The cult hit arrived in theaters two decades ago today! Let’s invoke the spirit and revisit why this little film became such a large hit. Minor spoilers ahead!
Released: May 3, 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming
Stars: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer, Assumpta Serna
After moving to Los Angeles and starting at a new school, loner Rachel (Tunney) falls in with a group of girls, Nancy (Balk), Bonnie (Campbell), and Rochelle (True), known collectively throughout the school as the “bitches of Eastwick.” They are social outcasts from the school because Nancy is poor, white trash in a school filled with rich snobs, Bonnie has horrible burn scars all over her back causing her to be painfully shy, and Rochelle is the one black person in the school and is cruelly picked on by the white, popular kids. The three girls need a fourth to complete their circle to call forth the spirit of Manon and Rachel being a natural witch is a perfect to fit into the wannabe coven.
After invoking the powers of the deity, the four women start to get what they want out of life. Rachel’s crush, obnoxious jock Chris (Ulrich), starts falls obsessively in love with her. Nancy’s abusive step-father drops dead of a heart attack leaving her and her mother a small fortune. Bonnie’s scars disappear and she becomes the new hot girl of the school. Rochelle’s biggest tormentor starts to lose her hair and apologizes for the way she treated Rochelle. But the power becomes all too intoxicating to Nancy, driving her mad and Bonnie and Rochelle are all too happy to follow along, leaving Rachel feeling isolated once again. Nancy eventually crosses the line and kills Chris in a fit of rage. It is up to Rachel to find the inner strength to call upon the spirit to stop Nancy before anyone else gets hurt.
Back in the 90’s, witches and witchcraft were hugely popular with adolescent and early 20 year old women. The Craft, along with TV shows that came a little later like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, had a large cultural impact on young ladies everywhere (myself included). Even though Manon was completely fabricated for the film, the fake deity now pops up in New Age books as a result of people thinking he was real after the movie became such a huge hit. Groups of young women gathered wanting to start a coven of their very own, buying books and candles, calling out to nature, and “playing light as a feather, stiff as a board” at slumber parties. Something about the inherent girl power essence equated with witchcraft made women want to find their inner spell caster.
The movie itself is far from perfect.
There was a practicing Wiccan who was hired as a consultant to make the rituals authentic looking without actually performing real rituals, but many of her suggestions were ignored in favor of style. Rachel, who is not in complete control of her powers when we first meet her, uses her newly found proficiency to get a boyfriend causing conflict between her and Nancy, who wanted the same man. Bonnie asks to be beautiful on both the inside and outside, but immediately turns into a mean girl when her burn scars heal. Unfortunately when you go back and rewatch the film, the takeaway message seems to be women can’t handle power and someone needs to keep them in their place. With covens as a stand in for feminism and sisterhood, the film also seems to be saying women can’t handle being together without getting into fights. Nancy’s jealousy and Bonnie’s vanity needs to be put in check by Rachel, who is attack by the other three girls when she starts to feel the weight of their actions. The one wise witch in the movie (Serna) is always seen alone and never talks about being in a coven helping to sell the idea of women cannot be powerful in groups without the drama.
One concept I took from The Craft is “Life keeps a balance on its own… whatever you send out, you will get back times three.” A lesson in karma self-obsessed millennials, online trolls, and politicians need to remember. I was only 13 (nearly 14) when the movie was released and the philosophy had a real impact on my still forming personality. I’m a heavy believer in you put bad things out there and you get bad things back, but you do your best to be a good person and the universe will be good to you. It is the only way I can feel sanity in a messed up world.
After the 90's
Eventually the witches and the girl power fad faded from popularity and were replaced by a love of the dangerous, bad boys. In the late 2000’s The Vampire Diaries and True Blood tried to bring back witchcraft by incorporating spell casters into their storylines, but it didn’t take. Vampires and werewolves reigned supreme for quite some time and were replaced for a while by zombies. Now it is all about fear of the future with dystopian films which have brought back the girl power notion as the films are always centered on the one girl with that special quality who can save humanity. Maybe one day in the near future, the spirit and magic of nature will gain popularity once again.
Are you a 90s kid such as myself? Did you want to form your own coven after feeling the girl power too? I’m really curious what men thought of the film. There was talk of a remake, but I think the idea was quickly quashed when the news was met with a lot of backlash.