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.
The Craft A Good Introduction to Horror for Younger Audiences
As a horror film, The Craft is certainly light on ‘horror’ and scares. Apparently, the MPAA awarded its R-rating simply by virtue of the movie’s occult subject matter. Even as The Craft shifts into its more horror-oriented second half, there aren’t many truly scary scenes. Some imagery near the end may get some jumps out of younger audiences. Regardless of its horror roots, The Craft’s strengths don’t lie in its implementation of familiar genre tropes. This is a light horror movie that would be a good introduction to the genre for younger fans.
Emotionally Engaging Characters and Dark Themes
Arguably, 90’s horror fans fondly recall The Craft for its strong characters, their friendships, and the difficult themes addressed. 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
Engaging performances across the board make the friendship and character arcs in The Craft work. Robin Tunney, Rachel True, Neve Campbell, and Fairuza Balk transform their characters into real people. By the film’s halfway point, you’ll feel connected to each of these characters. As a result, there’s an investment in each of their arcs.
In partiular, Fairuza Balk sticks out as the movie’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. Back in the ‘90’s, movie soundtracks did their best to pickpocket an eclectic range of alternative and grunge acts. Two years prior to The Craft, Brandon Lee’s The Crow boasted one of the best of the ‘alternative’ 90’s soundtracks. 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 features an excellent compilation of 90’s acts sure to cue some nostalgia from older horror. 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 over 20 years ago. Perhaps even more difficult to understand is its criminally low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, one wouldn’t be wrong if they pointed out that The Craft lacks the gravitas of, say, a Suspiria or The Blair Witch Project. Today, we wouldn’t consider it ‘elevated’ horror. Nevertheless, The Craft is a surprisingly engaging teen horror with strong female characters. Inside the scares is a female empowerment story that has rightly connected with audiences across generations. Moreover, The Craft serves as a fantastic gateway horror movie for younger audiences. .