on a guy that spread dirty rumours about her, and so on. Each of their experiences brings to light the experience of many as young people, as students, as growing men and women in the world. I saw this movie when I was about 11 and it spoke to me because I was a weird kid, one that stood as part of a group that didn’t play hockey or weren’t the cool kids, so seeing these four witches go through their own experiences, it simultaneously spoke to my own feelings as a loser or an outcast. This is a major reason why The Craft‘s fans are hardcore, loving ones, because this isn’t only a fantastical horror flick about young witches, it has a heart and like many awesome horror movies there is more than meets the eye.
Let’s face it – the cast would’ve never been so iconic and exciting if these four ladies weren’t in the film. As an antagonist, Balk’s Nancy Downs is perfect. She is beautiful and weird, then also terrifying at the same time. She can switch on a dime from being sort of cute in an oddball way to becoming overwhelmingly horrific. Part of why her charater works is because Balk has a unique look. So with all her charisma and energy, she brings a wildness to the cast. In addition, Balk is an actual Wiccan, so she provided insight during the filming when possible. Our protagonist is equally wonderful. Tunney’s Sarah is a calm, quiet type, and after she becomes involved with the other girls develops a more outgoing personality. Tunney provides a relateable personality to which we can anchor ourselves going forward, and she allows us a type of center. We latch onto her because of her problems. Then once the witchcraft stuff spirals out of control at the hands of Nancy, there’s a very good v. evil vibe because of Sarah portraying the near polar opposite character. With these two actresses at the helm, alongside Campbell and True as sidekicks, as well as 90s staple Skeet Ulrich in a decent little supporting role that adds fire to the plot, The Craft is a step above many of the other youth-marketed movies during the decade because of its stellar acting.
The finale of the film is perhaps my favourite. Because everything devolves so quickly, then a real horrorshow takes place. Like a fever dream filled to the brim by witchcraft and jealousy and youthful rage.
With a nice finish, and plenty of eeriness along the way, The Craft is most definitely, in my books, a 4-star flick. It has dark fantasy, moody teen issues, heavy themes, a knockout cast, and ends with an unsettling ride. In a decade that has many underappreciated works of horror cinema, the 1990s provided us with one of the better movies on witchcraft out there. Too many will try and discredit the film, saying it’s a ‘safe’ teen horror. There’s nothing safe about this one, though. Tackling everything from suicide to race to rape to teen angst, The Craft stands its ground as a contemporary piece of horror with a razor sharp set of teeth.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 3, Episode 13: “The Seven Wonders”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Douglas Petrie
The finale of Coven is upon us!
Fitting enough, Stevie Nicks shows up singing “Seven Wonders” by Fleetwood Mac. There’s a nice montage of all the young witches preparing for the big ceremony. In her room, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) levitates the bed while studying. In the bathroom, Madison (Emma Roberts) plays it cool and bubbles the water, lighting candles and a fireplace with the snap of her fingers. Misty Day (Lily Rabe) dances in the basement and practices in the small garden Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) keeps. Then there’s Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), who studies up on voodoo, and even keeps a little picture of Nan by her books. Love this opening and it works so well. This has been a very feminist type season, which I dig. And this opening for the finale gives us a nice bit of equal time with the young witches, highlighting them all and including each in a sort of happy light. Not something we often get on American Horror Story. Plus, it’s fun that Nicks has been kicking around singing Fleetwood Mac songs and being cool as hell.
Consistently I get a great kick out of Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) who shares her belief that Leonardo da Vinci was a warlock. She serves up a beautifully rendered meal for everyone. Then Cordelia talks of the start of The Seven Wonders by telling all the girls: “Kick ass tomorrow.”
We start with TELEKINESIS. Kyle (Evan Peters) lights a bunch of candles, with all the girls lined up in front of the table. They’re meant to haul the candle via mind control, which each of them do without much trouble.
CONCILIUM is next, or MIND CONTROL – they pair up and have to make the other do what they wish, prompting slaps, hair pulling and all sorts of stuff you might expect from a few catty young women who want nothing more than to outdo the other. Fun moment sees Kyle being forced to lick Madison’s shoe, being tossed around the room by her and Zoe in a bid to be the best and meanest of the two, but finally Cordelia breaks it all up.
