Teenagers obsessed with the occult seems like a no-brainer. Isolated, alienated and angsty teens calling upon otherworldly forces to empower themselves is everyone’s secret fantasy. However, people rarely think about the source of this popular trope in movies and television. Before Willow Rosenberg turned from a liability into a lesbian super-witch on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and plain Jane Bella Swan entered the world of sparkly vampires in “Twilight,” “The Craft” found four outcasts using magic to get back at the mean teens in their Catholic School. This movie just might be responsible for the crazy trend of teens obsessed with magic that is still alive 18 years later.
It can be hard to imagine a world before brands and television networks specifically targeted the teen market. There was a time where teen shows like “Saved by the Bell” and “California Dreams” came on after Saturday morning cartoons. This is presumably after suburban teens slept off their hangovers. It wasn’t until the runaway success of “Scream” and shows like “Buffy” that people started to pay attention to and, to a greater extent, target teens. Sure, there were shows about teen life like “Party of Five” and “My So-Called Life,” but they focused on families. What teen wants to watch parents struggling with their sex lives? Teen shows and movies often featured significantly older actors and a squeaky-clean Disney approach to being a teenager. Look at the 1992 “Buffy” movie that had 23-year-old Kristy Swanson fighting over-the-top campy vampires or camp-ires. The 1980s had “Teen Witch,” where a girl discovers she has the magical ability to make people break out into song and turn her brother into a dog. But “The Craft” changed all that by addressing real issues in high school like how mean kids can be, real teenage sex complete with STDs, and it gave a more realistic take on what kids would do with magic if they had it.
Sarah (Robin Tunney) is suicidal and emo. Her parents move to try and give her a better life. But, given the animal kingdom politics of high school, she’s quickly bullied into social no-man’s-land. She befriends a group of outcasts including burn victim Bonnie (Neve Campbell), the only black girl in school Rochelle (Rachel True) and white-trash Nancy (Fairuza Balk). Together they start dabbling in the occult and getting real results. They enact vengeance on the teens that tortured them and reform their lives. It’s part metaphor for the high school experience and part wish fulfillment.
The casting of this movie is great! Campbell was already a star on “Party of Five” and went on to find great success in the “Scream” movies with “The Craft” co-star Skeet Ulrich. Tunney starred in the ode to alternative music “Empire Records.” Coincidentally, she had shaved her head for that movie and had to wear a wacky wig for the whole film. Balk was also the star of one of the creepiest kid’s movies ever, “Return to Oz.”
Upon watching the film now, the editing might be a little dicey because there are a major continuity missteps. Also, the rules of this magic isn’t completely clear. But “The Craft” deserves some major credit for creating an obsession with the occult. Before the real outbreak of the Goth scene and Hot Topic bringing an outward expression of your inner darkness to the suburbs, this film really was part of the tipping point of angsty teenagers rebelling. It also was one of the first movies of the big teen-slasher flick boom of the late ’90s.
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Teens and adults obsessed with vampires and witches should check out this flashback film. It was integral to putting a face to feelings all teens have and helped create the genre teens can’t stop obsessing over now. Plus, girls in Catholic school uniforms are fun for everyone. This classic film is available on Netflix, or if you’re one of the minority of people still buying DVDs, it’s worth purchasing from the bargain bin. Die-hard fans of this film could also watch it for a fresh perspective considering where the genre went with the success of shows like “Charmed” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”