The Boshemia babes have compiled a list of our favourite campy Halloween classic movies, from the bad, the worse, and the spoopy. Read a rundown of the editors’ picks to see how our problematic faves have held up over the years.
Teen Witch has become a litmus test of sorts for new friends and relationships; you either find it dull, ridiculous and joyless, or you think it’s one of the best camp classics to ever grace the world of cinema. And if you’re in the latter camp, you are exactly my kind of person. Released in 1989 with the aesthetic of a 1986 fever dream, Teen Witch tells the story of Louise (Robin Lively), your standard red headed 1980’s teenage movie protagonist. You know the drill, she’s smart, a bit gawky, stunning but poorly styled (….80’s), unpopular, quiet. That’s right, 1980’s teenager who’s watching Teen Witch on the weekend instead of partying in the Valley – she’s just like you! Things take a supernatural turn however when she discovers (via Zelda Rubinstein as a wonderfully zany … witch spirit guide? You know what, I have no idea) that she’s not a normal teen – she’s a teen witch!
Teen Witch was initially released to jump on the popularity of Teen Wolf. See, it’s for girls! Wolves are gross. Witches can be totally cute though. Unlike Teen Wolf however, Teen Witch taaaanked. It’s now only known by hipsters (represent) and active purveyors of camp classics (represent!). And as much as I love this film, it’s not exactly hard to see why; the budget is barely existent, the plot is barely there, the magic is inconsistent and the tone switches about four times in the movie going from John Hughes to Cinemax in less than 60 seconds.
In some respects, Teen Witch is totally ahead of its time! There was a rise in witchcraft films in the 90s, with Hocus Pocus, The Craft and The Witches, but unlike those films, Teen Witch takes a fairly sterile approach to witchcraft. There are no feminist undertones in Teen Witch; if witches are supposed to be non-conformist strong women, then Teen Witch actively turns that on its heel. Louise wants nothing more than to conform to the status quo and be loved and popular (the most popular girl, to be specific). Louise isn’t exactly a strong character – she’s pretty bland, her aspirations don’t seem to stretch beyond wanting a hot popular boyfriend. The boyfriend in particular; Brad. Your typical hunky high school football player. I dunno, he probably wants more than the normal popular life like all the other hunky high school football players before him, but it’s not like the movie bothers spending any time on his characterisation.
Teen Witch also happens to be the whitest film since Birth of the Nation. Exhibit A:
Classic 80’s cultural appropriation of black culture and watering it down for the masses. Though I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t know all the words to this.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I can distinctly recall the first time that I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was seventeen years old. I was awkward, teenage, sexually frustrated. I had heard about Rocky Horror quite a lot. I knew it held legendary status; I knew that it was a cult classic, but I had no idea exactly what to expect.
The following 100 minutes of my life were transformational. They were an effervescent, boundary-smashing, electrifying 100 minutes of film experience. I was left slightly awkwardly aroused and very very confused. And invigorated.
Where Rocky Horror exceeds is in its irreverent portrayal of the pursuit of pure and complete pleasure. It is hedonistic; it is opulent; it is camp; it is dazzling and dripping with innuendo and tension and sex, and it has a fab score of showtunes. What’s not to love?! This film literally champions the concept of indulging every one of your deepest and darkest desires, no matter how twisted and grotesque it may appear to others. This sex-positive attitude spoke to me on a new level as a seventeen-year-old; it made me feel validated and unembarrassed in my sexual preference.
Rocky Horror is about as unsubtle as a sledgehammer in the way that it pokes fun at the prudish, abstinent, married-with-2.5-children-meat-and-two-veg cookie cutter lifestyle embodied in the characters of Brad & Janet. As the couple are gradually seduced by Frank’n’Furter and the Transylvanians they represent your average 1970s all-American having their culturally-embedded embarrassment stripped away and being freed into a new, exciting, crazy realm of existence.
Rocky Horror has been a validating piece of film for many individuals, with its heightened appraisal of science fiction film and comic nostalgia and genderbending costume and makeup; in this way it is subversively magical. Validating as it may seem, though, it is also potentially damaging; Rocky Horror offers for many their first exposure to drag and transvestism, but these portrayals are troubled. Rocky Horror depicts trans* as otherly, fetishised, a separate, hedonistic, sex-obsessed race; these depictions, sturdily furnished in 1970s zeitgeist, should not be remembered glamorously, but examined in the critical context from which they emerged. The director of Rocky Horror, Richard O’Brien, although identifying as gender fluid, has a well-documented history with transphobic comments in the media. Still, for some, the flamboyant and hypersexualized depictions of 70’s gender fluidity represents a timeless inspiration of celebrating sex, free love, opulence, and magical subversion.
I haven’t seen the 2016 Fox remake yet, but it’s hard to imagine that a contemporary reboot would hold the same fantastical, cult-classic, sex-dripping sway as the original.
1993 was a time of cheery ensemble casts, brightly saturated filters, and choppy scene cutaways. Enter cult favorite horror comedy: Hocus Pocus. The ’93 Disney classic plays out a witch hunt painfully reminiscent of the Salem Witch Hunts of olde. Taking place in Salem, Massachusetts, Hocus Pocus invokes the cultural memory of the patriarchal gallows. 300 years after the colonial clusterfuck that was the Salem Witch Trials, high schooler and new-kid-on-the-block Max (Omri Katz) and immortal cat Thackary [lol ew] save the day by hunting the three witches whom he accidentally resurrected by lighting the Black Candle in the old Sanderson sisters’ house-turned-gift shop. Max’s outspoken and witchy little sister Dani (Thora Birch) and Max’s All-American-Sweetheart crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) give the script a bit more female advocacy, but that is swiftly undermined by their status as mere accomplices to the male protagonist.
The three witches in question, Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are collectively the Sanderson sisters, subject to an accidental resurrection and resulting witch hunt. What ensues in this modern witchhunt is a slapdash teenage adventure, including the classic will-he-get-the-girl subplot and an awkward cameo into an adult Halloween party. Yikes.
Sidebar: At this Awkward Adult Party, the most redeeming scene is Bette Midler’s I Put A Spell on You, which still holds up 20+ years later.
In the typical 90s style of drawing on painful caricatures and bad historical impressions, Hocus Pocus feeds into the puritanical myth that the women who were charged as witches in Salem were legitimately witches, not just ‘difficult,’ nonconforming, or marginal women. Among the many deceptions we teach our children in the autumn quarter of the year, like the fable of a happy Thanksgiving among pilgrims and natives, this is another film that perpetuates unpleasant WASPy patriarchal myths. The justification of the Salem Witch trials is among them, nestled prominently in kids’ comedy.
The Sanderson Sisters are trapped in a script that underserves and undermines them, teasing the audience with something that is almost subversive but instead only plays into the larger patriarchal, WASPy agenda. But, the witches are fabulous at rising above their narrow script. Their performances are what struck me at a young age and what continue to charm me after all these years; they are part Vaudeville, part siren, unabashed in their humor and sexuality.
My recommendation: you can forget about this movie, but don’t forget about these witches.