DESCENSUM or DESCENT INTO THE NETHERWORLD comes afterwards. “If your soul hasn’t returned to your body by sun up, you die,” Myrtle proclaims before readying the hourglass to start. The ladies all chant together and then head down into hell for their test. Queenie is back at the chicken shack again just like her encounter with Legba, easily bringing herself back first. Then Madison returns from a “live version of The Sound of Music“. Zoe does too from a breakup hell she barely escaped. But only Misty does not come back yet, she’s stuck in school being forced to dissect a frog; of course, she keeps bringing it back to life. She’s made to dissect the living frog, taunted by the other children, and then the cycle begins over again: over and over. Honestly, this vision of hell returning to your worst moments is terrifying, very great representation of the afterlife. Sadly, though, Misty is not coming back. She lies on the floor, her body limp, as Cordelia hugs her tight. But the sand in the glass runs out, Misty disappears into a black smoke and she’s dead, gone forever. Didn’t see that coming when the tests started out.
Not much mourning before TRANSMUTATION begins as the next challenge. The three remainders don’t seem to be too trouble by it all, quickly zipping around the property. That is until one of them mixes things up and transmutates to the wrong spot. Zoe finds herself impaled on the academy gates high above the ground. They take her corpse down to the basement in hopes of bringing her back. Queenie can’t resurrect her, putting her out of the competition. Cordelia wants Madison to bring Zoe back, in effect proving she must go on and finish The Seven Wonders. But of course, the young mean bitch Madison doesn’t want to do that and jeopardize her position as the next Supreme. She leaves Myrtle and Cordelia, and Zoe dead.
But all is not lost. Myrtle convinces Cordelia she ought to test herself on The Seven Wonders. Finally, someone with sense. Cordelia does several of them pretty quickly. When it comes to DIVINATION, Madison and Cordelia face off; Madison loses, packs up to leave and threatens to expose the witch coven to the outside world. However, Kyle makes sure that never happens: he strangles Madison to death for not reviving Zoe and in turn gives Spalding (Denis O’Hare) a new doll to keep. In the end, Cordelia’s last test is bringing Zoe back – VITALUM VITALIS – which she does. Then promptly passes out hard. But once she’s back, her eyes work again and she is the new Supreme; the one, the only.
After all the wonderful and grim events, Cordelia emerges as the queen witch of them all. She goes public to the world about the academy, about witchcraft, and now many young witches around the world begin to seek her and the academy out. Furthermore, Queenie and Zoe are a part of the new regime, aiding Cordelia in steering the coven correctly.
But then Myrtle, oh Myrtle! She wants to be punished, and I supposed ought to be, for killing the other Council members, Cecily and Quentin. She insists, even with Cordelia refusing to do such a thing. Finally after everything is said and done, Myrtle is resentenced to being burned at the stake, as she already had been earlier in this season. So they trot back out to the dunes where Myrtle is strapped to a stake, set ablaze, and burned, blackened once more. Vicious, yet highly noble on Myrtle’s part: her dedication to the coven is more than evident, time and time again. Her final word? “Balenciaga!” -y’know, for the fashion conscious folk.
I love the end with Fiona (Jessica Lange), as we see her own version of hell. She is forever stuck with the Axeman (Danny Huston), in a little mediocre house down by the river, eating fish for dinner every night. A perfectly normal everyday life, something absolutely unspeakable for a woman like Fiona, a needy narcissist and a woman who needs fame, fortune, who needs extravagance. It’s fitting, and brutal in its own way. Love the writing involved with this finale, it works quite well for Fiona and her final resting place in hell.
With the end of Coven, we see another happy finish. There are still losses, deaths to mourn, and so on. But as Cordelia tells a television interviewer: “We are strong women.” This whole season had a great feminine vibe, and if some male viewers can’t accept or handle that it’s their loss. I found it incredible, and the writing really shined every chance it had. Lots of strong female characters. Plus, there were several excellently placed male characters, even Kyle who Evan Peters played so well almost virtually silent in each episode until the end. Overall, I loved this season. And as Cordelia, Queenie, Kyle and Zoe welcome newcomers to the academy, I almost wish there were more episodes to this season. When I first watched it as it came on FX a couple years ago, I didn’t take to it hugely, though I did enjoy all the episodes. Now when I go back through, I realize how good the writing was, how fun the characters and situations were, and above all else how intricate the plots themselves came off. Great work all around.