Witches and Rebellious Women: Why 'The Craft' Continues to Kick Ass
Nineteen years after its release and we're all still dressing like this coven of misfits. We map the movie's music, style, and abiding appeal.
Teenagers, and in particular teenage girls, have always been connected to magic and witchcraft. In Massachusetts in the 1690s it wasn't middle-aged men who had their urine baked into a witch cake by the town and fed to a dog in order to see if they were Satan's slaves. (Yes this actually happened). The power of a young woman who is discovering herself and her strengths, has always been considered a threat: To other women, to men dismayed by their feelings towards those women, and to society at large. Basically, the world can't handle our periods or our boobs, so they call us witches. Ironically instead of this making teenagers shy away from all things coven-based, they're often drawn to it—“We are the weirdos, Mister,” snarls Nancy to a mystified bus driver.
Sometimes this devotion to spells finds itself in a glittery-sweet pop culture setting—Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Teen Witch and Bewitched. Sometimes it comes in a darker, more dangerous form: Carrie and, of course, The Craft.
As a girl I made my own magic books and filled them with made-up spells, which is both weird and lame, but when I look back at them now I see they were a lot about lacking confidence. I had one that was a mantra I'd repeat before bed that I decided would make me more likeable to the other girls at my school. I knew it didn't work, but then also it kind of did because as I got older I gained that self-assurance I so lacked. I started to believe in my own particular form of magic.
Witches are an easy mantle for the rebellious woman to adopt. When we don't take shit from anyone, when we have a gang of friends we fall deeply in love with, when we wear whatever we want and decide our body is our property and no one else's, we're following in the footsteps of the strong, rebel females who've come before us. Whether that's Alse Young of Windsor Connecticut, who was hanged in 1647 for witchcraft, or Kathleen Hanna of Portland Oregon who, thank Manon, is still alive and kicking, it's our heritage. I love Halloween because fall is fit (that's British for really attractive), and also because there's that crisp, smoky snap in the air. Might just be bonfires, might be some Salem witches being badass in the woods.
With that in mind and is traditional for The Score, I wanted to look at the music (which as you'll see is pretty much all covers) and the style in the movie that depicts the best coven in cinema—wave hello to Nancy, Sarah, Bonnie, and Rochelle.
Nancy. Is. Everything. She's a ball of anger, a big rageful knot squeezed in a small body. Played by Fairuza Balk she harbors a deep hatred for anyone who's ever crossed her, including her stepfather, at times her mother, but most of all for her trailer park existence. She's an outsider who has been chewed up and spat out by the crappy boys at her school because she dared to wear a PVC trench, paint her nails black, and have strong opinions. But she’s just not gonna take it any more. When we're introduced to her we're not sure whose side she's on, especially when she's hostile to newcomer Sarah.
Nancy is nearly always in black. At the beginning of the film she slicks her hair back, always wears dark lipstick and even darker lip liner. She likes leather and mesh and I feel like she'd shudder at the idea of being seen in florals. In fact she'd probably make a face like this:
Please note the nose ring, the thin 90s brows, and the studded choker.
It's fitting that the soundtrack for The Craft is crammed with female artists, as this is very much a female narrative. I'm pleased Elastica's “Spastica” made it on there as Justine Frischmann reminds me a lot of Nancy. The same cropped hair, the same ugh, whatever attitude, and the same sick taste in leather jackets. In case you don't know—shame on you—Elastica are a British post punk/new wave/Britpop band from the 90s who wrote one unassailably awesome album. Sample the lyrics to “Spastica” include the line, “Monsters of the present are the monsters of the past / Took a look in your lyric book, your head's right up your arse.” I know for certain that Nancy would approve.
In time Nancy invites Sarah into the group and the four become powerful thanks to Sarah's willingness to share her natural abilities. A lot of the rituals portrayed in the film are based on real Wiccan rites—they had a Dianic Elder Priestess to advise on set. And after filming Fairuza bought the Wiccan shop she often visited to research the character of Nancy. She doesn’t own it any more but it still exists.
While this union between the four women means her three best friends finally get what they want, Nancy is left in the same sad life she hates. Look at her, sat in her rad kimono at her shrine in her sad pre-magic bedroom, praying desperately for something better to come along.
But then, thanks to a freak incident and, you know, magic, she and her mom come into some serious cash. Now look at her in her new post-magic bedroom! Look at that view! Look at this amazing co-ord she's wearing, look at how fucking great her life is now!
But it just isn't enough. Candles and a sweet apartment view do not a happy person make. She wants more, she needs more, so she goes after the big guns.
