The Craft (1996): A Twisted Teen Tale

Cover of "The Craft (Special Edition)"

*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming and Peter Filardi (who came up with the original story) The Craft is about four teen girls who use wiccan magic to improve their lot in life. This 1996 film was a sleeper hit. Something it has in common with the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Word of mouth after The Craft opened made it popular.

The four girls that the film centres around are all in high school and each one is a social outcast and misfit. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with a troubled past. She appears to naturally have magical powers of her own. When she starts at the local high school she meets three other girls who have taught themselves magic and have formed a coven.

The leader is gothy girl Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) who comes from a severely dysfunctional family unit. The other two members of this small coven are Bonnie (Neve Campbell) who suffers from disfiguring burns and Rochelle (Rachel True) who appears to be the only black person in the school.

Leader Nancy, pretty scary even before the power.

All three girls suffer mistreatment from their fellow classmates, especially Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) who is the leader of the bullying faction. Sarah notices the high school hunk Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and he in turn notices her. After their one date together he ignores her and tells the entire school that they had sex. Sarah is furious.

Bonnie and Rochelle notice that Sarah seems to have some magical power and they talk Nancy into recruiting her into their coven. Because of Sarah’s latent power, the group’s magic becomes more powerful and the girls all do spells to improve their lives.

Bonnie heals her disfiguring scars. Rochelle casts a spell on Laura (her tormentor) that causes her hair to fall out. Nancy causes her abusive stepfather to die and she and her mother inherit a huge insurance payout. Sarah casts a love spell on Chris.

Everything seems to go well for a short while. But Nancy is enjoying her first taste of real magic and she forces the group to take part in a rite called the “Invocation of the Spirit” where they call on Manon a deity described as being more powerful than God. Nancy wants the power they’ve raised for herself. At the end of the ceremony she is struck by lightning and becomes incredibly powerful.

Invoking the spirit…for Nancy.

Things start to go wrong for the girls.

Chris tries to rape Sarah. Laura is found huddling in the floor sobbing because of her hair. Nancy decides to punish Chris for his attempted rape and kills him.

Sarah decides that she wants nothing more to do with the coven and the others of the group gang up against her. Nancy decides that if Sarah won’t rejoin the coven that she will kill her like she did Chris.

What none of the girls have bargained for is the fact that Sarah is the only real witch in the coven.  Earlier in the film, Nancy takes the newly recruited Sarah into a magic store. The proprietor of the store focuses on Sarah telling her that she is extremely powerful in the world of magic and that  she has inherited the gift from her mother.

When the final battle between Nancy and Sarah erupts, Sarah wins and the intensity of the magical bout drives Nancy insane. The end of the film finds Nancy strapped to a bed in a padded room, clearly out of her mind and Bonnie and Rochelle attempt a reconciliation with Sarah.

There are at least two interesting things to note about the film’s cast. Firstly, all the actors were well past their teen years but Rachel True was the oldest as she was almost 30 years old. Secondly this was the first time that Neve Campbell worked with Skeet Ulrich. They went on to work in Wes Craven‘s Scream. Ulrich was Neve’s love interest in Scream and in a case of history repeating itself, he played the same type of unpleasant character.

Hello, to the future Billy Loomis…

The Craft is a fantastic film that has aged quite well in the special effects department. The plot, dealing with the vagaries of high school and the misery that it can inflict on its inhabitants, is still relevant.

The vast majority of people who live through the fishbowl world of high school do not enjoy it. There are the few who excel in this micro environment, but  they usually never replicate the success they enjoy as the leaders and charismatic magnets.

The Craft focuses on the losers and the misfits and their small taste of power. It is a brilliant look at how power, whether it is magical in origin or not, can change a person.

At the beginning of the film we can all relate to the little coven and their newest recruit. We are shown why their lives are so out of balance and unhappy. The strict Catholic high school world they inhabit does not have the latitude to help them out of their social “class” or their unhappy home lives.

Bonnie is  shy and has no self-confidence  because of the horrible scarring that covers so much of her body. When she is able, with the addition of Sarah’s real magic, to heal or cover her scars she changes. She turns into a narcissistic creature with no room in her life for anything else.

Nancy is pushy but socially inept. Because of her abusive and unhappy home life she will never be able to claw her way out of the life she seems doomed to lead. She has anger management problems and easily “rides herd” over the other two members of her coven. Once she has tasted life, again with the addition of Sarah’s real power, she becomes almost maniacal. The magic, for her, has never been about just improving her life but about punishing others.

Rochelle, a bit flat…

Rochelle is sadly the only almost two dimensional character in the film. Oddly, she appears to be the only non-caucasian student in the entire school. Her tormentors are stereotypically racist, almost comically so, and it is the only part of the film that has not aged very well. We never see any of Rochelle’s home life to see why she is so bothered by Laura and her racially motivated verbal attacks and her lack of ability to deal with them.

Sarah, despite her troubled past, is clearly the most “normal” one of the group. She is an outsider, the newcomer who will have to find her place in the new school she has to attend. Her emotional burden is having to deal with the death of her mother and a stepmother who is in the unenviable position of having to fill her place. What Sarah has in common with the other girls is her lack of focus and her unhappiness. That she has magic is clear from the very beginning of the film.

Unlike the other girls though, Sarah has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Nancy’s true goal has been domination of her “fellow-man” and Bonnie and Rochelle are her friends mainly because of her rebellious nature and gothy magical leanings.

At the end of the film we see Bonnie and Rochelle’s attempt to get back with Sarah. That their motives are suspect is soon proved when Sarah rejects their advances and they walk off angrily. As they leave the girls begin to grumble that Sarah obviously doesn’t have any real magical talent and that they wasted their time. She gives them a taste of her still very powerful wiccan prowess and they leave silently.

