It’s odd to think of The Craft at 20 years old, the film which which launched a thousand sigils and made Wicca into a cultural meme in the nineties. Without it, how many games of “Light as a feather, stiff as a board?” would have been played at sleepovers? How many formative experiences with Ouija boards might have been missed?
By rights, The Craft should seem dated now. There’s that mopey faux-shoegaze on the soundtrack, and the black PVC coat worn by Nancy (Fairuza Balk) a full three years before The Matrix made it standard neckbeard attire. There’s Sarah (Robin Tunney)’s unconvincing wig, worn after she shaved her hair off for Empire Records, which once you have seen, you cannot un-see for the duration of the film (it’s that little bit too bouncy, too full of witchy secrets…) But somehow The Craft is timeless, thanks in part to its familiarly ‘teenaged’ aesthetic. How many of us at some point rolled up a school skirt to make it shorter, or bought a pentagram necklace from a weird shop selling candles and bongs? How many of us smeared on Black Cherry lipstick, and accessorised it with a scowl? The Craft’s plot also strikes a universal note, in that the horrors the girls face are mundane. Sarah is the friendless new weird kid at school, wrists scarred from a suicide attempt. Nancy is labelled trailer trash and a “major slut” after falling for a feckless jock, who dumps her after she sleeps with him. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) is tormented by the burn scars on her back and shoulders–in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes she grits her teeth as treatment lasers pummel her back, her tragically hopeful mother seated beside her. Meanwhile Rochelle faces racist bullying from a girl on her diving team. Each of the girls is branded a monster long before they discover the occult. Magic becomes a refuge, binding them in friendship and shared ambition. Money, power, glory: their demands are simple and familiar, and everything a sad girl craves. Which makes it so much more painful when that magic works against them. Their powers offer control, until they become another token of adult responsibility, unwieldy in their hands. Power, vanity, even love corrupts, just as with Heathers, another film where we root for the teen rebels but are chastened by a morally ‘palatable’ ending, The Craft’s parting lesson is that what goes around comes back with a vengeance. The “Bitches of Eastwick” are made to suffer, none more than Nancy–she of the Betty Blue pout and Marla Singer hairdo–whose spellcasting brings about the death of her abusive stepfather and a life insurance payout for herself and her mother. More than the others, Nancy forges her own chaotic version of a left hand path. The coven’s clearest transgression comes in the beach scene, where Nancy walks on water and a series of dead sharks wash up on the sand.
Nancy pays dearly for her powers, but while she’s winning, her arrogance is intoxicating. She rages against authority, flirts with women and heckles men. Even as she edges towards madness, the girls stay with her out of fear and admiration. For Fairuza Balk, it’s the performance of a lifetime, dancing a line between charm and malevolence. It’s unsurprising to read that while shooting The Craft, Balk herself was drawn to the occult, and ended up owning a shop called “Panpipes Magickal Marketplace” for years after. But our heroines must become villains, transforming their world into a place as dark and poisonous as their worldview. We see Sarah step through a mirror in redemption, apparently shattering her own vanity. We see Nancy in an asylum, locked away to rot. There’s something sad about how the girls’ achievements are untenable, and how – if we are to take the film’s ending seriously – their acts place them against nature. In fandom, Nancy remains largely the heroine of The Craft. She grins maniacally in portraits, her story explored in fanfic. Her quotes show up on pin badges, and YouTube tutorials breed a legion of Nancy clones. Her outsider appeal is an ideal match for Tumblr, where her most iconic words are mantra: “We are the weirdos, mister” Surveying The Craft’s online afterlife, you would think Nancy got away with it. And in a sense, through her fandom, she does. Without The Craft it’s safe to say there would be no “Black Magic” video from Little Mix, no American Horror Story: Coven. Films like Jennifer’s Body, too, are indebted to The Craft, drawing on horror tropes to explore what happens when young women unapologetically ask for more. The Craft’s witches deserve what they ask for – agency, love, beauty, justice – and the film’s fandom transforms their brief triumph into a primer in unique revenge feminism. Beyond trends, beyond time, beyond the remake in development at this moment, the original Craft lives on, frozen in GIFs, on a loop, in eternity. “Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power….”