Monday, May 2, 2011
Some teen movies fail to accurately capture the coveted "cool" factor marketers are always trying to strain out of popular adolescents. This holds true especially in the cases of movies designed to be family friendly, presenting teenagers in a way that more often appears cheesy than realistic. When a studio attempts to release a movie that capitalizes on several major markets--supernatural themes, good-looking teen characters, a female protagonist, and package the whole thing as allegedly fun for the whole family--it can often end in box office embarrassment.
Perhaps there is no better example of this phenomenon than the 1989 movie Teen Witch. MGM was eager to ride the coattails of the success of the 1985 hit Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox, seeking to cast a female lead character in a similar teen-geared film.
Just in case you also think this sounds like a good idea, try watching the following trailer. It should be more than enough to change your mind on this ill-advised filmmaking venture. Plus, you’ll also get some killer late 80s dance move inspiration paired with a stellar makeover montage. You’ve been warned:
The movie is, if possible, worse than it looks in the preceding preview. It performed incredibly poorly at the box office, earning just under $28,000 throughout its wide release period in the spring of 1989. Instead of simply retreating in shame, however, Teen Witch producers seemed to think the best method of reaching a broader audience was to simply bombard us nonstop with the film, playing it in continuous loops on cable TV channels like Cinemax, HBO, and more recently ABC Family. The movie gained a loyal fan base, morphing it from a box office disaster to campy cult classic over the course of the 90s.
Teen Witch’s plot is made up of equal parts lazy rehashed plot points of similar films in its genre, bizarre revenge fantasy enactment, and ultimate heartwarming lesson learned. The writers also inexplicably felt strongly that it should sort of be a musical, creating a slew of inexcusably corny song-and-dance numbers.
Occasionally Teen Witch tries to work songs in the plot, like demonstrating a cheer to the high school cheerleading squad, but mostly they were just lazily thrown in as a cheesy afterthought. “I Like Boys”, below, is one of their more creative attempts. I will give them some extra credit for the innovative uses of towels as dance props in the locker room sequence.
Other times, the movie randomly inserts a musical number, like this one in which main character and eponymous teen witch Louise fantasizes about being the most popular girl:
For those who still didn’t think that was that bad, if you’re out there, the “Top That” rap should probably be enough to set you over the edge:
And, just for fun, here’s Kenneth from 30 Rock performing the same number. I personally prefer his version:
For those who managed to miss this gem during its many airings on television, here is a woefully abbreviated synopsis of the plot. Already beautiful but unfortunately hairsprayed 80s-mall-banged protagonist Louise is a nerdy teen who is unlucky in love. If that weren’t bad enough, she has a horrifically irritating younger brother who sort of weirdly looks like Tori Spelling and terrorizes her daily. Anyone who’s not into subtlety or nuanced pop culture references may also appreciate Dick Sargent as her father--as the second Darrin on Bewitched, these mortal-to-witch switcharoo plotlines are nothing Sargent hasn’t seen many times before.
Our girl Louise innocently stumbles in the home of the mysterious and fun-sized Madame Serena (Zelda Rubenstein), who you may recognize as that little lady from Poltergeist and the voice of all of those Skittles “Taste the Rainbow” commercials. Madame Serena conveniently immediately places Louise as reincarnation of her old witch buddy, hooks her up with a power-producing amulet, and sends her on her bewitching way.
Louise casts a spell to make herself the most popular girl in school and to gain the attention of her love interest, Brad, which we all know will work out exceptionally well. She plays tricks on her teachers, gains the unwarranted love and adoration of those awesome cheerleaders we met in the “I Like Boys Video” above, and makes Brad as interested in her as he could possibly be against his own free will.
To squeeze in a heartwarming life lesson at the end, Louise eventually realizes that believing in and loving herself for who she really is trumps magical powers. Those of us who met the original magic-free Louise at the beginning of the movie may beg to differ based on how much cooler and prettier she seemedpost-powers, but we’ll just have to go with it to ensure this story does indeed contain a moral, no matter how vague and haphazardly presented it may be.
Few would argue that Teen Witch was a substantial or even worthwhile film, but many of us lost several hours of our lives to watching it regardless. If you somehow managed to miss it, you can watch it in segments on You Tube or download the full movie or music on iTunes.. Bonus tip: some of us may even have “Top That” and “I Like Boys” on our iPods. If you don’t yet, I highly recommend it--it’s a great way to break the ice when your iPod in on shuffle during a party. Warning: this tip is not for the easily humiliated.