All the actors involved in the film sell their characters. Fairuza Balk is scary as the pushy Wiccan goth chic. She never fails to convince that she is so tightly strung that she might snap. When she becomes almost unstoppable later in the film she goes from scary to terrifying. She does induce sympathy from the viewer, especially when we get a glimpse of her home life, but the feeling is replaced with fear when she shows just how power mad and vengeful her character is.

Scary “Losing her shit” Nancy

Robin Tunney did have a habit of appearing a bit lackadaisical in the acting department. I will admit it took me a bit of time to warm to her character. Even when she is fighting for her life at the end of the film, I felt her actions were just short of lethargic. She does manage to give her character a bit of umph at the very end though so I don’t want to sell her too short.

Neve Campbell’s performance suffered only because in my mind she will always be the fighter Sidney Prescott from Scream. Sorry Neve. But future boyfriend Skeet Ulrich was suitably nasty and  love struck in turns.

This film with its theme of magic and teen angst is a must see.  It is a definite two popcorn bag film and I highly recommend it.

Do it Yourself Blogging or the Self-Help Blogger

Cover of "On Writing:  A Memoir of the Cr...
Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’m sure that a lot of people blog when they can. Just like writing a book, screenplay, or even a short story we have to write regularly. Every book or article I’ve ever read says the same thing. Blogging is writing so…

You have to write every day.

Because these books or articles are written by ‘published’ authors I believe this rule to be true. Each self-help book or article gives a different formula for meeting this daily goal of writing.

Years ago I read a book that had compiled a group of  published and well known authors who gave tips on how they succeeded in not only finishing their books but getting them published. It was an interesting read. John D. MacDonald, writer of the Travis McGee books and hundreds more ‘non-McGee’ books had a brilliant point to make about plot.

More recently Stephen King wrote his own take on the ‘how to book‘ of writing. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a brilliant little book that explains the basics, gives a good list of do’s and don’t’s and gives us a little look into King’s own writing process. I bought it and still read it when I need inspiration.

One thing King does mention is that most people have the essential tools already. If you want to read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft it is available on Amazon and most book retail sites. I enjoyed it, but then, I’d enjoy reading Stephen King’s grocery list.

I am in the process of writing a book, a short-story or two, and a memoir. I am doing all these very, very slowly. I keep getting distracted. Bills, cleaning the house, going to work, working out in the garden and blogging all take me away from the writing I need to do.

Blogging is perhaps the biggest culprit of all when it comes to distraction. I will admit that blogging is, at least, a pleasant diversion. It has the advantage of relatively fast feedback. You publish it. There is no waiting around to be published. At the stroke of a laptop key or two there you are, up and available for the world to see.

I didn’t read any ‘how-to’ articles on blogging I just started doing it. But there are lots of guides out there to help you become a successful blogger. Although I’m not sure how you would measure what a successful blogger is. For now though, lets look at the articles that can help you become a more consistent blogger.

WordPress.com has a great support system which features all kinds of great advice and tips on blogging. They even go so far as to tell you how your blog can be featured on the much desired Freshly Pressed section. But don’t stop there. The net is full of blogging tips for burgeoning bloggers.

Blogging Heroes
Blogging Heroes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of these tips come from successful bloggers who have hundreds, if not more, of followers. They write well and know how to engage their readers. They are a mix of people. Some are published authors who blog because they have a dearth of information or opinions on things beyond their books.

A lot of them are people who love the written word and writing. They are not hesitant to help new writers to get started because they know that new blood is needed to keep literature alive.

I didn’t read any articles on blogging until I left my old blogging site. By the time I ‘defected” I’d been blogging for over a year. I just kept plugging away and kept an interested eye on what got read and what got ignored. I slowly began to realize that what I could write well and what I was better off leaving alone.

Of course writing anything like a blog, or a book for that matter, is all about communication. If you can’t do that you might as well stop now and take up knitting or stamp collecting. If you are good at communicating then go on. Write and publish and practice.

While you’re doing all of that writing, teach yourself to edit and re-edit. When I write I do it quickly. When I’ve got that bit between my teeth I gallop across the keyboard at breakneck speed. When I’ve finished I’m always amazed at the mistakes and the utterly cringe worthy ‘boo-boos’ I’ve managed to make in just one blog post.

I will then re-read what I’ve just corrected to make sure that I’ve gotten rid of all the things in the post that make me look mentally challenged or at the very least like I’ve typed the damn thing with my eyes closed. Invariably, after I’ve posted it I will read it and wince because I’ve missed something.

But the nice thing about posting your own blog is that you can go a edit your post as often as you want. That is, if you even want to. I still do it months after I’ve posted something. I cannot imagine getting a book published and then finding out that after (hopefully) thousands of copies have been printed and sold that I’ve left some whopping great error on page 21.

The chances of that are slim I know. That’s why you have editors. But I do still have this paranoia lurking around the back of my mind that worries nonetheless about making myself look semi-literate.

I have just remembered the other thing I like about blogging. The community. The blogging community is supportive, helpful and generous in their feedback on your efforts. It is also full of fascinating folks that you would never meet outside of the blogging world. Folks who have lead interesting lives much different than your own.

Some are well known. Others are very well known. A lot are on their way to getting noticed in a big way. But in the blogging community we are all on the same page, if you’ll pardon the pun, and on a level playing field. We all share the love of words and the act of stringing them together to create ideas, stories and more.

So what about you? Do you have any tips or advice for beginning bloggers. I’d love to know, because I still class myself as a beginning blogger.

Blogging 101.