October is National Coming Out Month and Halloween. For me, and many gay men in their forties and fifties, it is also time to watch the teen-witch and gay male coming-out movie The Craft. When the movie was first released in 1996, I was already very out. I was a full-time LGBT activist getting involved in state and local politics. Nevertheless, I became secretly obsessed with The Craft as one of films that reflected my coming out experiences. It's also a great Halloween film with campy chanting, lots of candles, minimal adults and only symbolic opposite-gendered roles. In 1997, I wore out the first VHS tape of this film, but still told no one.
One night in a gay bar a few years later I randomly heard a leather queen shout "Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East!" and turned to see him with arms up, in full chanting position. I knew only someone who had seen The Craft multiple times would know the chant used by the teen witches to cast their most dramatic spells. After asking around I found out that The Craft has a bizarrely large, and largely self-conscious, gay male following in my age bracket.
The movie is about four teenage girls who each grow up feeling different -- simultaneously special and rejected -- as so many LGBT teens have experienced. The girls end up at the same school and find each other essentially by cruising the hallways. Sideways looks and quiet nods to each other lead to hooking-up, which for them is going shopping for candles after school.
The best character is Nancy (Fairuza Balk), who is already fully out as a witch. She wears goth lipstick and black, lace-up Stevie Nicks boots. She has a sexual history and a noose hanging in her locker. She practices the craft. If this were about being gay, she would have been the kid with a rainbow button on her backpack.
Bonnie (Nev Campbell) has self-image issues because of scars that cover her back and arms. Like so many gay kids, she wants to be left alone, yet at the same time she fears that she will grow up lonely. Rochelle (Rachel True) the only African-American character, faces racist comments by the other kids. This angers her, but only in a pouty, look-at-what-she-did-to-my-cashmere-sweater, kind of way. Nothing in this movie's script can get in the way of the real social justice issue, which is witch-phobia.
Sarah (Robin Tunney), the main character, isn't sure about her identity in the beginning. She starts out craft-curious. This movie is about her journey. She is confronted with peer pressure and her own internalized witch-phobia. On their first night together, Sarah asks the others "do you guys really believe in this?" Back at school the next day she doesn't want to get rejected by the popular kids so she downplays her relationship with Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle. Chris, the football jock, persists in making bullying comments about the three spiritual deviants, whom he calls "the Bitches of Eastwick." He explains, "when you're a guy, and I am, people expect things." Very similar to often heard statements, 'Boys will be boys' or 'Don't be such a f*gg*t.'
After the four witches have confirmed each other's witchy tendencies, the four take a bus to the witchy part of town where a young person can go and be herself. A safe space with no anti-witch judgement. In the movie that neighborhood seems to be an empty grassy field with butterflies. For me, it was the the gay bar district in southeast Washington, DC. But in either case, the bus driver in the film knew exactly what kind of neighborhood it was. As the four step off the bus the driver says "Don't let the freaks get you." Nancy stops, turns back to look at the driver, lowers her Rick Springfield sunglasses, and says with a smile, "Mister, we are the freaks." Yes, Nancy, own it.
Suffice it to say that there several scenes resembling Radical Faery gatherings where they call the corners and chant "Hail to the Guardians" etc. They also perform a ceremony that might someday constitute polyamorous marriage in some states, and they hold a Body Electric workshop in Rochelle's room where the four play "light as a feather, stiff as a board." The girls whisper and touch each other only with their index finger. Rochelle's mom walks in and interrupts the magic. "Whats going on in here?" "Nothing Mom." Tell me that didn't happen to you.
Empowered by their chosen family, the girl's inadvertently start causing their revenge fantasies to come true. These revenge scenarios are framed in classic locations of gay teen trauma. The white racist begins losing her blond hair while showering in the gym locker room. The football jock falls in love with one of the witches, and is then driven crazy when the love is unrequited. He finally meets his fate at a party at one of the rich kid's houses -- the party that the gay boys weren't invited to.
Sadly, the film's narrative wraps up as witchcraft backfires for the girls, thereby illustrating the dangers of nonconformity. The girls survive only by vowing to never practice the craft again. They all end up back in the closet, except one, who ends up in a straightjacket. This movie came out before Ellen did. It would be several years before a young Bella could respectably choose the dark side. So big deal. Ignore the ending. Click rewind.
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