Witchy Women: Nancy Downs

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The Craft (1996) is one of those movies that I know, objectively, is Not a Good Movie—but I love it anyway. I watched it as a tweenage middle school girl, and it was much easier to forgive its failings then. The movie had horror elements and a mostly-girl cast, which was (and still is) not as common a thing as one might think.

The Craft is the story of Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), who has just moved to L.A. with her family. At school, she meets a group of girls at school who are witches. Bonnie, Rochelle, and Nancy make up their own small coven—but they don’t seem to have much power. Sarah, on the other hand, exhibits real supernatural power, and the three girls want her to join them and complete their coven, making them all-powerful. When Sarah does join, the girls begin enacting more and more spells, and eventually the cost catches up to them.

If the coven has a leader at the outset of the film, it is Nancy (Fairuza Balk), who styles herself as a Goth girl who gives no fucks. She lives with her mother and stepfather, who is rude and abusive to Nancy and her mother. She initially she does not want Sarah to enter the coven. But ultimately it is Nancy who draws Sarah into the coven, introducing herself at school and then taking Sarah to visit an occult shop with the group. When Sarah’s power seems to unlock the group’s abilities (they all envision a rude vagrant hit by a car, and it does), Nancy quickly warms to the idea of having a fourth coven member. As the film progresses, Nancy becomes more aggressive and unstable. The coven enacts more and more dangerous and complex spells.

And of course there is a boy who becomes the center of the building conflict between Sarah and Nancy. Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) shows interest in Sarah at school, but Nancy warns Sarah against getting involved with him. Turns out, Chris is a proper asshole—he used Nancy for sex, and when he gave her an STI, he spread a rumor that she gave him the infection and trashed her reputation.

Eventually, Nancy’s attraction to the dark side of magic leads the group to conduct a ritual invoking the deity Manon, and Nancy is Witchystruck by lightning and gains more dangerous powers. She becomes more and more vengeful, and eventually she causes the deaths of both her stepfather and of Chris Hooker.

But this darkness is also her downfall. Sarah invokes the light-magic of Manon and uses it to bind Nancy, who is left devoid of power. At story’s end, we see Nancy alone and friendless, babbling in solitary confinement.

There’s a rumor going ’round that a remake of The Craft is in the works. For my part, I can’t imagine anyone more suited to the part of Nancy Downs than Fairuza Balk or a concrete reason to re-make such a good-bad film. It’s a story that covers so many of the parts of teenage girlhood that get ignored as theatrics—rumors, sex, bullying, and an overwhelming desire to feel powerful. Because The Craft manages to be complex, despite the simple plot and the gimmicky premise.

*This post is a part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge.
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    1. I don’t think I took the underlying message to be quite so harsh, which probably saved it for me. Because in the end, Sarah is still very powerful—she just doesn’t kill people.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed! It’s definitely a bit of 1990s pop culture nostalgia, from the fashion to the cheesy plot. But that’s part of why it’s enjoyable, I suppose. 🙂

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  1. Fairuza owns one of the local occult shops used in the movie PanPipes and puts on a faire every year. A couple of my coven and I went to go see it and there was a Barnes and Noble across the street in Pasadena where we all lived. There were a bunch of tweens giggling about the movie and head for the bookstore and we guessed they would be headed for the pagan section. We were right and we ended up talking to them and showing them which books we thought might actually help them since the first thing they grabbed was the Necromicon. Don’t know if we did any good but we sent them home with Scott Cunningham’s books and Spiral Dance. We felt good about it any way and invited them to a local gathering.

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    1. Interesting! I’d heard that she owned an occult shop, but I didn’t know where it was. I’ve always wished she were in more films, as I quite like to watch her performances.

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  2. These types of movies are my favorite. I haven’t had a chance to read your other Witchy Women yet but have you seen the Salem that came on WGN? There’s suppose to be a 3rd season, i think it’s the 3rd, this year sometime. I still have them all on my dvr and once the next season begins to start I’ll watch the others first!

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