This month I decided to go full Halloween, and conjure up a few suggestions from my past. We stat with 'The Craft'; a somewhat modern take on witches. This movie was so powerful for its time that when the mid to late 90s brought the Goth trend around, this film was one of the primary fuel sources (along with many other things). We also get a great take on strong female characters, each having to overcome their own obstacles in their complex teenage lives.
When a troubled teenage girl named Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to a new town in LA, three girls who practice witchcraft quickly pick up on the fact that she can pull off some real magic. Seemingly headed by Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), the rest of the crew consists of Rochelle Zimmerman (Rachel True) and Bonnie Harper (Neve Campbell), who is the one who discovers Sarah as she twists a pencil into the surface of her desk using only her mind... how no one else sees it is beyond me, but it's the moment that gets things going.
The three girls approach Sarah to be their fourth so that they can really start to pull off some real magic, and the desire to do so is fueled individually. Nancy lives with an abusive stepfather in a trailer, Rochelle has to deal with a nasty, racist blonde cheerleader type named Laura (Christine Taylor), and Bonnie has horrible burn scars all over her back. Meanwhile, Sarah's trouble is mostly from herself, and the trauma of attempted suicide haunts her.
While the four form a bond, and start to get their witchcraft on track, what begins as simple curses turn into real threats when some of their powers are abused. This mostly comes from Nancy who will stop at nothing to feel bigger than she is, even if it means invoking a wiccan spirit known as Manon - essentially a wiccan version of The Force. The way it's described in the film is, to paraphrase, "the stadium in which God and Satan would play football" - a pretty cool idea.
One can look at this film in several different ways, but I tend to see it as a mixture between a story about teenage angst, and a cautionary tale about abuse of power. A lot of the angst comes from the girls being the outcasts of the school, the desire to use their magic to get rid of their problems. Let's face it, as teenagers, we all wanted a little bit of magic on our side to deal with whatever problems we were facing. The rest, about abuse of power, is fairly self-explanatory. The final takeaway from yours truly is "be careful what you wish for", as well as there being a karmic factor to one's actions.
If I were to make a Top 10 list of "most influential high school films", in general, this would probably make the list. Much like 'Dazed & Confused', it was almost a high school staple. Things took off with this so much, in fact, that because of it, some of the people I went to school with actually got heavily into the wiccan culture, and taking it about as seriously as Ned Flanders takes Christianity. It was sort of mind-blowing, and the whole witch thing would become super popular. I don't know if this is true or not, but I also wonder if the whole trend helped guide younger minds towards 'Harry Potter', whose first book was published just one year after this. There really was something about magic back then.
Anyway, with a new one on the horizon for this Halloween (which I intend on reviewing as well), the timing here couldn't be much more perfect. It had been a while since I've actually sat down and watched this, so I wondered how dated it would be. However, I personally thought it held up pretty well. It may look like something very 90s on the surface, but there is something timeless about the story being told, teaching us to curb our power (if we have it) as well as love ourselves enough to face the darkness head on (a little more towards the climax). If nothing else, it's a fun flick for the season, complete with a great, dark soundtrack that will put you in the mood for Halloween.