Reboots, Remakes and The Craft 2.0

Heather Greene —  May 24, 2015 — 17 Comments

The Craft may be getting a reboot.

the craftAs first announced by The Hollywood Reporter, Sony is “remaking the 1996 supernatural teen thriller, tapping up-and-coming horror filmmaker Leigh Janiak to write and direct the new version.” A relatively new director, Janiak’s recent projects include the film Honeymoon (2014) and an episode of the new TV series Scream (2015), based on the film franchise of the same name. Doug Wick, producer of the original film, is back in the same capacity.

Why is Sony going back to the cult classic? The answer is quite simple. Witches in film and television are hot right now, and they have been for several years after stealing the limelight, almost completely, from vampires and even zombies. (e.g., WGN’s Salem; Lifetime’s Witches of East End; Beautiful Creatures, 2013; Maleficent, 2014)

The American popular entertainment industry, aka Hollywood, is above all else, just that, an industry. Output and decisions are profit-driven. If fictional witches sell tickets and tie-ins, and make the money flow, then witches will be reproduced – over and over again. In the last six months, there have been unconfirmed rumors of a Bewitched remake, and a sequel to the campy Hocus Pocus (1993).

But why The Craft?  Why not a brand new witch story? Or even a remake of an older witch-inspired horror film like City of the Dead (1960)? There is a second aspect to this film, and the marketing of any film, which helps to drive the decision. That element is nostaglia. Sony producers know that The Craft will not only attract the younger audiences, who are currently fueling the Witch-craze, but it will also attract the older audiences – those people who have turned the campy film into a cult classic.

Sony is not alone in this effort. Many studios are cashing in on America’s nostalgia with remakes of other popular films from the 1980s and 1990s. MGM’s Poltergeist is in theater’s now. In December, an updated Point Break is scheduled for release. In July, New Line Cinema will unleash the next installment in the National Lampoon’s series Vacation. The list goes on. Hollywood loves remakes, reboots, adaptations, sequels, prequels and dark twists. How many Police Academy’s were there?

Nostalgia itself offers a nice soft, cushion on which to rest many these remakes. However, it is not always a factor in a producer’s decision to back a film. The studios like remakes and sequels primarily because they are easy. These films provide a pre-written script or narrative, a pre-designed visual concept, and often come with actors. Some have already shown either success at the box office, or the ability to neatly exist in film’s storytelling world.

While many viewers are lamenting the current recycling trend, it really isn’t unique or new. In the 1990s, for example, the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film, Sabrina, was remade and released in 1995. A new version of the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair hit screens in 1999. The 1986 comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills was a remake of a 1932 Jean Renoir film Boudu sauve des eaux. Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho (1960), wasn’t even sacred enough to avoid a make-over in 1998.  And those are just examples.

Many of the most beloved witch films are not original properties. Bell Book and Candle (1958) was first a play. I Married a Witch (1942) was a dime-store novel that also inspired the television show Bewitched. Of course, the recent Maleficent (2014) was a spin-off from Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty (1959), which was simply an adaptation of a Charles Perrault story that was, itself, taken from the oral tradition. Even MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) was not the first film rendition of the famous story (e.g., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910).

Remakes and adaptations happen.

Knowing all of that does not make it any easier to accept the remake of a beloved film. Frustrated viewers flocked to Twitter to express their outrage. One woman wrote, “I invoke thee to stop Sony’s presumably horrible remake of The Craft.” At The Huffington Post, writer Stephanie Marcus listed the “5 Reasons They Don’t Need to Remake the Craft.”

Peg Aloi, of Patheos‘ Witching Hour, published an article titled “The Craft is getting a Remake?” While Aloi acknowledged that a reboot could be interesting, she feels it is unnecessary. She wrote, “The cultural implications will be interesting to say the least … but I’d prefer there wasn’t a remake at all. The original is too good to tamper with.” In her post, Aloi noted that the film “holds up well” in exploring such things as teenage angst, loyalty, friendship, body image, sexual jealousy.

Actress Fairuza Balk, who played Nancy in the original film, also spoke out about the news on Twitter, saying:

Balk added that she “wasn’t surprised” that Sony was remaking the film; the studio “made a lot of money off [The Craft] and obviously see it as a way to make more.” Due to the continued outrage from loyal fans, Balk later had to clarify, “I did not say I thought remaking The Craft specifically was a bad idea- I said remakes -IN GENERAL-tend to be a bad idea.” Balk’s argument is different from others in that she simply expressed support for fresh scripts and stories.

