Before Scream turned the genre world on its head, there was another ’90s teen-centric horror movie revitalizing youth-oriented cinema. Featuring a cast of rising stars, killer effects, and a now iconic soundtrack, Andrew Fleming's The Craft thoughtfully explored issues like high school politics, female empowerment, suicide, and the dangers of witchcraft when left in less-experienced hands.
More importantly, The Craft spoke out on the behalf of a generation of teenagers struggling to find their identity, and it continues to have an impact on new audiences. Over the years, the film has attracted a huge cult following and maintained its popularity amongst genre fans.
It may seem surprising that the decision to move forward on making The Craft wasn’t an easy sell for writer/director Fleming (Bad Dreams, Dick). “When we began prepping The Craft, the teen movie was dead,” explained Fleming. “Studios were under the impression that teens only wanted to go see big action movies or they didn’t go to the movies, period. This idea of making a movie about a group of isolated high school girls was viewed as preposterous and I had to battle with the studios to get The Craft made.”
Once Columbia came on board The Craft, it was time for Fleming to add his own touches, fully fleshing out characters and enriching their backstories. “Peter [Filardi] wrote the original script and then I did a rewrite on it. Rochelle may not have even existed in his version because there wasn’t a racism subplot, there was nothing in there about suicide, Bonnie didn’t have scars, and the character of Nancy didn’t evolve into the story’s villain.”
“That version of The Craft had a completely different mood to it and I wanted to draw on my own experiences to give the story a different voice,” said Fleming. “I went to an all-boys school, so that influenced me a bit. I am also very close to my sister, and spent a lot of time talking to her before reworking the script, so everything about these characters resonated realistically.”
“High schools are often represented as being fun places to be, but in reality, it’s THE worst [laughs]. There’s so much pressure coming at you from every direction, and we all realize how intimidating that can be. Goth kids were a population of teens I had thought were grossly misrepresented. I wanted to make a story any kid could relate to because feeling like an outsider is a universal experience,” Fleming added.
After polishing up the script for The Craft, it came time for Fleming to bring his aspiring witches to life and find his “Chosen Four” who would become Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle. “The auditions for The Craft were huge because we had to make sure we had the perfect mix of girls who felt like real people and shared great chemistry together. It was a challenging process that took nine months to find our four leads. Once we found Fairuza [Balk], Robin [Tunney], Neve [Campbell], and Rachel [True], I knew we had something special.”
The attitude of The Craft immediately caught the eye of Balk when she read the script and was considering being a part of the film. “I instantly fell in love with Nancy and the idea of these damaged girls who can still find their confidence, even though they are constantly bullied. Regardless of whatever anyone said or did to them, they did what they wanted. There's something cool about playing in that world and finding power within a character like Nancy, who feels like she’s never belonged.”
Because so much of the film’s story is centered on the world of witchcraft, Fleming made sure every detail was respectful to Wiccan practices. “Of course I did some research,” he said, “but it was Fairuza who did the heavy labor when it came to getting the Wiccan aspects down perfectly. She was responsible for all the witchcraft-related feelings being wholly authentic. She helped ensure The Craft would counteract that misconception about witches being haggard old women with pointy hats, riding broomsticks. Witches are so much more than that.”
“I enjoyed all the research into Wicca because I had no idea it was all about empowered women," explained Balk. "It was incredible to see a religion celebrating women as goddesses and using that as an allegory throughout the movie. No one makes movies about that, especially because younger female characters usually weren't perceived with that kind of power.”
Something else that made The Craft a standout effort in May 1996 was the film’s cutting-edge visual effects. “The butterfly sequence is still my favorite scene in The Craft,” said Fleming. “Digital effects back then were very expensive and cumbersome, and I knew it wasn’t something we were going to be able to achieve practically, either. That scene became very important to me because I knew how visually iconic it was going to become for audiences. That moment when Nancy walks on water after they’ve done the “Invoking the Spirit” ceremony was going to be another moment people would talk about for years. And they do, thankfully, in a good way [laughs].”
The Craft was a highly ambitious effort for Fleming, featuring practical and visual effects, as well as a showdown in the film’s final act that would end up becoming a record-setting moment in cinematic history.
“A big part of why the film version of the finale worked so well was due to Boone Narr, our animal guy, “ said Fleming. “He was responsible for bringing in buckets and buckets of snakes, bugs, spiders, and covering every surface with them. At one point we even had ten thousand snakes on set, which I believe is still a Guinness Record.”
“Something most people don’t know about The Craft is that I wanted to make a PG-13 movie,” Fleming revealed. “If you look at the film, there’s not a ton of violence and no nudity, just some profanity. When MPAA rated the script, they gave it an R since it had young people involved in “Satanism.” Never mind the fact that Wiccans aren’t Satanists, it didn’t matter to the MPAA at all, so they gave us an R rating before we even started shooting. That’s when I decided to go back and add in some stuff. I figured it was better to embrace the rating and just really earn the R if I was going to be stuck with it [laughs].”
“The most incredible aspect to The Craft is how it got a generation of fans through a lot of tough stuff,” said Balk. “Andrew’s story is timeless because now more than ever, kids are being bullied for being different and it's tough getting through those years.”
“I've heard stories from fans who’ve told me how The Craft helped them accept themselves, gave them the strength to come out, escape from an abusive relationship, or gave them the courage to stand up for themselves. That speaks volumes for the movie we made. Sure, it's a fun movie, but it also made an impact in other ways, which I think is the best part."
“People continue to talk about The Craft,” said Fleming, “because it’s not really a movie like anything else out there. It’s a very honestly made movie with very strongly defined characters that came to represent the modern high school experience for viewers of all ages. It was a fantastic thing to be a part of and it changed the lives of every single person who worked on it, all for the better.”
While other films may get credited for the resurgence of teen horror movies in the ’90s, it was Andrew Fleming's female-driven supernatural tale that kicked the door down for its peers, giving audiences an emotionally raw examination of the contemporary high school experience. A movie that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its intelligence and influence, The Craft remains one of my very favorite horror movies, and the film’s legacy and messages continue to live on through fans old and new.
[A version of this article originally appeared in DEADLY Magazine #2]