Friday, April 16, 2010
There's an undeniable appeal to shows with supernatural themes. We all would like to believe that we might be capable of powers beyond the scope of our daily mundane lives and limited personal abilities. As children especially, the notion of pointing our fingers and fulfilling our every whim is pretty attractive. Teacher assigns too much homework? Parent requests too many chores? These are all prime target for our mischievous magic. Seems like a pretty good deal overall, really.
Unfortunately, these witches in TV and the movies seem to be doing it all wrong. They're always getting themselves into zany misunderstandings that usually end with some moral lesson on how we can't wish ourselves happy and how our mortal heart is the strongest guiding principle. I was always fairly sure that if given the same powers, I wouldn't end up in any of these situation comedy-friendly pickles. I could have just pointed and zapped and never had to learn a life lesson at all. How easy would that have been? Imagine the time I would have saved. What can I say? In my theoretical foray into witchdom, I'm all about results and efficiency. None of this "moral of the story" crap.
90s witches in popular entertainment tended to fall into one of the following categories: comedic and well-meaning, horrific and fear-inspiring, or some wacky combination of the two. Whatever the genre, these films and TV shows gave us an entertaining glimpse into the supernatural. I have yet to develop any mysterious powers of my own, but watching these gives me hope they're coming in any day now. If I could just zap that big daunting pile of papers out of my inbox, we'd all be in good shape.
Hocus Pocus may be a family-friendly comedy, but that "Come Little Children" song still has the creepiness capital to chill you to the core. In the film, young new-in-town Max and Dani bring back to life the infamous Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches put to death during the Salem witch trials. The kids do manage to eventually save the day, but not before the mischievous sisters wreak bewitching havoc on the town. Somewhere along the way, they also put on some show-stopping musical numbers.
If you've never seen this one, you're truly missing out on a wealth of hilarious potential mocking. Just watch the above snippet and tell me it's not the most unintentionally rip-roaringly funny thing you've ever seen. Yes, her friend really looks at a boy and sighs wistfully, "Look how funky he is!" Look how funkly he is indeed.
Teen Witch is one of those incredibly corny, campy movies you just can't tear yourself away from. It was conceived as a sort of female counterpart to Teen Wolf, which may serve as an explanation for their comparable cheesiness. Oddly enough, Teen Witch is sort of a musical. It may not know exactly what it is, but one thing is for sure: even when it's meant to be serious, it's just laughably ridiculous.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Teenage witchery was evidently a popular pastime in the 90s; it seems Teen Witch didn't have a monopoly on adolescent witchcraft. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is based on the eponymous Archie series comic book. The show held a prime spot in ABC's TGIF Friday night lineup for several years, featuring Clarissa Explains it All's Melissa Joan Hart as the titular character. Sabrina lived with her sorceress aunts Hilda and Zelda and talking black cat Salem. Get it? Like the witch trials? Oh Sabrina. Is there no end to your cleverly sly references?
Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock star as two orphaned sisters who suffer the effects of a centuries-old family curse. The Owens family women are doomed to destroy any man with whom they fall in love. It may sound depressing, but the stars give the movie a humor and lightness. Throw in an accidental homicide and an oddly feel-good exorcism and you've got yourself a chick flick that even the manliest of men might be willing to watch. As long as you don't tell anyone about it.
On the other side of the 90s witch spectrum we have The Craft, a dark revenge flick that's a dark cry from the touchy-feely witchcraft in Practical Magic. In this teen horror drama, Robin Tunney plays a new girl in town who doesn't quite fit in with the mainstream kids at school. She has a natural propensity for witchcraft, so when she falls in with an occult-minded trio of girls they manage to develop a mutual power that they hone and channel into wreaking revenge on their classmates and nemeses. It culminates in a big showdown of good versus evil, and (not-so-surprise spoiler alert) good manages to prevail. Whew. Close one.
Following its 1998 debut, Charmed went on to live out an impressive eight-season run, establishing it as the longest-running hour-long show to feature a cast of all female leads. While there was a bit of shifting around in the casting department in the 2000s, the original version featured Shannon Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs as Halliwell sisters Prue, Phoebe, and Piper. This trio of twenty-somethings are living together in San Francisco when they discover that they are "The Charmed Ones", good witches destined to battle evil. After perusing their inherited Book of Shadows and experimenting with their individual powers--telekinesis, the ability to freeze time, and psychic insight--they learn to combine their powers into the almighty Power of Three. I'll admit I stopped watching after Rose McGowan's Paige replaced Prue in the ensemble, but the show maintained a fairly steady popularity throughout its lifespan.
These characters piqued our imaginations and allowed us a brief escape to a fantasy world where, whether for good or evil, we might fancy ourselves bewitching. While they ranged in tone from dark and ominous to featherlight and silly, the content was consistently engaging and entertaining. And hey, we can keep fantasizing about the limitless potential of our imaginary powers. There's no saying we'll ever be as vengeful as the girls from the Craft or heroic as Charmed's Halliwell sisters, but we may at least be inspired to perform an enviably version of Teen Witch's "Top That." It won't take an inborn proclivity for sorcery, but it will take a supernatural ability to suppress your uncontrollable laughter.