"The Craft"

How do you make a fun teenage sorceress movie realistic? Hire a Wiccan. Plus: Bad-girl actress Fairuza Balk really is a witch.

Published January 8, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"The Craft"
Directed by Andrew Fleming
Starring Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
Columbia; widescreen (1.85:1)
Extras: Director commentary, featurettes, trailers, deleted scenes

Andrew Fleming's 1996 "The Craft," a story about four misfit teenage witches in Los Angeles, is great fun for all the reasons you'd expect. Awkward, oddball girls gain special powers and use them to become hip beauty queens and to get back at the schoolmates who've always made fun of them. In the tradition of Brian de Palma's "Carrie," it's well aware of the obvious central metaphor. It circles gently around the idea of young women's noodling with magical powers right about the time they're also discovering the basic sexual ones.

But "The Craft," high-spirited and delectably nasty, is lovable for other reasons too, namely the way it captures the way teenagers, just when they need independence more than anything, have to go to great pains to execute even the simplest acts of defiance. My favorite moment is when the girls, carless, have to take a bus to get to the forest where they'll perform their initiation rite.

But it's not long before they're conjuring storms and making their rude, snotty school nemeses' hair fall out -- it sure beats scribbling in a diary. Fleming, who went on to make the smart and sweet-spirited comedy "Dick," has a knack for keeping his pictures fleet and entertaining even as he allows subtler issues to surface. And "The Craft" features an exquisite performance from bad-girl fave Fairuza Balk. With her Theda Bara eyes and glossy black-fruit lips, she skulks through the film like a silent-picture goddess gone punk.

"Conjuring the Craft," the nicely done featurette on the DVD, doesn't go a long way toward explaining any of the movie's special effects. But then again, as dazzling as the effects seem as you're watching them, in retrospect they're really quite simple. (Fleming notes that he didn't have a huge budget for the picture, although it never looks cheap.) For example, an engraving of a landscape in a witchcraft book briefly comes to life, a silvery thread of lightning suddenly bisecting it. Blink and you could miss it; it's a small effect, but it packs a creepy wallop.

The featurette also reveals that Balk herself is a Wiccan, and we learn as well that to get the details right, Fleming hired a real-life witch, Pat Devin, as a technical consultant. In his director's commentary Fleming mentions that most films about witchcraft get it all wrong, angering witches and sometimes causing groups of them to wish a little too hard for box-office failure. For what it's worth, Devin performed a ritual in the hope that "The Craft" would do well, and Fleming notes that the movie was tops at the box office its opening weekend. It's good enough on its own, but a little magic never hurts.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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