Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we re-watched a movie that Wikipedia tells us was awarded the somewhat dubious honor of being “the 7th highest grossing movie since 1980 dealing with the genre of witches.” With a pedigree like that, it can’t be bad–right? RIGHT?!
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Andrew Fleming (Dick, Hamlet 2), from a truly odious script by Fleming and Peter Filardi, who wrote Flatliners and TNT’s Salem’s Lot remake. Soundtrack allegedly by Graeme Revell (Pitch Black, Sin City), but mostly it’s Letters to Cleo, Juliana Hatfield, Elastica, and other 90s bands you’d expect to find in such a production (I, Molly, will admit here that I owned a CD by every one of those artists). The teenagers are played by a host of 20-something actors, including Fairuza Balk (Return to Oz, American History X), Robin Tunney (End of Days—the movie where Schwarzenegger fights the devil), Rachel True (Nowhere, Half Baked), Neve Campbell (Scream, the perfectly respectable Wild Things), and Skeet Ulrich (Heh, Chill Factor) and Breckin Meyer (Clueless) as douchey high school dudes.
Quote: “If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium that they played on.”
Alternate quote: Bus driver: “watch out for weirdos, girls.”
Fairuza Balk: “We are the weirdos, mister.”
First viewing by Molly: Lord, I guess. . . 1996 or 1997? Soon after it came out. I remember watching it while lying on the floor of my friend’s bedroom. We had met at drama camp (!) and she decided it was high time I watched more movies about witches and serial killers, thus we watched The Craft and also all the death scenes from Se7en, which I have still yet to see in its entirety.
First viewing by Jesse: Around the time it came out on video—maybe 97? Early high school, probably.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Thankfully less than it might have been? I remember thinking it was pretty OK but being underwhelmed by the conclusion, which had far too much of Fairuza Balk’s teeth-baring craziness and the obnoxious rich girl being rewarded for her highly-questionable virtue.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Negligible. I was really excited about the movie when it came out, especially the prospect of Fairuza Balk playing some badass witch wrecking havoc at a Catholic school, but remember being disappointed and never bothered re-watching it.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: EXCITED. All I remembered was gothed-out schoolgirls successfully executing the “light as a feather, stiff as a board” trick and a scene wherein an icky racist blonde girl tells the lone black character that her hair looks like pubes. I had high, high hopes—the sort of hopes that only make the gods laugh and rub their hands together, as it turns out. Also, Jesse has a huge crush on Fairuza Balk and is totally and weirdly embarrassed about that, and so I anticipated teasing him a lot during the screening (Jesse says: I am not, in fact, embarrassed about respecting her work and talent, but I am hurt at the allegation that this appreciation for an actor’s ability and seemingly pretty cool personality stems from a simple “crush.” Which I also have for her). This anticipation was only bolstered by knowing that 10 Things I Hate About You is in no way a candidate for FoHA and thus I was immune from similar taunting regarding Heath Ledger.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Hopeful it would be better the second time around, but not exactly counting on it—the odds that the movie had miraculously altered into a state of not-sucking since my inaugural viewing seemed unlikely.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Shit, this movie sucks. It sucks so, so hard. Harder than any movie about teenage schoolgirl witches has a right to suck because really, who could screw that up? These screenwriters, apparently. I just. . . OK. Pretty much any plot that only works if you believe the old chestnut “Girls! Ha ha! They just don’t get along!!” is stupid and should be called out as such ruthlessly and tirelessly. As Jesse will point out below, the “characters” are all dreadful stereotypes who act the way you’d expect dreadful stereotypes to do, especially when those stereotypes are thrown into a movie so classically sexist and repulsively classist I can’t even speculate as to what the writers must have been thinking. I mean, ok, here’s a brief run-down of the main players in this travesty and what they do with their magic powers:
The Pretty White Rich Girl who tried to commit suicide for no stated reason and likes the Male Lead even though he’s a complete fucking douchebag to her and her friends. When she casts a magic spell it’s to make the Male Lead like her even though. . .yeah. She gets to win at the end because she realizes what she has done is wrong and that she’s better than everyone else by virtue of being pretty, white, and rich. YAY!
The Token Black Girl who is. . . mad. . . about racism? And swims? And. . . is overlooked constantly because the only reason she’s in the movie is to be the Token Black Girl because it was 1996 and they knew they needed one? Her spell is something like “help me resist the hatred of haters” or something and it makes the aforementioned racist blonde girl’s hair fall out. Which in turn makes the swim coach notice Token Black Girl is a good diver? OMG.
The Ugly White Girl who is generally treated as a heinous monster by her classmates because she has a few totally average-looking scars on her shoulders from being burned as a kid. OH NOEZ. Let us note that her face is totally fine—more than, as it is NEVE CAMPBELL—and yet. And yet. All she wants is to be pretty!! ALL SHE WANTS IS TO BE PRETTY. Her spell is, you guessed it, to be pretty, and it makes her burns go away! But once she’s pretty she’s a bitch! Women, amiright?
