The Craft is over twenty years old. It’s still a little crazy to think about that. I was really young when it came out and probably didn’t see it for the first time until about a year or two later, but when I did manage to see it, I was captivated. There was a witty, ironic flair about late ‘90s horror that I gravitated to even as a kid. I watched Scream, The Faculty and The Craft in rapid succession and I loved them all. All three of those, in particular, have stuck with me for two decades and counting. But out of the three of them, The Craft was the one that I started to love more and more as I got older.
That’s because when I was a kid, I could understand slashers and I could understand aliens. Sure, I understood the witchcraft going on in that movie and thought it was cool, but at that age, I couldn’t understand why these characters would need it.
The movie is more popular now than it has ever been. There’s something about it that almost begs for rediscovery. It’s not a lost relic of its era by any means, but it’s a relic all the same. The Craft is dated and it should be. Great art—and let’s just say that’s what this is—is representative of its era.
A lot of people might say “That is so nineties” as a sort of insult, but I think The Craft is a time capsule. And even though it’s entirely of its era, there are core elements that are just as relevant today.
It really does kick ass. With its growing popularity and apparent remake/sequel on the horizon, it might be kicking more ass than ever. So let’s take a look at the major reasons as to why it still works as well as it does.
I’ll admit, this could be the nostalgia talking, but the music of The Craft really holds up. A lot of other nineties soundtracks get into trouble with weird, forced-in pop hits, but Craft has a distinctive sound all its own. Covers of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I Have the Touch,” performed by Our Lady Peace and Heather Nova, respectively, are standouts among a soundtrack that already stands out from so many teen horror films of the era.
Something about the music of The Craft only helps to build up the film’s mystical sensibilities. It’s unique. It’s ethereal teenage angst, more punk in spirit than in sound. On top of that, there’s Graeme Revell’s incredibly underrated score. He brings a bit of the same, almost meditative quality to The Craft that he did so well for The Crow. But The Crow is a very melancholy score overall, and this one is definitely not.
The movie might not be an accurate representation of the Wiccan religion, but that’s mostly because this is not set in the real world, this is still a teenage fantasy epic of best and worst case scenarios when it comes to magic. My favorite bit of mythology in The Craft, though, is the notion that some people are born with a natural inclination toward magic and others have to work twice as hard to basically be half as good.
On paper, that doesn’t sound too different from the world of muggles and pure-bloods in Harry Potter. The concept is basically the same, but The Craft doesn’t give it a name. I also like the idea that, at the end of the day, power might just come from within. Sarah’s been able to do things to some degree her whole life.
She retains her power at the end, but the others do not. They were using their powers for self-serving reasons—well, Rochelle’s actually seemed justified—and while that could easily be taken as a bit too moralistic of a message, I think it works for a film that is fundamentally about manipulative high school relationships.
For me, the style of The Craft comes down to a mixture of aesthetic and thematic elements. Visually, the movie is kind of fascinating because it feels entrenched in the nineties but, at the same time, is sort of separated from it. The style, music and overall sensibilities of the decade are there. But the girls themselves are mostly depicted in their school uniforms, which allows them to occupy their own neat space where they can be entrenched in the ‘90s, yet still almost exist outside of it.
The overall look and tone of The Craft feel almost effortlessly good. It’s not as overtly stylized as other goth classics like The Crow. I think part of what makes The Craft so interesting is that it’s set in the here and now. It’s fantasy based in an otherwise realistic world and that’s what allows these girls to stand apart as outsiders.
The character work in The Craft is terrific. This is the point that the success of the entire film hangs on because if we don’t buy the relationships between the four girls, nobody’s going to care about any of the crazy witchcraft. My favorite thing about this movie is that each of the characters approaches witchcraft for their own, clearly defined reasons. Sarah, more than simply wanting a boy to like her, wants to be noticed. Bonnie wants to heal her scars. Rochelle wants to not have to deal with racist crap all the time. And Nancy just wants some control over her life.
None of these are selfish goals at the onset. For Rochelle, Bonnie and especially Nancy, they simply want more and more power, probably due to the fact that it doesn’t come as naturally to them.
I would hesitate to call The Craft a feminist movie, but I don’t think it’s trying to be one. It’s simply a film about looking at the relationships and power struggles of teenage girls and exploring that concept through magic.
The whole cast of The Craft does a great job with the material they’re given, but even among such a strong core group of girls, Fairuza Balk’s performance stands out. Heather Langenkamp does an amazing job in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, but Robert Englund’s performance is just transcendent. That’s what’s happening here. Balk’s on a whole other level and it’s amazing to watch.
What I love in particular is how many different kinds of things Balk is able to do in this single performance. Nancy is always creepy, but she’s never creepy the same way twice. There will be times when she’s just casually bitchy and times when she’s quietly unsettling. There are moments toward the middle where she’s clearly becoming unhinged but is almost disturbingly calm about it. And then there’s the whole third act in which she just goes for it. She dials it up to 11. She swallows the scenery in one bite.
But she’s easily one of the main reasons we’re still talking about the movie, if not the main reason. The Craft holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of so many horror fans, but if there’s one reason that could be singled out as to what makes it so great, it’s that Fairuza Balk’s performance is purely and simply magic.