By Alexis Eastman
I was 6 going on 7 when The Craft came out, and from then, until I moved out at 17, the official record was that I had never seen the film. The unofficial record was that I had caught a solid 40 minutes of the middle on TBS- until I had to switch it back to Trading Spaces when my Mom came downstairs. And for those of you with strictly religious upbringings this act of subterfuge- constantly shrouding your morbid curiosity for contemporary culture - is familiar. It’s likely that you still to this day, get a rush when you watch Friends or Harry Potter. (The former, of course, sublimated messages of promiscuous sex and the latter, well, he is a Warlock).
It’s this phenomena which prevents me from ever knowing if my love for the occult, Horror films and all things macabre is nature or nurture. Did I exit the womb with a simple, congenital passion for the details of serial murders or did it all just arise from an embarrassingly Freudian repression of, and obsession with, that which my mother Fears?
Regardless, those sexy 40 minutes of The Craft seared the film to the running list of “Things I Would Consume Once I Escaped My Parents House” and, my hand to Manon, it was the first thing I streamed on my university’s wifi. Fairuza Balk and her big oil pool eyes had been calling to me for over a decade and at 17, she and the movie seemed perfect. I watched my high school self as Neve Campbell’s awkward Bonnie, shuffling through the first two acts to come out a dream babe rocking shampoo commercial hair and magic powers. I thought to myself “this movie GETS ME.”
It’s echoes in pop culture are widespread; one scroll through tumblr reveals its heavy influence over the internet generation still caught in it’s spell. So much so it somehow seemed witchy and meaningful that in the same year that this film turned 20 , millennial it girl Tavi Gevinson took the stage in yet another remount of The Crucible. I don’t know how these things are connected but goddamit, it called for a rewatch.
So my blu-ray rip is cued (Sorry, Columbia Pictures) and the opening credits are rolling: A Douglas Wick Production, A Film by Andrew Fleming, Screenplay by Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming, Story by Peter Filardi. Then there’s a new name and I’m holding my breath for “Amy Heckerling” and it’s like, Produced by Douglas Wick.
I’m panicking. This 90’s girl power classic was made by a dude. This guy thought he was the one to write the movie that would really crack open the dark side of teen girl angst. My eyes are rolling into the back of my head as I make a bet with myself that he grew up with a couple of sisters so he also really “gets periods”.
Andrew Fleming is like one of the boys in the Virgin Suicides. A boundaryless voyeur whose sincere perspective on the suicide of an entire family of women is something like “In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained. Oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn't name.” He’s the kinda guy who Loves Women. No like, he looooves them. Like, he thinks he worships women but he’s just not seeing them as human people.
This Hitflix Article goes as far as to postulate that some of the success of the film (aside, of course, from the film’s scathingly insightful and well-written script) is because of Fleming’s rapport with the cast, that it was his youth and proximity to teen-hood that made him "extra good” at working with the girls on set. He certainly didn’t get that skill from his blood oath with the demons of faux-liberalism.
My panic over the Andrew Fleming credits was confirmed about 20 minutes in. Nancy explains to new girl Sarah: “If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium that they played on. It would be the sun that shone down on them.” Firstly, wow, not the metaphor I expected to hear coming from a girl who grew up in a trailer in LA and spends all her time jacking semi-sacred objects from local businesses, but that’s just one former angsty teen witch’s perspective.
Secondly, this exchange happens in the First Act so you’ve got to think it is setting up the belief system these girls will refer to for the rest of the film. Sarah’s just been welcomed into this ragtag group of binches, and blunt metaphors aside, their concept of no good or evil appeals both to Sarah and the audience. But it’s a temporary seduction because Fleming seems to forget his protagonists don’t believe in Judeo-Christian values of right and wrong and within 20 minutes of that scene the original brunette trio Nancy, Rochelle & Bonnie are straight up evil; totally drunk on their power and succumbing to their inner Bridezilla’s (because there’s one in every girl).
Much to Sarah’s surprise, Nancy, Rochelle & Bonnie are so consumed by the spoils of their spells (i.e. $175,000, alopecia and beached sharks), they disregard the consequences. Sarah is terrified- she made friends with nicer, less self-centered teen witches than this!- so she quits the group. And this is not just giving back the Travelling Pants- without their 4th member, the trio doesn’t have the power to invoke Manon, to call to ALL 4 Guardians of the Watchtowers. And if you thought Nancy was mean before, you should see her after her supernatural prowess is threatened. Talk about PMS.
Nancy won’t take no for an answer so later that night she, and the other 2 show up at Sarah’s house for some classic girl revenge: to threaten her within an inch of her life using snakes, frogs, maggots and rats. Long story short, Sarah is almost dying on her bathroom floor and then has an idea to revive herself by invoking Manon and calling to all 4 Watchtowers by HERSELF. He gets invoked no problem and like Christ, she is revived.
Sarah arises all-powerful and travels through a mirror to Nancy downstairs, even bringing a message straight from Manon- he is NOT impressed. Then Good(y) Sarah casts a binding spell to stop Nancy from acting out. We see her ultimately condemned to a mental institution - literally bound in a straight jacket ~~ forever. (SO FUCKING DEEP, FLEMING).
The next day Bonnie and Rochelle return to Sarah’s house to apologize for how “it all got out of hand”. And in case it wasn’t clear enough that Sarah is #blessed and Good and the other ones are crappy, she smites them with lightning and doesn’t accept their apology.
It is with a heavy heart I bear this news to all of you: The Craft is moralistic misogyny disguised in admittedly v cute knee socks. Purporting to be SUPER feminist is the hallmark of insidious, Taylorswiftism. That kind of thing where at first it’s your friend, but then all of a sudden it’s sort of not so subtly tricking you into empathizing with attempted rapists and assured racists. (Not sorry your hair falls out in the third act Marsha. You used the word “negroid.” Jesus.) The Craft is just 4 teenage girls talking about how great Manon is the whole fucking time. So if Manon is a “He” entity like they say, then I doubt this “love letter to girl rage” even passes the Bechdel Test.
* Fun Fact: Scream and The Craft came out in the same year and Skeet Ulrich had it in his contract that he would play the same character in both films to make it easier on him. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll do both movies, but if I’m not playing the same vaguely sexually threatening teenage criminal doing a half-cooked impression of Johnny Depp in Crybaby - forget about it.”