For angsty young people growing up in the ’90s, there was a range of films we could choose from to see reflections of our semi-serious teenage life crises. One of them was The Craft, released in theaters in May 1996, a full six months before another iconic teen horror flick, Scream. By some accounts, The Craft was a decent film at best, loaded with melodrama, snake imagery and bad special effects, while to many it’s a cult classic that connected intensely to outcasts with a vague interest in the occult.
The movie stars Sarah (Robin Tunney), a teen who moves to L.A. with her family and befriends three witches in her new Catholic school, each with their own tragic circumstances. Nancy (Fairuza Balk) lives with her mom and abusive stepdad, Bonnie (Neve Campbell) is insecure about her childhood burn scars and Rochelle (Rachel True) gets bullied by the popular chick (Christine Taylor) who happens to be racist. The four girls, together, cast spells and use witchcraft to pursue revenge, as any normal disturbed 16-year-old would. They also kill people. With The Craft turning 20 today, myself, Madeleine and Bobby got together in the name of demon god Manon to talk about why the film is such a great, endlessly cheesy classic.
Clover: I re-watched The Craft over the weekend and forgot it’s like a goth/witch Heathers? I went back to find reviews and, of course, it has 2 1/2 stars on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger and Ebert gave it 2 stars in a 1996 review and wrote: “The movie’s failure is one of imagination. It tilts too far in the direction of horror and special effects, when it might have been more fun to make a satirical comedy about punk teenagers.” Which I think, no. For some reason I was super into witch-related content as a teen.
Madeleine: That makes sense! Teens are often young women who take their desires and turn them into realities. What girl wouldn’t want that?
Clover: Right, and this was a movie about female outsiders who wanted to change their circumstances. Rochelle is bullied by the racist chick. Bonnie wants to get rid of her body scars...
Madeleine: Ben Stiller’s wife! Who wouldn’t want to make her lose all her hair. Yeah, the other girls at school are all so mean to them and, through magic, they make them pay. As a former high school dorkwad, I really get the appeal.
Bobby: The mean girls (and boys) of that movie—Christine Taylor and Skeet Ulrich and whoever else—sort of represent the crappy Heathers wannabes Ebert is mentioning. The movie is about not fitting in, and the fact that it’s a genuine horror movie—not some typical teen comedy—is what makes it so special.
Clover: This was before Scream, right?
Bobby: Same year.
Clover: So Skeet was like the it-Who back then. Where is he now?
Bobby: He and Neve were both in Scream later that year.
Madeleine: I actually did not see The Craft until about five years ago and to be honest, I didn’t love it on my first viewing.
Bobby: What made you wait? Did you just think you’d hate it? I’m interested in knowing the reputation it had for someone who didn’t watch it a lot as a teen.
Maddie: Growing up, I was aware of The Craft, but it wasn’t something that my friends were that into and it never really crossed my path. Then, on Halloween of 2010(?), there was this freak blizzard in New York that made me decide to stay in and FINALLY watch The Craft. I let Manon take my Craft virginity and it didn’t feel great. Not bad—just not great.
Clover: You were a teen five years ago Maddie, no? So young.
Madeleine: That’s true, Clover. I just had my 21st birthday!
Clover: Welcome to adulthood!
Bobby: You and Gigi!
Madeleine: Yet another thing Gigi and I have in common. (We also both have sex with Zayn.)
Bobby: If you told me you had sex with Zayn, I’d believe you over Gigi. No offense to Gigi.
Bobby: I just don’t buy them.
Clover: Same. They probably barely look at each other. Speaking of looking at each other (bad segue), Bobby did you try the spells? I remember maybe doing the levitation one.
Bobby (Great segue). I tried “light as a feather, stiff as a board” exactly once. But I was way too old.
Clover: Did it work?
Bobby: It did not work! I had always wanted to try it, but never got around to it until college. I think a lot of my love for it is steeped in this feeling that it was the OTHER teen movie. I wasn’t really into the ones that came around that time, like Can’t Hardly Wait and Empire Records. It was like, “I found MINE.”
Clover: I also felt a kinship with it.
Bobby: Fortunately, I can still watch it now and enjoy it. Can’t say that about a lot of movies I loved as a teen.
Madeleine: Watching it alone didn’t help. But this year, I went with a friend to see it over brunch at Nighthawk and I finally got what made it special.
Clover: There’s a point where the plot gets much darker and they start turning on Sarah.
