Last week Sony announced that they’re remaking The Craft. And then the internet exploded. The horrified gasps of thirty-somethings rang through the ether. Cries of “Noooo!” and “Whyyyyy?” could be heard from every corner of social media.
Okay, hang on. We’ll get back to the outrage.
To clarify (with mild spoilers): The Craft is a 1996 movie about a coven of high school pseudo-witches. They’re basically a gaggle of goths, outcast for one reason or another, until a new girl starts at their school who has actual powers. They take her in and explain their version of Wicca to her, so she becomes comfortable enough to show them how to do what she can do. They learn from her, usurp her powers, go a little batshit, and turn on both her and everyone who wronged them in the past. All hell breaks loose and it becomes a good witch versus bad witch situation.
As silly as it sounds, there’s a lot going on in this movie. The 90s were a very gothy time. Not in that lovely Victorian-esque, grownup way (which has since largely morphed into steampunk), but in a post-grunge, angry young Marilyn Manson fans in black lipstick kind of way. I don’t know how closely they’re related, but it makes good sense to me that Wicca was a huge deal in the 90s as well. The gothy version, mind you, not the hippiefied, crystal-munching, Earth goddess version. I suspect both of these trends were direct results of 60s and 70s teens coming of age. On the one hand, alternative religions became more acceptable because of all those New Age parents. And on the other hand, there’s the fallout from the Satanic cult scare of that era, which affected everything from practices in child psychology to the way law enforcement deals with religious groups, and of course every heavy metal band ever. All of which is to say that The Craft took advantage of a cultural perfect storm on a lot of levels.
As a teenage goth girl, The Craft was pretty much made and marketed specifically for my demographic. I was interested in Wicca myself, being at that age when one searches everywhere for any like-minded community and just tries shit on for size. I was never a spell-caster, per se, but I definitely read a lot of books on the subject, burned a ton of candles, and pissed off my parents with a séance or two. I never believed any of it was real, though, and I think that was the stumbling block to finding the deeper meaning or comfort that one should get out of any religion. But it did lead me down a rabbit hole to other New Age practices, meditation, Buddhism, and from there to Beat poetry, Castaneda, Bill Hicks, and on and on. My lifelong devotion to weirdos of every flavor can probably be traced directly back to those four idiot girls chanting “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” Sounds trite, sure, but every chain has a first link.
There’s a great documentary on Netflix right now called Beyond Clueless that deconstructs teen movies from the late 90s and early 00s, particularly as they relate to the rules of high school and the portrayal of social structures among young women. It’s fucking fantastic. The bit about The Craft had a lot of interesting stuff about outcasts and power dynamics. Each of the four girls is weird for a different reason: the new girl, the girl from a broken home, the lone black girl, and the girl who is physically disfigured. Tropes or stereotypes, yes, but they’re bound together by this involuntary otherness and use that bond to create a group that then relies on their voluntary otherness (their witchcraft, which they could have practiced separately but didn’t). That’s high school for me in a nutshell right there. Find the weirdos and stick with them. Safety in numbers. And when I was a messed up teenager, seeing something even a little like myself represented onscreen was massively important. It’s one of the few dumb teen movies that I really loved, everything else seemingly being about beautiful people or romance or other stuff I didn’t care about at all. Also, I had just fallen ass over teakettle in love with Quentin Tarantino movies and films about heroin that I probably shouldn’t have been watching (I’m looking at you, Basketball Diaries), so the weirder the better to hold my interest.
As far as 90s teen movies about weirdos go, they’re either bubblegummy (Bubble Boy) or indie artsy (SLC Punk), but we did have a few other representations of Wiccans. Thing is, they were all either silly or psycho, and never a realistic representation of actual practitioners. When real Wiccans get together, stuff does not fly around the room. Sparks do not fly from wands. There’s a great stink of burning sage and a lot of talking, but none of that other nonsense. Anyway, Willow from Buffy is the obvious example, and one of my all-time favorite characters. She was great until that time she lost her shit and went all evil because someone killed her girlfriend. This is basically a “bitches be crazy” moment that somehow made it seem like the magic’s fault and not the result of grief. There are movies like Practical Magic and shows like Charmed, neither of which starred teenagers, so at the moment they’re irrelevant for our purposes. And of course Sabrina, which was just a sitcom with a quirk, pretty much a reboot of Bewitched without all that creepy 60s nuclear family propaganda (also heavily relying on residual viewership from Clarissa Explains It All, but was so different as to make that plan crash and burn with a quickness). These are all witches of the Hogwarts variety, not that girl from your dorm who sincerely believes that every living thing is connected and all energy is a resource that can be tapped with focused intention. And they’re damn sure not things that creep in the night.
