"we are the weirdos, mister": cult teen horror film the craft turns 20
We celebrate the 20th anniversary of the spooky classic starring Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk.
"Girls, watch out for those weirdos," a well-meaning bus driver tells The Craft's crew of teenage witches as he drops them off in the SoCal countryside. "We are the weirdos, mister," the squad's de facto leader Nancy replies with a sly smile. It's an awesome moment, empowered and rousing, that neatly encapsulates the enduring appeal of this classic teen horror film, which first hit cinema screens 20 years ago today (3 May).
The Craft did well at the box office in 1996, becoming a Clueless-style sleeper hit, but its reputation has actually grown since then (on Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a shockingly low 50% approval rating). Charlie Lyne featured it prominently in his acclaimed 2014 documentary about teen movies, Beyond Clueless, and even hired The Craft's Fairuza Balk as his doc's narrator. The Craft's cult appeal rests partly on its spooky subject matter - black magic never really goes out of fashion, and obviously enjoys an annual popularity spike at Halloween - but also on its relatable portrayal of teenage insecurity. Each member of The Craft's four-strong squad is a little bit different. Sarah (Robin Tunney) is the new girl with a dark past struggling to fit in. Nancy (Fairuza Balk) has a "white trash" family she's embarrassed about. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) hides beneath baggy black clothing because she's ashamed of burn marks sustained as a child. Rochelle (Rachel True) is bullied for being an African-American girl in a waspishly WASP-ish L.A. school. When they harness the powers of witchcraft to overcome their personal demons and exact revenge on their various tormentors, it's a memorable triumph of the outsiders, and a rousing girl power moment too.
Alas, the girls' victories cannot last because every spell comes with a consequence: "Whatever you put out, you get back times three," they're told by the mysterious woman from their local occult shop. This mantra gives The Craft a strong moral core that drives it to a tense and still scary conclusion in which two members of the coven - one ruined by her powers, the other trying to do the right thing - face off against one another. Along the way, there's plenty to enjoy: some charmingly of-their-time special effects, a grungy soundtrack featuring '90s indie stars covering songs by The Smiths and Marianne Faithfull, Nancy's heavy eyeliner, wet-look hair and proto-emo dress sense, Neve Campbell brilliantly flipping her character from insecure to narcissistic, Fairuza Balk's amazing crazy eyes. The script may not match the wit of Clueless or Heathers, but it's still tart and hard-hitting. When Sarah is flattered to be receiving attention from the chauvinistic school jock, Nancy tells her caustically: "He comes onto anything with tits."
Two decades on, The Craft's unique magic remains as potent as ever. Watch it again and you'll have the famous levitation spell - "light as feather, stiff as a board, light as a feather, stiff as a board…" - stuck in your head all day.
Text Nick Levine
Image via Columbia Pictures