Pagan blogger Jason Mankey chimed into the discussion, saying “In between the teeth-gnashing this evening there’s something a lot of people are forgetting: The Craft wasn’t high art. It was a fun, campy, horror-movie. It’s not sacred ground now and it wasn’t then.” Although many Pagans or young would-be witches did adore The Craft, it was not universally celebrated, as Mankey suggests.

In a 1996 statement, Witchvox‘s Wren Walker voiced her disgust with the film, saying, “By linking the terms ‘Witches’ and ‘Witchcraft’ with murder, mayhem and destructive acts, there is a great potential danger. That danger could create encouragement for a resurgence of public mistrust and suspicion of the contemporary religious belief system known as Witchcraft or Wicca.” Walker did say that the film had some “amusing parts,” but overall, she felt it was problematic.

As indicated by her comment, The Craft played into the cultural leftovers of the Satanic Panic, both visually and narratively, and kept one foot stationed firmly in that space. However, the 1996 film was produced during a cultural pivot point with regards to Occult practice. Not only did it show offer a visual and narrative awareness of previous horror trends, it also was very aware of the growing visibility of real Witchcraft, as a practice and a religion.

Wiccan Pat Devin was hired as the film’s technical adviser. In 1998, Devin said, “I decided to try to get as much truth into what was, after all, a teenage date spooky movie, as I could. I knew the results would not be perfect, but I felt obligated to try, as the movie was going to come out in any event.” In the interview, Devin talks about her direct involvement in the writing of this ritual scene:

Due to the proximity that The Craft had to genuine Witchcraft practices, as well as its exploration of female agency, it is not surprising that the film quickly became a cult favorite. Aloi called it one of the “must see” Pagan films. Despite any failings and its overall campiness, the film did touch many people. That fact cannot be denied.

When a film touches us deeply, it becomes part of our personal narrative, in one way or another. While watching it, we pass the threshold of the silver screen, and enter the film’s world. We are part of it and it is part of us. Therefore, it is difficult to accept any change to its nature. People often have a similar reaction to film adaptations of beloved books.

In that way, The Craft  has became part of many people’s personal narratives, turning it into a cult favorite. As shown by the reactions to the announcement, the movie still holds that space. Nancy will never be anyone but Fariuza Balk, and Bonnie can only be Neve Campell.

However, the story’s themes, as Aloi noted, would not be entirely foreign to teenagers in 2015. The film addresses issues of female empowerment that are still very current in today’s age, especially considering Witchcraft appears to be making a resurgence.

Sony is well aware of this fact, and the selection a female director demonstrates that awareness. However, there is speculation that Janiak’s hiring may have only been due to pressure coming from an American Civil Liberties Union complaint about gender inequities in Hollywood. Either way, there is a female director at the helm.

If updated carefully, The Craft, as a coming-of-age tale for young girls, has the potential to touch an entirely new generation of women, who are trying to unearth their own power and place in society. Additionally, it will be very interesting to see what adaptations are made in the representation of Witchcraft and its intersection with horror. The position of Wicca and Witchcraft within American culture is very different today than it was in 1996.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • Govannon Thunorwulf

    I’m still not sure of this. I guess it all depends on how true they stay to the original I guess.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The moment matters. The Wicker Man preceded the Satanic Panic, and its remake was much better received in the Pagan community. Rocky Horror remake, anyone…?

    • Keith Campbell

      its remake was much better received

      It was? I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t think it was awful. Absolutely none of the charm of the original.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        At least the criticism waited until seeing it.

    • Deborah Bender

      The release of the original Wicker Man was rather an event in our local Craft community. About half of us loved it and half hated it, depending on whether the person cared more about the depiction of murderous Pagans or the depiction of a vigorous, unapologetic Pagan community. The reaction to the remake was, “Thank God it’s so awful, no one will go see it.”

      • Genexs

        Yeah, thankfully the remake often makes it on those “worst movie of all times lists”. I remember it being panned by mainstream reviewers.

  • There is always the potential that they manage to do it better, even by (or especially by) deviating from the original. Staying too close to the original simply pits the new actresses against the original ones … it’s a contest the newer ones will find hard to win, as was the case with the latest remake of ‘True Grit.’