Bobby: Yeah, everyone but her is sort of wrecked by the end of that movie? It’s like Heathers in that way. Even her friends are out of the picture. Heather even ends with Martha. Sarah’s alone.
Madeleine: Can I just say that I find the comparison to Heathers VERY offensive. Heathers is a genius movie and The Craft, stripped of nostalgia and fanfare, is... just okay.
Bobby: I agree that Heathers is the smarter, more groundbreaking movie…but I think The Craft is better than just okay.
Madeleine: Wow, this is where we get real.
Clover: Heathers was ’89 so there’s some inspiration, which gives Heathers the advantage.
Madeleine: Definitely. I think Heathers has influenced EVERY teen movie that’s come after it.
(A jinx moment)
Bobby: Every teen movie made after Heathers owes Heathers something.
Madeleine: One thing I hope we can all come together on is that The Craft is the defining work of Fairuza Balk’s career. It even inspired her to buy a magic store in 1995.
Bobby: Hahaha. Her delivery of “THEN WHY ARE YOU STILL BLEEDING” will haunt me forever.
Clover: That was a great line. There’s this whole trove of movies with teen girls, namely outsiders, getting revenge. Or just getting out their emotions, feeling some sense of power when they’re supposed to be powerless.
Bobby: And Christine Taylor’s mean girl character is so well-crafted and vicious. She puts a lot of teen bullies to shame and says/does some surprisingly evil stuff! The R rating really helps. The Craft would not have worked as a PG-13 movie.
Madeleine: Maybe that’s a part of my problem, Bobby! It feels very PG-13 to me. Like it’s not terribly violent or sexy. Sarah’s final Nancy showdown looks very corny to me.
Clover: The final action sequence is extremely cheesy.
Bobby: Hmmm, I guess you’re right. How many people die in it? Three?
Madeleine: Skeet dies, right?
Bobby: The homeless man Sarah uses The Craft to run over, Skeet….
Madeleine: That poor hobo.
Bobby: As for the sexiness, I like that it’s not sexy. But I think, you know, specifically as a gay teen you’re happy to watch a movie about a protagonist whose ultimate goal isn’t heterosexual love. Specifically, finding it in high school.
Madeleine: I would have been happy with some les action.
Bobby: Sarah just wanted to make friends and make pencils stand on their tips!
Clover: Re-watching it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the rape scene when I was a teen. With Skeet’s character Chris and Sarah.
Bobby: Oh, same Clover. I didn’t read that as attempted rape at the time.
Madeleine: That was another thing: I was happy when Skeet died and didn’t get why Sarah was being such a freaking killjoy over it.
Clover: Skeet is tossed out the window via Nancy’s powers after she pretends to be Sarah. I was like... Great.
Madeleine: Bye, fucker. How did he go from looking so ugly in that movie to pretty hot in Scream?
Bobby: Different hair? Also he was regularly seen next to Matthew Lillard, and probably looked better because of it.
Madeleine: That was rhetorical. I know exactly how.
Bobby: When you have to choose between Skeet or Lillard, who’s choosing Lillard?! And when you’re a parent choosing between Skeet and literally any other name, why would you choose Skeet?!?!?!
Madeleine: I have this theory that Fairuza was probably a nightmare on The Craft set. Just because she seems like the type to go method. Like, imagine running into her at craft services. “WE’RE OUT OF THE GOOD OATMEAL, MAAAAAHN.” “Chill, Fairuza. We can get more!”
Bobby: Shoving gummy worms in her mouth and spitting them all at you.
Clover: With aggressive eye liner. In the end, Rochelle and Bonnie want to know if Sarah still has her powers.
Bobby: Oh, I LOVE the ending. The tree! She’s like ZZZAPPPP BITCHES. I love it. I guess I just realized how defensive I can get about The Craft! I had no idea I cared about it that much.
Madeleine: Yeah, Bobby. I really didn’t mean to touch a nerve or take away from The Craft love. Just figured everyone experienced the world through a cynical vail of mocking to avoid real feelings like I do.
Bobby: Haha, it’s honestly fine. You know. Nostalgia. But it has survived the test of time better than a lot of garbage from that time.
Clover: I learned that witchcraft is dangerous unless you have a really good reason for it. Every teen should be forced to watch it.
Madeleine: Fairuza’s mouth deserved its own Oscar for that movie, so if we could award it that retrospectively, I’d appreciate it.