Released on May 3rd, 1996, The Craft was a minor box office success grossing just $25 million dollars in theaters. On Rotten Tomatoes, the teen witches film has a ‘Rotten’ rating of just 50% from 32 reviewers. Yet the teen-centric horror film has built a sizable cult following among fans, particularly horror buffs who grew in up the 90’s.
The Craft’s story centers around Sarah, the new kid in school who is still dealing with the death of her mother and a suicide attempt. She is eventually befriended by three social outcasts – Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle. The four teens bond over their mutual interest in witchcraft, empowering one another. As the girls’ spells begin to have serious consequences, one member of the coven becomes consumed with power, threatening their friendship and maybe their lives.
A Good Introduction to Horror for Younger Audiences
As a horror film, The Craft is certainly light on ‘horror’ and scares. Its R-rating was apparently awarded simply on the fact that the film’s subject matter was focused on adolescents’ practicing the occult and witchcraft. Even as The Craft shifts into its more horror-oriented second half, there aren’t many truly scary scenes. Some of the imagery in the film’s final act may get some jumps out of younger audiences but the strength of The Craft doesn’t lie in its execution of horror genre elements. This is a light horror film that would be a good introduction to the genre for younger fans.
Emotionally Engaging Characters and Dark Themes
Arguably, The Craft is fondly regarded by fans for its strong characters, the bonds among them, and the dark and difficult themes it addresses. Any teen who has felt like they didn’t belong will probably relate to the four young women in The Craft. For the film’s first half, The Craft is a story about these girls, excluded by their peers, who form a strong friendship with each other built on acceptance and non-conformity. Director Andrew Fleming takes the time to give each of the girls a character arc and emotional depth. This character investment pays off in the film’s final third when these friendships are frayed and brought into conflict. In addition, the film puts young women at the core of its story, which is still too rare for the horror genre.
Most importantly, the effects of these problems are clearly shown in the film thanks in large part to the story putting its female characters front and center.
For a teen horror film, The Craft also tackles some pretty deep subjects – bullying, slut-shaming, racism, body image, and suicide. While these subjects aren’t addressed with any serious level of depth, they’re still handled well by Fleming and not shuffled to the side. Most importantly, the effects of these problems are clearly shown in the film thanks in large part to the story putting its female characters front and center. As The Craft shifts focus in its second half, it does give in too some moralizing about karma and abuse of their supernatural powers, but its treatment of the above subjects still resonates.
Absolutely Bewitching Performances
The friendship and character arcs in The Craft wouldn’t have worked so well if not for the engaging performances delivered by all four of the primary actors. Robin Tunney, Rachel True, Neve Campbell, and Fairuza Balk transform their characters into real people. By the film’s halfway point, viewers will feel like they know each of these characters and will be fully invested in each of their arcs.
Fairuza Balk particularly sticks out as the film’s ‘MVP’, having to navigate the challenge of eliciting empathy from audiences despite shifting to a villain’s role by the film’s final act. She balances raw anger and envy with vulnerability in The Craft, easily making her the most complex character in the film. Balk has always been an actor that I felt should have been in more films.
How About That Soundtrack
Soundtracks were a big deal in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Given it was the 1990’s, most film soundtracks did their best to pickpocket an eclectic range of tunes from alternative and grunge acts. Two years prior to The Craft, the Brandon Lee film, The Crow, featured one of the best of the ‘alternative’ film soundtracks from the decade. By 1996, however, the grunge sound had largely faded and the ‘alternative’ scene was showing signs of getting watered down.
It’s like an all-star roster of mid-90’s alternative musicians.
But The Craft soundtrack still features an excellent compilation of 90’s bands and singers that’s sure to cue some nostalgia from horror fans who grew up in that decade. Canadian rockers Our Lady Peace offer a fantastic over version of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Love, Spit, Love capably cover The Smiths’ ‘How Soon is Now’, a version that would go to serve as the theme song for television show, Charmed. Other 90’s alternative acts on the soundtrack include Spacehog, Letters to Cleo, Sponge, and Matthew Sweet. It’s like an all-star roster of mid-90’s alternative musicians.
The Craft Has Earned Its Cult Status
It’s hard to believe that The Craft was released 22 years ago. I find it even harder to believe that it has such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While I wouldn’t argue that The Craft is a classic horror film or thriller, it’s an engaging film with strong characters that has more than earned its loyal following. It’s a fantastic introduction to the genre for teens and a trip down memory lane well worth taking for older fans.