The Craft (1996) — Shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior

“We are the weirdos, mister.”

Justin’s rating: Brought to you by Candles by Jan!

Justin’s review: The Craft was always one of those movies that I noticed plenty of my female friends glomming onto in the ’90s. Kind of a mixture of girl power, revenge fantasy, and friendship bonding trips that ordinarily results in a Heathers-style school massacre or traveling pants. But since nobody tied me down and forced me to watch it, I figured I’d get around to it one of these days.

Which I did. A quarter century after it came out.

In a way, that’s a great time span to evaluate cult movies, because there’s so much “after” history and effects to note. The Craft got middling reviews and a decent $55 million haul, but it wasn’t quite the instant Gen X touchstone as, say, Clueless was just a year earlier.

However, The Craft worked much better as a slightly risqué video store rental for rebellious teenagers looking for a bit of wish fulfillment and control over their ever-shifting lives. It’s since developed an ardent fan base who view this as a counter-cultural manifesto of the mid ’90s. Or just people who like bugs and snakes and a whole lotta candles.

If you take the whole premise of witchcraft out of it (which is hard considering the title), this movie is a formulaic if enjoyable visit with four Catholic high school girls who bond over being outcasts, butterfly-related field trips, and giggly sleepovers. It’s these friendships that help form the bulwark against the nastiness of teen years: bullies, racism, domestic abuse, body image, poverty, and a dude who keeps running up to you trying to give you a snake. Snake Guy was my hands-down favorite part of this movie, despite only being in two scenes, and I wish that there was a prequel to explain his story.

Of course, you can’t really separate the story from the magic, because it’s through witchcraft (or “the craft” as the cool kids call it) that the foursome gain abilities to improve their lives. Sarah (Robin Tunney, Empire Records) wants a football jock to be less of a jerk and more of a boyfriend to her. Nancy (Fairuza Balk, Return to Oz) would love to rise above her white trash status. Rochelle (Rachel True, Half Baked) wants revenge against her racist high dive nemesis. And Bonnie (Neve Campbell, Scream) desires all of her burn scars to go away.

So they partake of all sorts of rituals — usually the chanting over lit candles — to access a pagan god to get what they want. They rush into this with the gleeful ignorance of teens who don’t want to read the manual before jumping into the driver’s seat of a car. And for a time, their wishes come true. For a time.

Then everything starts backfiring on them because they didn’t read the fine print of witchcraft which says “irony will kick your butt three times harder than what you invoked.”

It’s at this point, about an hour in, that The Craft starts careening hard into the horror genre. Darker impulses throw three of the group against Sarah as their powers — or perhaps their hunger for it — get out of hand. Part of that irony is exchanging a lack of control in one way for another. Eventually it devolves into the most ’90s of ’90s tropes, a CGI fest full of snake fingers. Sigh. If only Snake Man was here to appreciate it.

The Craft betrays its core message of empowerment and friendship in the last act for some lame good witches vs. bad witches conflict. While I guess I can check this off my list of classic ’90s movies to see, I can’t say I got much out of it at all.

Didja notice?

  • Witches really like their candles
  • Oh bummer, you have to move into an enormous gorgeous mansion with one small roof leak
  • Snake guy is here! Honey, who ordered the snakes?
  • She’s got a hangman’s noose in her locker?
  • Evil witch pencil trick
  • “You know how to use candles?”
  • Snake guy returns! And is promptly run over!
  • “What’s your obsession with heads?” “I was just noticing how great yours was.” SMOOTH.
  • Their outfits change to become more flattering as the movie progresses
  • The soundtrack is a who’s who of the ’90s alt rock scene, including Sponge, Letters to Cleo, Heather Noval, Matthew Sweet, Jewel, and Elastica.
  • How DO you get down from levitating?
  • Of course they watch Bewitched
  • Marsha Marsha Marsha’s hair came out
  • If you fall into $175,000, it’s time to buy a jukebox
  • The hair color change. Horrible wig, tho.
  • Snake kissing
  • Lightning is a healthy thing to get struck by
  • What’s behind the curtainnnnnnn
  • This magic shop has WAY too many lit candles
  • It’s the bugs ‘n’ snakes hour!
  • CGI snake hand

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