Teen Witch

Teen Witch. Trans World Entertainment 1989.
Teen Witch. Trans World Entertainment 1989.

Before watching the movie:

I was entirely unaware of this movie until it came up in algorithmic recommendations. Surprisingly, it has no relation to the Archie Comics series “Sabrina the Teeenage Witch”, which I know as the 90s sitcom of the same name. It really looks like the same setup, with the dreamy, unattainable boy and everything. I guess that’s just the story writers want to tell about teenaged girls. According to the summary on Wikipedia, it started life as a female twist on Teen Wolf, which… okay. Not exactly as weird and desperate as Teen Wolf 2 telling the same story again with the first werewolf’s cousin in college.

This is probably the best place to comment on how bad the theatrical posters are. I always try to use a poster from the original theatrical release, and sometimes that results in using things like this one, where who cares about the title character, there is a cute boy who is the most important part of the movie probably. More recent box art, as seen on IMDB, has just the girl on a broom, which at least gets the priorities straight. Also the German poster is very nice, but not in English and the only pictures I can find are folded.

After watching the movie:

Louise Miller hates her high school life. Barely noticed by the boy she pines after, Brad the football captain, and apparently actively gunned for by the head cheerleader and her English teacher as well as her little brother, as she nears her 16th birthday she has a particularly humiliating day ending with having a bike accident and trying to use a stranger’s phone. But the door she knocks on belongs to Madame Serena, a self-proclaimed witch who tells Louise that she’s a witch as well, and will find her luck turning from her sixteenth birthday, a few days away. And after the drama department’s wardrobe supervisor gives her a very old charm necklace that mysteriously appeared in the collection, it does. Anything Louise wishes, happens. But as she uses her newfound abilities to get revenge on the people who’ve persecuted her and become the most popular girl in school, she finds herself drifting away from her best friend Polly and wondering if Brad’s interest in her is real.

Every frame of this is 100% 80s. This is the Ur-80s Teen Movie. Usually by the end of a decade the next decade’s aesthetic has started to seep in, but there’s no trace of 90s style here. Just some gloriously embarrassing camp. This is the best and the worst of the decade, which is the same thing. It’s the “Monkey” by George Michael of movies. It’s way too 80s in the best way.

This movie is kind of a musical, but not fully ready to commit to it. As far as I can tell, pretty much all of the songs are original, but most of them accompany montages or are diegetic performances. Actually the most musical-ish numbers are diegetic as well, and come from a group of sleazy guys who randomly rap a few times (and vaguely remind me of Rockapella), but it’s expressly really happening. It’s also the most delightfully terrrible part.

The plot is a fairly paint by numbers teenaged empowerment fantasy morality play. It’s surprising that a term with that many qualifiers can seem standard, but it is. Girl gets everything superficial she wanted, girl realizes the superficial things are unsatisfying. It’s as stylized as one would imagine the erotic friend fiction Louise had humiliatingly read aloud in English class would go. Everybody who is bad gets punished, everyone who is punished is a bad person. Even the geek foisted on Louise as a dance date isn’t just undesirable but actively terrible to her and nothing of value is lost when her untempered powers come down on him.

As much as anyone can feel real in such a heightened movie, Robyn Lively’s performance had an air of authenticity to me. Zelda Rubenstein dispenses cynical wisdom that really sounds like I might not be supposed to trust her in a way that endears. Mandy Ingber’s Polly is probably Louise’s healthiest relationship, and while everything is inevitably okay between Louise and Brad eventually, they don’t belong together the way Louise and Polly do. Polly’s scenes are the best character scenes. And special mention must also be made to an actual witchy TV connection: Louise’s father is played by Dick Sargent, one of the Darrins on Bewitched. He gets one good scene, maybe two, but he’s mostly a background presence.

There are moments, particularly early on, that called to me to MST3K-style riff on them in ways that don’t fit here. I’m tempted to come back sometime and livetweet it. It’s a lot of fun but usually at its own expense. Teen Witch is one of the best worst movies ever made.

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