But now, with some kind of hindsight malfunction, every article talking about The Craft remake is calling it a “cult horror” or a “teen horror” movie. For me, it’s neither of those. It did well at the box office and has had great success since then, so I would never call it cult. And when I think of “teen horror” as a genre, I wouldn’t compare any of those movies to The Craft. Something like I Know What You Did Last Summer is a great example of 90s teen horror. Or Final Destination, for a more supernatural plot point. Older stuff that’s more slashery tends to be populated with teens, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that those were marketed as teen films. And all four Scream movies relied heavily on teenagers being morons for one reason or another, even as the main cast aged out of the genre (I recently binge watched all of those, I should really do a post about that). More to the point, and I hate to pigeonhole or discourage anyone from watching The Craft if you haven’t seen it, but this is a chick flick. I might come off like an asshole for saying this, but no one makes horror movies that are marketed to girls. Sorry. Horror for girls is not a thing. Horror starring girls is a thing. Horror that girls enjoy is a thing. But horror made specifically for girls? Not a thing. It should be, but it isn’t. And there are too many reasons The Craft isn’t a horror movie for me to call it one just to fill a niche. Not going to do it.
I wonder if, remake or not, we really need another movie about young women being mean to each other. Yeah, sure, the first half is about solidarity and finding your tribe or whatever, but there’s a twenty minute magical catfight at the end of this movie. Which is the lesson that will stick? I’m all for making more female character-driven movies (especially with a female writer/director, as is the case with this remake), but the crux of this whole story is that a group of friends gets torn apart by jealousy and greed. They wanted her power, and when they got it they immediately forgot that their vulnerabilities were what drew them together in the first place. It’s a good way to put women in the age-old “absolute power corrupts absolutely” situation, but this is ultimately going to be watched mostly by teenagers and I suspect what they’ll see is just bitches throwing vengeance spells at each other. A glittery action film. Obviously I’m underestimating their critical thinking skills to some degree here, of course. Seriously, though, what teen do you know who comes out of a movie talking about the bigger social ramifications of gender politics or power dynamics in friend groups? I could think of a couple of kids in my life who would do so if asked, but they’re oddballs anyway and they’d have that conversation with me, not with their friends.
And everyone else who’s going to go see it will be angry women in their thirties who just want to see what a mess has been made of a thing we loved. I’ve said this before, but maybe it’s that generation gap thing. Maybe it’s just our turn. Maybe teenage girls will watch this remake with a different set of assumptions about witches than we had in the 90s. These kids are kind of steeped in supernatural entertainment and might be more primed for this type of story than we were at their age, because where we just saw angry goth girls they see something like other characters they’re already familiar with. But why not just watch the original? They don’t have cell phones, but other than that it totally holds up. And it has a great soundtrack. And Fairuza Balk completely losing her shit, which is always a pleasure to watch. There’s really nothing quite like it.
This remake is a bummer for so many people, I think, because it was so, so much a product of its day. It may not make sense now. To try to tell this story in a post-sparkly vampire world feels like they’re just grasping at supernatural straws, doesn’t it? Not only are they stepping on the adolescence of a ton of people, it’s just lazy movie making. “Bring me any script with a monster or some weird shit and at least three bitchy, hot chicks. I don’t care if it’s already been done! We’re going to pump this market as dry as Kristen Stewart’s acting!”
That was mean. I shouldn’t have said that.
But notice I didn’t delete it.
Why remake a twenty-year-old movie that’s probably both going to piss people off and not work as well as it did the first time? Why does this keep happening? Where are the new ideas? As if franchising titles up to fifty sequels weren’t bad enough. As though milking trilogies by adding an extra cliffhanger and a fourth movie weren’t the most insulting, obvious, money-grubbing scheme ever. I know it’s hard to get a movie from script to production, and that a lot of those movies are financial risks for those companies. But I feel like it’s condescending to audiences to assume we’ll just watch the same story over and over and over again. We can handle new ideas, new writers, new directors. We can be trusted. And pretty soon we’re going to get bored with the safe bet and angry that the things we love keep getting kicked in the balls. You can’t throw shit on a canvas and call it Jackson Pollock 2.0.
Wait, that’s a bad analogy. Someone would probably buy that.
Anyway, I suppose we’ll see how it goes. I will admit that I’m curious. Not enough to drive two hours to a theater, but I’ll probably watch it at some point. After I send some tweets begging Sony not to piss on my childhood. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen The Craft and you were sentient in the 90s I definitely recommend it. Sometimes cultural artifacts can also be deeply satisfying junk food for the brain. As above, so below. Or so they tell me.