The Craft Review

Following a suicide attempt, seventeen-year-old Sarah (Robin Tunney) moves with her widowed father to Los Angeles, and goes to school at St Benedict’s Academy. There, she falls in with three girls who are outsiders for various reasons. Bonnie (Neve Campbell) has a body disfigured by scars. Rochelle (Rachel True) is black, and suffers verbal abuse from the school’s beauty queen. Nancy (Fairuza Balk) lives in a trailer with her parents and is just “weird”. But the three are a witches’ coven and Sarah may well be the fourth member they are looking for…

The Craft is an engaging crossbreed between the high school and horror genres, and for the most part is much better than you might think. Scream was just over the horizon – Neve Campbell went on to make that film shortly afterwards – and soon the horror genre would descend into smirking, would-be-postmodern knowingness. Where The Craft benefits is that it plays its story straight, and its four lead actresses play their roles with conviction. Also refreshingly, the girls are the central characters: apart from Sarah’s father, who barely appears, the main male character is Skeet Ulrich’s Chris, who is pretty much kept in the margins. There’s no doubt that Robin Tunney can act (she won an award as a woman with Tourette’s Syndrome in the indie Niagara Niagara), and she’s certainly capable enough in the leading role, but it’s clear the writers and the filmmakers are more interested in Nancy. Fairuza Balk at her best is one of the most compelling young actresses around; as Nancy’s new-found powers push her over the edge, Balk manages to stay this side of outright scenery-chewing. It’s not her fault that the film jettisons any attempts at subtlety towards the end and resolves itself with a welter of special effects and possibly the greatest number of snakes and creepy-crawlies ever gathered in one place. Andrew Fleming had made the drama Threesome and went on to make the sharp Watergate satire Dick, but his talent was certainly evident in The Craft.

This is the second DVD Columbia have released of The Craft. The original was a bare-bones affair, but they have made up for it with this “Collectors’ Edition”. The transfer is framed in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic. There really is very little wrong with this: sharp and colourful with good blacks (see the difference between Nancy’s leather jacket and Rochelle’s school blazer in the same shot), and only some minor aliasing keeps it from top marks.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it’s a very busy one, with considerable use of the surrounds for both music and directional sound. There aren’t many notable “subwoofer moments” (well, maybe an explosion late on) but it’s continually present, filling in the bottom end of the soundtrack. A word on the music: the soundtrack features The Beatles’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” (over the opening credits), The Smith’s “How Soon is Now” and Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch” (end credits) and very effective they are, but oddly they are all cover versions. Maybe the originals were too expensive to license.

The main extra is a commentary by Andrew Fleming. It’s a standard example of its kind, neither outstanding nor terrible, but it holds the interest and Fleming does pass on some interesting filmset anecdotes. (Tunney is wearing a wig throughout, her hair having been shaved for another role and not grown back yet.) The production took great pains to be accurate about all things Wiccan, even hiring an advisor. It’s also interesting to note that Fairuza Balk is a real-life white witch.

“Conjuring the Craft” is a making-of featurette, longer (22 minutes) and somewhat more substantial than others of its kind, though about half the running time is made up of film clips. (The featurette is full-frame, though the extracts are letterboxed.) The featurette was made in 2000: Fleming, Balk, Tunney, Campbell, True, Peter Filardi (story/co-writer) and Douglas Wick (producer) are all interviewed retrospectively. As with most such PR efforts, everyone seems to have got on with each other, but there is some worthwhile material here, as the interviewees at least touch on some of the issues (especially the feminist ones) that the film raises. Don’t watch this before seeing the film, as it contains several major spoilers.

There are three deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Fleming. Picture quality is rougher than that of the feature, as you might expect, but it’s still acceptable. These scenes are worth having, though you do go along with Fleming’s explanations for their deletion. The trailer (1:48, full-frame) contains several potential spoilers, though of course you won’t know that out of context. The filmographies are fairly basic, updated to 2000, and clearly lifted (unacknowledged) from the Internet Movie Database. (Balk’s filmography includes Stillwater, a working title for Almost Famous.) There are twenty-eight chapter stops, ample for a shortish film, and the option to play the film with an isolated score.

The Craft is a film I’ve always liked, though I won’t make too many claims for it. It’s a good, not great, film here given an excellent DVD package, with first-rate picture and sound.

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