Starring: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
Writer/Director: Peter Filardi, Andrew Fleming / Andrew Fleming
Studio: Columbia Pictures
“We are the weirdos, mister.”
In 1996, teenage girls the world over wanted to be witches - and with good reason. After Paramount had played its part in collectively dumbing down growing girls with their tribute to the privileged, shallow fashionista teenager, Clueless, Columbia Pictures responded in kind with a film highlighting the darker side of high school, melding the social strata found in high schools across the country with rebellious spirit and light gothic culture. The result was The Craft, one of the better films about the dangers of witchcraft to surface in many years.
The story is simple enough: troubled teen Sarah (Robin Tunney) is the new girl at a Catholic high school and falls in with a crowd of social outcasts, who also happen to practice their own special brand of witchcraft. Nancy (indie flick darling Fairuza Balk) is the product of a dysfunctional family life and the unspoken leader of the group. Cripplingly shy Bonnie (Neve Campbell) bears the physical and emotional scars of a catastrophic fire, and Rochelle (Rachel True) is the victim of constant racist bullying at the hands of the school’s golden girl Laura, played by Christine Taylor. Accepting Sarah into their fold, the small coven realizes that her inherent power as a natural witch is the final key needed for them to unlock their own occult talents.
Their new-found power soon leads to corruption, as they victimize their families and classmates and go through extreme personality changes, high on the magic they can access at will. When the affections of a teenage boy (played by Skeet Ulrich) comes between them, their tight bond as a coven begins to splinter, pitting Sarah against Nancy in a battle for power and a life and death struggle, leaving dead bodies in their wake.
Criticized for its unrealistic approach to Wicca and paganism, the praise The Craft may not have received from the critics was heaped upon it by an adoring public. This was the anti-Clueless, for the girls who’d sooner hang a noose in their locker than a mirror. Everyone who has ever been an outcast and longed for the power of payback can relate; everyone who has ever taken something a little too far can as well. Another note of concern from critics, the irrepressible Robert Ebert in particular, is that the massive power the girls discover is used only for their own devices, but Ebert and his fellows seem to forget one thing: the girls are teenagers, the most self-centered and self-absorbed beasts to ever walk the earth. Their power is used as any teenager would use it, to sate their basest desires and fulfill their needs for revenge.
The standout performance in the film is given by Fairuza Balk as Nancy, whose unhappy family life leads her down the darker path of witchcraft and ultimately dooms them as a coven. Cycling from cynical and teasing to outright insane, the character traverses the path in an easy, realistic approach. The audience can see it’s coming, and knows that it cannot be stopped.
The Craft is, simply put, a great film. Combined with Scream, which opened the same year, it is the pinnacle of 90’s teen horror, and one of the better films on witchcraft to grace movie screens.