Battle of the Witch Movies: The Witches of Eastwick vs. The Craft
As with vampires and ghosts, there have been numerous types of witches in both literature and film throughout the years. Before the series Charmed basically redefined the onscreen concept of witches, there were two memorable films which came out within a decade of each other that showed us that there was more to the concept than just the Wicked Witches of the East and West.
The title witches are BFF’s Alex Medford (Cher), Jane Spofford (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie Ridgemont (Michelle Pfeiffer). They’ve become bored with the lives they lead in Eastwick, Rhode Island, although they bond over the fact that they’re not married, even though both Alex and Tukie have kids. Unbeknownst to them, their weekly get-togethers end up drawing upon the witch powers they’re unaware that they have as they constantly fantasize about their dream man.
This results in a new town resident named Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) arriving and buying Eastwick’s Lennox Mansion, which was built on the site where accused witches were executed way back when. Daryl continues to make a stir when he loudly applauds Jane’s cello playing at a music recital. He next makes friends with Alex and she initially tells Daryl to piss off after he makes some rude comments. But he’s soon able to turn this repulsion into sex. The next day, Daryl succeeds in seducing Jane after they have a musical duet with Jane on her cello and Daryl on the piano.
Naturally, Alex and Sukie are shocked the next day when the former brings Sukie over to meet Daryl and finds Jane there already. But this awkward moment doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Sukie as well. The resentment that emerges between the trio over this ends up with their discovery of their powers when they levitate a tennis ball. They all agree to date Daryl.
One person who takes a dislike to Daryl is Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright), whose husband Clyde (Richard Jenkins) is Sukie’s boss. Felicia initially makes her disapproval known when Daryl first arrives in town, and she subsequently breaks her leg when falling down a flight of stairs. The witches’ involvement with Daryl prompts her to make more noise denouncing them. But Daryl manages to direct the witches into unwillingly casting a spell which leads to Felicia puking up cherries, prompting a horrified Clyde to kill her.
Felicia’s death leads to the witches avoiding each other as well as Daryl. Pissed off by this, he casts a spell to manifest each of their fears. This leads to all three resuming their sexcapades with him. But this turns out to be a ruse, as the next day, they create a voodoo doll of Daryl as he’s out buying food.
Experiencing intense pain, Daryl runs into a church and begins cursing the witches and vomits cherries himself. He returns home to fight the witches, but after turning into a monster, he vanishes after the ladies toss his voodoo doll likeness into a fire.
The film ends months later with all three witches still living in Daryl’s place, each having a son thanks to him. Their dad appears on the TVs in the house and attempts to lure the kids toward him. But he’s stopped when their moms switch the sets off.
Nine years after The Witches of Eastwick came another film with witches as the protagonists. This time, however, the witches are in high school. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) is a troubled new arrival at her San Francisco school. She soon bonds with Bonnie Harper (Neve Campbell), Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), and Rochelle Zimmerman (Rachel True), all three of whom are outcasts, and according to some, also witches. The three see potential in Sarah and believe she can make their coven powerful. This confidence is reinforced when a guy who bullies Sarah is later hit by a car.
Sarah is soon casting a love spell upon Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) after he falsely claims they had lousy sex after their date and refers to the group as the “bitches of Eastwick”. Her new friends follow suit as Rochelle casts a spell on racist bully Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), which leads to Laura losing her hair. Bonnie casts a spell which makes the scars on her back that she received in an accident heal up, while Nancy’s spell leads to the death of her stepfather, allowing her and her mom to use the cash from his life insurance to get a better place.
This increases Nancy’s lust for power and she calls upon the other three ladies to perform a rite with her. Afterward, Nancy is hit by lightning, which in turn leads her to have further disregard for her life and those of her three friends.
Power also ends up getting the better of the others. Bonnie becomes more egotistical, Rochelle is overwhelmed by Laura’s anguish over her baldness, and Chris becomes all-too-infatuated with Sarah. When he attempts to rape her, Nancy uses a spell to disguise herself as Sarah so Chris will have sex with her. He’s pissed off when Sarah herself interrupts, which leads to Nancy killing him by tossing him out a window.
Bonnie, Rochelle, and Nancy all turn on Sarah when the latter attempts a spell to stop Nancy. They flood her mind with illusions and bring up her mother’s death when she gave birth to her (which previously led to Sarah attempting suicide). But Sarah is able to draw upon her powers to fight them off, just as Nancy attempts to slit her wrists. Sarah torments Bonnie by making her scars reappear, while Rochelle loses some of her hair and Nancy is prevented from harming her further.
Bonnie and Rochelle attempt to make amends, but Sarah cuts them off and states that their god “Manon” has stripped them of their powers for abusing them. The film ends with Nancy having been committed to a mental institution, insanely sayuing that she’s flying.
Which is better?
This is a bit tough because, while The Craft definitely has more creepy moments, Eastwick has more sexy moments, and as a result, could be seen as the more fun of the two films. One could argue that Eastwick is a bit like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which also starred Sarandon), only without the musical numbers. Such moments as Alex adamantly telling Daryl to piss off only to get in bed with him a moment later reinforce that. But all three leading ladies are appealing and Jack is in peak form with a role that rivals his previous one in The Shining and his later one in Batman in terms of pure scenery-chewing.
The film was based on the novel of the same name by John Updike. The book was actually darker than the film with some notable differences. One of these was that Daryl marries another girl, prompting the three witches to cast a spell that causes her death. I, for one, am happy this wasn’t in the film, as it would’ve made the title witches less sympathetic.
Likewise, all four of the leading ladies of The Craft are terrific, with Tunney doing especially well in her pivotal role as a troubled teen who realizes that the powers she initially views as her salvation are a double-edged sword. Balk, Campbell, and True are also great because, like Tunney, they gain the audience’s sympathy because their characters are outcasts from their fellow high schoolers, and retain that sympathy despite their later less-than-benevolent acts.
The film’s producer Douglas Wick came up with the idea of a film about witches going through the usual trials and tribulations of high school. He worked on the script with Peter Filardi, who did extensive research about witchcraft. Many actresses auditioned for the four leads, such as Alicia Silverstone and Angelina Jolie before production began.
Both films have unique takes on witches. One centers on a group who slowly realize how powerful they are, while the other has a group who are aware of their powers and recruit someone they view as a kindred spirit to make them even more powerful. In both cases, the results turn out to be more than the protagonists bargained for. Whether you like your witches sexy or scary, both films are worth seeing.