The Batshit Crazy White Trash Girl who is batshit crazy and white trash. Let me say right now I tried like hell to find a different way of describing Fairuza Balk’s “character” but it’s so obvious the writers were thinking “she’ll be white trash!” as they wrote her that it’s literally impossible to think of her as anything else, as problematic as we all know that term to be (Jesse says: at least Fairuza does what she can with the role, turning a lemon role into a delicious Tom Collins of camp craziness). She (1) lives in a leaky trailer with her (2) wandering-handed wifebeater-wearing stepdad and (3) bleach-blonde mother who gets beat on when she’s uppity and then later-on (4) buys a jukebox with her insurance money and (5) wears a lavender silk pants suit while (6) smoking in her new house. Jesus Tapdancing Christ. Her spell is something like being powerful and stuff I guess? But it mostly just makes. . . a bunch of sharks die? Or something. God. GOD.
The Gypsy Woman Who Owns the Local Witch Emporium and what can I say other than that? Her magic spells are all about nurturing the white girl because the white girl is a “natural witch” of course.
I’m too disheartened to continue this. Honestly, I had to struggle to type anything other than “this movie is stupid” over and over again but I gave up my freebie on Aeon Flux. I had every intention of being amusing and teasing Jesse for crushing on Fairuza Balk but I can’t even (Jesse says: I guess that makes this week my “freebie?”). I’ll just conclude with the ardent wish that I never ever have to think about this movie again because it is enraging me simply to write about it.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Yup, it’s still terrible. The thing is it could have been awesome, it should have been awesome, and yet it’s not. I suspect the reason for this falls entirely on my gender—I can’t be sure, but I suspect if this movie had been at least co-written by a woman it wouldn’t be so offensively bad.
The reason it pissed me off so much as a teenager, I remembered as we were watching it, is that as an erstwhile outsider I really wanted the teen coven to use their powers to fuck up the jocks and bullies who had been making their lives miserable. That is what this movie should have been about. Instead, we get some of that before, natch, the young women either a) realize that they were too hard on their tormentors, or b) go bugfuck crazy from the power they have gained and turn on each other. Only the rich, pretty white girl maintains perspective, and natch, the rest of the coven— rich black girl, poor white girl, formerly “ugly” white girl—tries to murder her fucking ass. Why? Well, uh, cause they’re crazy? And stuff? You know, like women get when they’re allowed to have too much power without being white and rich, I mean, mature enough to handle it.
As a teenager I felt like my intelligence was being insulted watching this turkey, and the only thing that’s changed is that I can better articulate what makes it so horrible. I’m going to cover some of the same ground as Molly did above, but like a fire marshal investigating arson, just because the earth is scorched doesn’t mean you can’t look closer at it for clues to how the house burned down. What better place to start than with the main character, Pretty White Rich Girl (PWRG)? PWRG thinks Hunky Jerk is cute, so they go on a date—when she doesn’t want to go back to his place he acts like a turd about it, and then tells the school he slept with her and she’s “a bad lay.” When she confronts him he makes fun of her, and the rest of the coven tries to cheer her up by telling her that he does that to girls all the time.
So, what do the male screenwriters think would be a sensible reaction for PWRG? If you guessed “cast a spell to make Hunky Jerk fall in love with her” you win, except we’re talking about this stupid movie so actually you lose just by association. Anyway, the love spell works, and because of this he tries to rape PWRG. Yeah, I know, classy film. So PWRG gets away, tells her coven, and Fairuza Balk’s character, who is poor and therefore incredibly mean and jealous of PWRG, sees an opportunity to try to get with Hunky Jerk. You see, Hunky Jerk also treated Fairuza badly but of course she also still has teh hotz for him because she is a female character in this idiotic film. When he doesn’t want to get with Fairuza she freaks out, because she is also crazy as well as poor and jealous and mean, and she thus uses a glamour spell to make herself look like PWRG, whereupon dry-humping ensues. Blah blah blah, Hunky Jerk is a jerk some more, so Fairuza uses her witch powers to kill him (which, in case you forgot, is what this movie should have been about—Fairuza Balk and company offing or at least punishing high school d-bags). So where do we go from here? Directly to a scene of PWRG crying on her father’s shoulder because she knows Hunky Jerk was good on the inside—that taste in your mouth is bile, just choke it back down.
I can’t even talk about the class trash going on where Fairuza’s character is concerned without getting so pissed off I just started mashing the keys unintelligibly, but trust me when I say her character is handled just as poorly as PWRG and everyone else. What could have been an awesome film about empowerment and solidarity and a cautionary tale for bullies and oppressors instead turns into a disenfranchising pile of garbage where the clear lesson is that seeking to redress the racism, misogyny, and general cruelty of your so-called peers inevitably leads you to corruption, jealousy, and madness. Better to just accept that you’re a freak and accept the abuse than try to fix things, amiright bullied teenage girls? What a fucking terrible, terrible movie.
High Points: Seeing Fairuza Balk enroll at the Hammer Horror School for Camp is pretty amazing, and she gets to wear a lot of great outfits to pair with her screaming tirades, so that’s something. The soundtrack, while nowhere near as good as, say, the Tank Girl CD, at least instills one with a sense of nostalgia for an age when this movie hadn’t yet been released but the music videos were on MTV and so you didn’t know how much the film itself was going to hurt your brain. That’s it.
Low Points: Just about everything else. Like, why couldn’t the girls worship Hekate instead of the bogus-sounding male entity Manon? Oh, because that would be cool, that’s why. (Molly adds: don’t forget that Hekate is a girl, and in this movie, only men may award women power and a sense of security.) Ugh.
Final Verdict: Stink, stank, stunk—but we still love you, Ms Balk!
Next Time: Tremors