I feel like this is a good time to talk about Tripping Daisy, the neo-psychedelic pop band (their words, not mine) whose cover of Harry Nilsson's “Jump Into The Fire” was used on the soundtrack for the film. After the death of their guitarist Wes Beggren from a drug overdose in 1999, members of Tripping Daisy went on to start The Polyphonic Spree, pretty much as a reaction to their friend's death. A choral catharsis of sorts. Tripping Daisy were known for their lightshows where they used oil and water for swirly dreamy 90s-via-the 60s effects. I wish people still did shit like that.
Nancy realizes the only way to get properly infused with magical ability is to commune with Manon, the almighty power these girls worship, on a windswept beach at midnight (where else?). Manon hears her heartfelt call to the heavens, and responds by bestowing upon her some pretty damn terrifying powers and also loads of whales, sharks, and dolphins (thoughtful).
After that Nancy's skills becomes formidable, and she starts to use it in ways that scare Sarah, the only natural witch of the group. Nancy often has good intentions but she's still intimidating. Her style also changes to reflect her inner evolution, her hair is wilder and more loose, she wears dresses with bell sleeves, and she is never seen without her hobnail boots. The vibe is very evil Stevie Nicks.
Then shit gets really, really dark. Nancy starts doing a lot of calm talking but with an evil head tilt, like this:
Check out her rosary beads and cross earrings. This is a Catholic school, but I don't think she's Catholic, in fact I know she's Manonic, so I guess this is subversive? You know what? She's starting to freak me out, I think it might be time to move on to someone else.
Oh Sarah. She moves to the area from another part of the state, and I think her mom has just died, or died at some point in the recent past. Anyway, girl has some baggage, and I'm not just talking about her Jansport rucksack. Her first day at school she hasn't got her school uniform so she's wearing her normcore muted beige/brown hoodie and polo shirt, and clutching her books very close to her chest like a life preserver.
FILM FACT: Robin Tunney, who plays Sarah, was wearing a wig for this film because her hair was still growing back after she shaved it for Empire Records. Also, like her character in that film, Sarah has tried to slit her wrists, which is actually part of what bonds her to Nancy, Rochelle, and Bonnie.
As you can see, Sarah does some freaky witch shizz with that pencil in class, which is a bit reckless tbqh, but Bonnie spots it and realizes they've finally found “their fourth.” Sarah is dubious about these social pariahs, and instead tries to fit in with the rest of the class.
I like how she wears her kilt and blazer with ankle socks and Converse.
Sarah's song on the soundtrack would probably be the Jewel track, “Under The Water.” Sarah is a sensitive soul who has been through a lot. I can imagine her in her bedroom, staring of that photo of her mom in the wide-brimmed summer hat, playing Pieces Of You over and over again. Do you remember that album? Do you remember how huge it was? Do you remember all the other vanilla-and-quasi-Christian-rock-acoustic-guitar-songbirds who emerged in its wake? Who Will Save Your Soul, the first single released from Jewel's debut was everywhere, the black and white video filmed in a public bathroom must have been played on Pop Up Video a million times in 1996. Not that Sarah is the kind of girl who'd watch VH1. She's so above television. You know what she's not above though? Chris Hooker played by Skeet Ulrich.
She falls for his charms and agrees to go on a double date with him, and the school blonde bombshell/racist and her beau. He tells Sarah she has a nice-shaped head and she's wearing black knee high socks—what can possibly go wrong? I'LL TELL YOU WHAT! He spreads a nasty rumor that she put out. And she did not put out. This lie pushes her into the understanding arms of Nancy who has also been mistreated by the school bull-shitter. Pretty soon the coven we will come to know and love are walking through the cafeteria like this.
I love that they're doing that thing that friends often do, where you start dressing like each other. I have done that and it's a bond that lasts forever. Even now I have friends who I won't see for ages and then we'll meet up and be in head-to-toe matching outfits. Our style tastes grew up together. And for these guys that means white tops, nipple friendly bras, vests, and suspenders.
The perfect song for our memory of their friend-love is Juliana Hatfield's cover of “Witches' Song,” which was originally sung by Marianne Faithfull. The lyrics are all about meeting on hilltops and invoking spirits with your sisters—ideal coven playlist material. Faithfull's original is much more relaxed than Hatfield's energetic re-imagining, with a spooky synth effect that sounds like howling wind under Faithfull's croaky vocal. It's way better.
Sarah revels in her Wicca-inspired style transformation. She borrows some black eye shadow and dabbles in lacy tops, while her hair increases in volume. It's a good look for her. (I like Nancy's little bob and hair slides).
Unlike Nancy, Sarah is more open to florals and looking pretty. She does a lot of that long sleeved t-shirts under dresses look which was pretty dope in the 90s. Especially when your best friend is holding a knife to your throat.
