[To help get you into the spooky spirit this October, the Daily Dead team thought it would be a great idea to spotlight some of our favorite witchcraft movies that just might cast a spell on you and make your Halloween season a "hexcellent" one!]
I honestly don't think the Halloween season is complete without a healthy dose of witchery, especially of the fun, non-intimidating variety. If that is also your kind of witch, may I suggest a little gem from 1998 called Practical Magic. It is very much a remnant of its time, embodying so much of what I love about the late '90s: the black nails, the long wispy dresses and skirts, the goth aesthetic, and the sizable number of movies about witchcraft.
Having said that, the movie doesn't use that slice of the decade as a crutch or a gimmick, rather it tells a really relatable story about love, loss, pain, trust, laughter, friendship, sistership, and family. Practical Magic has been a bit overlooked since its release, but now that it has reached a milestone anniversary of 20 years, and with the Halloween season in full swing, I hope that it has a resurgence in viewership, either as a re-watch or for the very first time.
Directed by Griffin Dunne, Practical Magic stars Nicole Kidman (Gillian), Sandra Bullock (Sally), Stockard Channing (Aunt Frances), and Dianne Wiest (Aunt Jet) as the Owen family, whose witch lineage dates all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials. However, the main story focuses on Gillian and Sally's sisterhood, from when they were little girls up to where most of this movie lives, with the sisters as adults. When Gillian's abusive boyfriend, Jimmy (Goran Visnjic) attempts to kill her, she and Sally not only rekindle their bond, but also mature, commit to their magic, and find happiness on their own terms.
Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest are supporting characters here, but they never feel like they're just there to "support," bringing so much life and vivaciousness to the story, just as much if not more than their nieces do. Who doesn't love aunts who walk down the street with umbrellas so tiny that they barely cover your face, or who say things like, "My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage." Am I right? There's very little that I don't enjoy about this movie, but I wish the aunts got more of a backstory because they are a ton of fun.
I am not sure if Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock knew each other prior to shooting this movie, but their chemistry is solid. They truly feel like sisters who, like a lot of us with our relatives, fall in and out of closeness for whatever the reasons. But, when it comes down to being there in times of happiness or trouble, we are there no matter what. Speaking of family, the scene where all of the adults get up in the middle of the night for margaritas felt really genuine to me. As someone who has a very large, close-knit family, at least three generations of my family are under the same roof at least twice a week. When I was little, possibly six or seven, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and my mother, grandmother, and aunt would be up eating food and laughing about whatever nonsense their neighbors or co-workers were up to.
I can't forget the undertones or maybe even overtones of female empowerment sprinkled throughout, with Alice hinting that the locals persecute the Owen family (and the witches of Salem in general) not so much because they are witches, but because they are different. If you take into account the quote I mentioned earlier from Aunt Frances about being normal, I gather that the word "different" translates to living outside of societal norms and rules.
The Owen women take a little bit of belladonna and a little bit of eye of a newt to cast a spell, and Practical Magic takes a bit of horror and a bit of drama and comedy to make a light, fun, sometimes scary movie. This movie won't be for everyone, but it all depends on your sensibilities and what you're in the mood for this Halloween season. If you are curious what the life of sister witches in the Northwest looks like, give it a try. I think you will have a witching good time!