On the list of things we really could have done without in 2020, The Craft remake comes… actually not right at the top (because there was some sort of lockdown or something), but pretty darn close. This film’s popularity absolutely dive bombed – and that’s genuinely the last time anyone will ever talk about it. I thought, in light of this absolutely unnecessary remake, it would be fun to revisit the original film, truly a flawed masterpiece, in all its glory, and to explore exactly why it was so seminal, and why it’s still somewhat relevant today.
In thinking about this film in more depth, I was struck by the parallels I could draw between witchcraft and sex work – especially in light of the recent updates of Instagram rules. The banning of ‘sensitive’ content is something which is abused by those in power to prevent sex workers from having a platform in which to promote themselves. Strippers and pole dancers are not exempt from it, and black women are the demographic who are the most affected by this change in regulations. (A really detailed essay, from professional cake-sitter Lindsay Dye, about how the regulations impact sex workers trying to make a living via Instagram can be found here https://www.lindsaydye.com/tips)
Sex work is the only field in the world in which women earn more than men. Let that sink in. We all know that age-old saying that money is power, right? So no wonder that men are trying to regulate and stamp out something that we do so darn well. Instead of having a nuanced conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate, or ways in which it could be legitimised and de-stigmatised, they just get rid of it. And it’s now impossible to conduct a sex work career via Instagram in the same way.
Basically every common negative conception we have about witchcraft today comes from the 1486 book, the Malleus Maleficarum (I found out about this and more generally about the history of witchcraft from this amazing three-part youtube series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMbGf1HGaSg ). It’s the most important document we have about the early days of witchcraft, and was one of the most widely-circulated books of the time period. It’s also aggressively misogynistic. In it, it decrees that a woman is “a necessary evil” and blames womankind for the temptation that men feel when looking at her. “For either we commit adultery by divorcing her, or we must endure her daily strife.” The daily strife being that constant resisting of temptation which horny men must endure and blame the hot woman in their life for making them feel tempted. Ugh.
The Craft is, as I said, a profoundly imperfect film which details women grappling with newfound power in a world which is terrified of them using it. If you’re scared enough of something to ban or reject it outright, its nuances cannot be debated. Women having sexual power is something people are deeply uncomfortable with and therefore it doesn’t get regulated. Witchcraft is the perfect metaphor for sexual maturity, since the sexual manipulation of men by women is a fear which has existed within the male psyche since the 1400s. In The Craft, we see four teenage girls explore magic and their powers completely on their own terms, without talking to anyone else about it or asking for advice until it’s too late. It’s no coincidence that they are teenagers – just coming into their own “power” as sexually active beings. The exposition portion of the film even details some of their own sexual misfortunes; Nancy was given an STI from sleeping with Chris the jock. A rumour is spread by that very same jock that Sarah was a “lousy lay” – thus taking her sexual autonomy away from her. Witchcraft casts the girls as rejects in the school, and sexual autonomy casts women as rejects in the wider world.
The four girls grow in maturity and autonomy throughout the film, gaining strength in their own powers and as a group. In terms of finances, the girls mature financially throughout as well (buying rather than stealing from the magic shop), something which drives home this point about female financial autonomy being feared by men. Forgoing the advice and assistance of the kindly shopkeeper, and with their group splitting internally – paralleling the ways in which instagram (and other) regulations prevent sex workers from coming together or being in contact with each other – the girls must face the consequences of their actions. In a society which rejects those performing taboo acts, who can those in trouble turn to when they need help?
For all its shortcomings, The Craft is a really interesting addition to the horror genre, in many ways, ahead of its time and incredibly dated in others. It brought up issues of race, disability, sexism and mental health and portrayed them on screen, for better or worse. It also (less important but still important) gave rise and shed light on the gothic fashion movement, working as the inspiration for countless trends in the future.
It also makes some really astute points about the idea of female power and sexuality, using the metaphor of witchcraft. Above all, it’s a chilling and honest depiction of the kind of issues young women will face growing up and going through adolescence, be it bullying, insecurities, abuse, rejection and more. It’s a product of its time, sure, but it’s also a timeless film. Oh, and it should never have spawned that sequel.