Sarah also has this amazing ability to change her physical appearance by, like, running her hands over her face and body. It's called a glamor. DUH. I would kill to have the skills for this spell, it would make getting ready so much easier, and you could change your hair on a whim. Or you could make yourself look like Donald Trump and say you think gay marriage and immigration is awesome.
After Nancy's big Manon love-in and her subsequent violent and, let's face it, illegal behavior, Sarah starts trying to distance herself from her frenemy. She also starts dressing in her regulation school uniform again, leaving the vests in her wardrobe. Yeah, like that will save you, honey.
It's not until the end of the film that Sarah really finds her look. She's seemingly inspired by Lirio, the older witch the girls encounter at the magic shop they frequent.
The last time we see Sarah she's done the ultimate anti-Nancy move and embraced pastels and satin.
Nancy is gonna be SO MAD!
BONNIE AND ROCHELLE
I'm gonna cover these two together because they're inseparable, which actually extends to real life—Rachel True and Neve Campbell became BFFs on set and apparently still are to this day. So it feels cruel to split them up.
Bonnie is really shy, and, thanks to some awful scars she is always covered up.
Jesus, it looks so freaking hot in that Californian sun, and Bonnie is wearing wool tights, the longest anorak I've ever seen and a roll neck under her school shirt. And then there’s Rochelle. I think Rochelle has the best style out of all four women. Her suede Mary Janes, her cropped v-neck cardigan, the sleeves rolled up on her shirt, and that kilt which somehow makes her look preppy and super cool at the same time. Also I'm really into her hair.
And look how cute she is here with her denim overalls as her friends use their powers to make her float in the air above the floor.
Now you might also notice that in this screengrab Bonnie isn't quite as covered up any more. Yeah see, something happens to her. I don't want to spoil it but basically there's one morning when she walks into class looking like this.
She's suddenly the sassiest broad you'd ever love to meet. I like her French braid and the way she drags her coat along the floor behind her. Then she stretches out in the sun like a cat and you know that Bonnie has arrived.
Heather Nova's cover of the Peter Gabriel classic “I Have The Touch” is the ultimate theme song for transformed Bonnie, because suddenly she's there. In the world, looking out for a connection, hoping to make a few sparks. She leads the way in front of her friends, walking through town and catcalling cute guys—this girl needs contact.
I think she must have lent Rochelle her old anorak, switching it out for a leather jacket and some excellent necklaces. Also holla to Sarah in her beret and black roll neck like a Wiccan existentialist.
These girls like their barrettes.
Rochelle's style hits a middle ground between her friends. Like Sarah she wears floral dresses over long sleeved tops, but her dresses are ankle length, and she looks a bit more badass. Over the course of the story she adopts more and more black, to represent her dark actions and cruel treatment of a certain blonde lady in particular.
I love what she's wearing here to the beachy invocation of Manon. I remember how great it was to have tops that knotted at the front, and I like that this cardigan matches the color of her dress, it's all about the co-ordination of your jersey dress and your knitwear, guys.
Now. I don't know if you know this, but the Letters To Cleo cover of The Cars' “Dangerous Type” is on the OST for The Craft. And I don't want to get all Ben Wyatt on you, but how frickin' rad are LTC? They're a band the best fictional characters love—Ben obvs, but also Kat Stratford freaking out over them in Club Skunk in a scene from 10 Things I Hate About You anyone? They sung at her prom! And on the roof of that ridiculous high school! Lead singer Kay Hanley had the coolest late 90s hair, whether it was cropped short and dyed two tone red and blonde, or styled into little spiky ponytails on either side of her head. And when she sang the National Anthem for the New England Patriots they had a winning streak of 8-0! She was also the singing voice for Josie in Josie And The Pussycats! Deep down, if life hadn't thrown them some curve balls, I think Bonnie and Rochelle would just be into going to LTC concerts and listening to Save Ferris and starting a band of their own or something.
But instead they were doing this kind of shit in their lace tights and crucifix necklaces. Still loving those barrettes.
The last time we see Bonnie and Rochelle they've turned up at Sarah's house, their friendship with her in tatters, and they're wearing some seriously odd clothes. Bonnie in particular has made strange choices with this shirt, why are the sleeves so long?! And actually, why the hell are the sleeves of Rochelle's coat also so long?!
I guess the lesson is, beware of magic. Not only because it will ravage both your friendship group and your love life, but also because when you're stripped of your powers you may find you suddenly have no idea how to dress yourself.
Nancy, Sarah, Bonnie and Rochelle. I love you all individually, but we have to admit—they were better together.
Elizabeth Sankey is a regular Noisey contributor and dresses like she's in a bunch of 90s films. Plus she's the lead singer of Summer Camp. Follow her on Twitter.