    Something I find myself curious about is to what extent a remake of this film really might affect current and potentially new Pagans. What opportunities might a remake of a not-really-that-old classic present for Pagans to engage members of the non-Pagan public?

  • Deborah Bender

    “The position of Wicca and Witchcraft within American culture is very different today than it was in 1996.”

    What would you say are the differences, Heather?

    • The statement is based purely on observations of the treatment of Paganism within the Media and entertainment industry over the past twenty years. Taking into account those changes, as well as the various legal wins (e.g. the Pentacle Quest etc.), there has been a definite shift. How big that shift is (or how it affects daily experience) is an entirely different story. I touched on this in a 2014 article “Wicca in the Cultural Spotlight”

  • Deborah Bender

    I would go to the stage play of “Bell, Book and Candle,” but I shudder to imagine a remake of the movie without the original actors and turn-of-the-Fifties New York hipster culture.

    • Sorry, Deborah. That movie was remade as a TV movie in 1976.

  • Deporodh

    In my part of the Wiccan community, the original “The Craft” was known colloquially as “the crap”. The only true-to-life scene in that movie was the metaphysical/occult shop and its owner.

    For the record, Heather, the 1942 novel “I Married a Witch” was first a movie:
    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2281086464/tt0034881?ref_=tt_pv_md_2
    Veronic Lake and Frederic March, with Susan Hayward in a supporting role. Dime-store novel? probably a novelization… but you cannot find the novel on http://www.abebooks.com, while the movie is something I’ve rented on VHS, and that you can now buy in Amazon’s Instant Video for $3.

    • The movie was based on the novel by Thorne Smith. It was called “Passionate Witch.” Thorne died in 1932 before it was finished. Norman Matson finally finished the story, and then published in 1941. I have a first edition, but it is still in print and considered a “horror” classic.

      • Genexs

        I shudder at the thought of a “City of The Dead/Horror Hotel” remake. I’m sure you have already, but if not check out the other Baxt gem, “Shadow of the Cat”. Sadly, it’s only available in poorly ripped form. “Night/Curse of the Demon” would also be something that seems primed for a remake.

    • Wolfsbane

      Yes it was. But there were good points about it as well.
      We it came out my friends and I had ever so much fun arguing about who in our local community best matched the characters in the film.
      If they do a remake we can do it all over again.

  • David Pollard

    I am uneasy about the remake, it is possible they end up with a better movie, but I think the risk of them increasing the films negative aspects is greater than them adding emphasis to the “girl-power” positive body image, personal responsibility aspects. The greater facility with digital effects pushes toward directorial decisions emphasizing more gore and violence.

  • Deborah Bender

    I am not a fan of horror films in general, but I sometimes like ones that are mostly psychological rather than graphic and ones which transcend the genre. The book and movie Lord of the Flies and the first Wicker Man movie transcend the genre.

    I read about the remake before it was released and thought it had a promising premise for an update: radical feminist Pagans in America instead of reconstructionist Pagans in the Hebrides. Someone could have made a pretty good small movie from that premise, but it would have required an insider perspective, not the typical white hetero male irreligious perspective that most Hollywood movies are written from. Someone like Alison Bechtel, perhaps, to get both the ideology and the social details right.

    The authentic horror aspect of The Wicker Man (as distinct from the genre tropes that drove the plot) is depicting a relatively isolated community that was founded on ideals coming under stress and going off the deep end. That can happen in any subculture, but to make it matter to the audience, you have to get the community’s culture right so that viewers have some sympathy for the protagonists when it starts to go wrong, and aren’t just spectators to the mayhem.

    The villagers in The Wicker Man are eccentric and slightly creepy, but they had already formed their conspiracy before the movie opens, so what we see has elements of a suspense film rather than an unraveling into atrocities. The author of the novel, so I’ve read, thought that all religions are superstitious foolishness, which is why the policeman’s singleminded devotion to duty doesn’t quite make him a tragic hero in the movie even though he does all the things that tragic heroes do (ignore warnings, refuse to examine his convictions, decline chances to escape his fate, die nobly). The imaginary remake I’m thinking of would have been more of a horror-comedy with social satire, a bit like the witchcraft movie that had Jack Nicholson as the devil. The moment for a remake set in that particular subculture has passed, however.