Face-Off: The Witches of Eastwick vs. The Craft

This weekend, Adam Wingard will be ushering the Blair Witch back to the big screen after a sixteen year absence in a film that our own JimmyO says is "a truly terrifying cinematic experience". In anticipation of BLAIR WITCH, this week's theme is witches, but rather than venture into the Black Hills Forest for this Face-Off I decided to take a look at some witches who are more relatable than the mysterious bruxa de Blair, the covens featured in George Miller's 1987 film THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and Andrew Fleming's THE CRAFT from 1996. When their magic is put against each other, which film casts a better spell?
Three lonely women in Eastwick, Rhode Island have gravitated to each other, not realizing that they all have supernatural gifts that are quite powerful when combined. While discussing the concept of the ideal man, they unknowingly conjure up the devil himself in the form of a man they all become intimately involved with. A man who has a bad influence on their powers and can be very possessive. This story is more about relationships and emotions than horror or spectacle, but those elements do come into play, especially toward the end.
New to Los Angeles, a teenage girl falls in with a trio of outcasts who attend St. Benedict's Catholic School but whose true religious alliance is with the god Manon. At first the four girls have a good time exploring the possibilities of witchcraft, but when their spells take on a mean-spirited nature and start having dangerous consequences the new girl in town decides to ditch her wicked witch friends. Too bad there's an old tradition of killing witches who try to leave their coven. THE CRAFT is a fun, well-told teen-centric tale.
Alex (Cher) is a sculptor whose husband passed away, Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) was abandoned by her husband and left to raise their six daughters by herself, and dowdy music teacher Jane (Susan Sarandon) has just gone through a divorce. Alone they're unlucky women just trying to get by, but together they're able to accomplish amazing things - if they can think of something, they can make it happen. They're a decent enough group of characters, but I can't say I was truly enamored with any of these women. Alex gets the best moment when she tells off the devil who has come into their lives during her first meeting with him, but then she is seduced by him immediately after, throwing away that bit of good will.
For me, THE CRAFT was just a horror movie that I watched a couple times in the mid-'90s, but for others the witches in this film (who are referred to as the Bitches of Eastwick) have become iconic characters. The most popular of the bunch is Fairuza Balk as Nancy, a girl who has had a crappy life up to this point and sees the powers bestowed on her by Manon as a way to work her way up in the world. Unfortunately, she doesn't care who she hurts on her ascension, or how badly. She is joined by Neve Campbell as Bonnie, who starts off self-conscious about the burn scars that cover her back and then becomes conceited when she makes them go away, and Rachel True as Rochelle, a bullied girl who gets devastating payback.
Somehow the coven's wish for a tall, dark, handsome nice guy results in the appearance of a fellow who, as played by Jack Nicholson, is absolutely none of those things. Daryl Van Horne is a repugnant, evil creep who still manages to talk his way into the pants of all three women for some polyamorous shenanigans. The more this multi-partner relationship goes on, the more Daryl's true nature becomes evident, and the women realize they have to take drastic measures to get this demon out of their lives. As despicable as this character is, Nicholson does deliver a fantastic performance in the role, making Daryl simultaneously repellent and captivating.
A natural witch, Robin Tunney's Sarah Bailey has had magical gifts all her life, but she doesn't start to realize her true potential until she hooks up with Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle. Although powerful, Sarah is also a typical teenage girl in that she has some baffling taste and makes bad decisions - like allowing herself to become so infatuated with a football playing classmate that she casts a love spell on him despite the fact that he's obviously a douchebag. Sarah is sort of a bland character and is occasionally questionable, but she's enough of a good girl that we remain on her side throughout the film and root for her when she turns against her bad friends.
The witches of Eastwick can cause a storm to blow in to disrupt a dull speech, they can give people previously untapped musical ability, they can manipulate a tennis ball to make a game much more interesting than usual, and they can even fly when they laugh. If a person crosses them, they can also create a very effective voodoo doll.
Although their bond is formed by a death they may have caused, at first it's mostly teenage fun and games for these girls. Love spells, levitation, the changing of eye and hair color through glamour spells... The invocation of the spirit of Manon is a bit concerning, but things still might have been okay if only the magic had stopped there.
The witches aren't bad people, but Daryl Van Horne is able to manipulate their powers to cause terrible things, particularly to anti-Van Horne local Felicia, played by Veronica Cartwright. The most memorable thing about this movie for me is when Daryl feeds the witches cherries, causing Felicia to projectile vomit cherry pits. Daryl has powers of his own, and when his girlfriends leave him he causes their worst fears to come true: Alex wakes up surrounded by snakes, Jane starts aging rapidly, and Sukie experiences intense pain. He has a lot of evil tricks up his sleeve, some of which are too much.
The girls often go too far. Rochelle causes her bully's hair to fall out, not realizing how awful the experience will be for the girl. Nancy causes the death of her scumbag stepfather. Getting back at a would-be date rapist results in another death. As the film goes on, the initial trio gets worse and worse, and when Sarah leaves the group they come after her hard, making her believe her father is dead, invading her home, attacking her physically and filling the place with creepy creatures, making her hallucinations of being surrounded by snakes come true. With friends like this, you don't need enemies.
The star power may be brighter on THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, both in front of and behind the camera, but when put head-to-head with THE CRAFT I find that it comes up a little short. EASTWICK can be rather off-putting at times and when it wraps up I'm left with the feeling of "So that's it then?", while THE CRAFT provides more straightforward fun and entertainment. They're both good movies, but I find THE CRAFT to be more enchanting.

Do you agree with this verdict, or do you think EASTWICK's story and stars outshine THE CRAFT? Are either of these films your favorite movie that deals with witchcraft, or do you prefer something else? Share your thoughts on these two and witch movies in general in the comments section below. If there are movies you'd like to see featured in future Face-Offs, let me know what they are by sending an email to [email protected].



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