Every October, I kick off the month of horror movie bingeing with The Craft. I get so excited all through September just because I get to watch all my favorite horror films or supernatural/witch-related films, and The Craft is one of my staples.
Nearly 20 years since its release (it opened in 1996), The Craft has since become a cult classic, especially amongst young women who want to embrace their inner witch as well as take inspiration from its very off the moment 90s grunge wiccan aesthetic.
But what is it that makes The Craft so compelling? Witches will always fascinate people and especially women, and that's something I intend to explore further in my unofficial Halloween series, especially in terms of their place in feminist discourse. The 90s grunge aesthetic of course, but I think it's also the fact that the film is about outsiders, and shows a very balanced take on witchcraft, both the good and the bad. The ending is also startlingly un-Hollywood and to certain people, bleak or cynical.
"We are the weirdos, mister."
The four girls in The Craft are distinct outsiders. Sarah, our protagonist, has just moved from San Francisco. It is never explained exactly why she moved, but the script alludes to her suicide attempt, possible depression and that could be one of the reasons. Nancy, played with thrilling glee by Fairuza Balk, is the crazy one that everyone who has watched The Craft, loves. Nancy is 'white trash', she lives in a trailer with her parents and considering she goes to a Catholic private school, I'm assuming that social class wise, she is right down at the bottom. Nancy also doesn't try to blend in. While the other 3 girls can pass off as trying to blend in with the rest of the crowd (at least, until their magic takes flight), Nancy sticks out like a sore thumb from the beginning with the way she dresses and behaves.
Bonnie, played by Neve Campbell, one of 90s great Scream Queens, is an outsider because of her burn scars. And Rochelle is discriminated against by the white girls in her school just because she is black.
The four girls use witchcraft to empower themselves, which is again a recurring theme associated with witchcraft in film. Witchcraft gives them the power to right the wrongs or fix the problems in their lives. Sarah is humiliated by Chris, the school jerk/stud who also slutshames Nancy. Laura, a blonde, popular white girl on the diving team with Rochelle, is racist and psychologically attacks and bullies her. As revenge, Sarah puts a love spell on Chris to make him obsessed with her, and Rochelle curses Laura that her beautiful blonde hair falls out.
Bonnie also succeeds in making her burn scars go away and Nancy, who has been wishing to get out of her poor circumstances, ends up possibly causing her father's death which results in her mother and her receiving a huge payout from his insurance.
Female Power and The Sisterhood
"The only way you know how to treat women is treating them like whores! And that's going to stop!"
What is also particularly admirable about The Craft and unusually forward thinking in terms of Hollywood (even though it was the 90s) is that it does introduce some feminist themes. Whether or not one considers it a feminist movie is up to one's own interpretation of feminism since I believe feminism is a mutable concept that varies from person to person.
The film briefly touches on the idea of misogyny and double standards with regards to the Chris character. The girls are allowed to be vulnerable, caring, but also massively flawed. They are allowed to do terrible things, but the script doesn't particularly do much to redeem them (the way every male character is allowed to be written, ever, but females still aren't allowed to be in 2015). In other words, the female character does not need to be "the moral compass" and allowed to exist as a human being and not a loaded metaphor for goodness.
It also introduces an idea of sisterhood, but it also shows how it turns on itself. The four girls start out as outsiders and good people, and bond together as a sisterhood through their shared differences and become empowered through magic. But their obsession with power causes the sisterhood to fracture. The girls begin treating people the way they were being treated and turn against Sarah, who is supposed to be one of their own.
There is so much talk lately in society about feminism and needing to form a sisterhood, but no one talks about how within feminism, fractures and conflict continue to exist as women exclude other women and refuse to discuss through these conflicts to be more inclusive.
But I digress a little. Going back to The Craft, I also want to briefly touch on the idea of duality. I enjoy duality as a theme in fiction a lot, because it connotes to a lot of different ideas.
In The Craft I think, the duality lies in the girls finding the darker side of themselves within witchcraft. For Sarah, it actually becomes a source of strength as she fully embraces it without losing herself to it. It is initially a source of torment of her as she believes she is abnormal and cursed, but when she embraces it she takes that curse--- that difference--- and makes it her strength (another theme I want to discuss with regards to witchcraft in fiction). But the other 3 girls lose themselves to their darker side. In the cinematography, this duality becomes a recurring image in the second half, after the girls begin to fully use their powers.
The Craft continues to capture the imaginations of young women and definitely teenage girls because I think is its ideas of being an outsider, sisterhood, empowerment are particularly relatable to young women who are struggling with who they are and feeling different. But it really sets itself apart with the exploration of the darker side of these themes when the people that have been excluded all their lives end up being the ones who hurt others. It doesn't offer up the after-school special Glee-esque kumbayah version of being an outsider and "finding your people". And I think that kind of honesty is appreciated.