Teen Witch: The Best Thing I Watched This Week

Netflix Streaming is an ebb and flow of new and old titles. They come and go as Netflix pleases. It seems that lately, however, Netflix’s streaming options skew newer and newer and newer… which is why that every month I check Instant Watcher and filter new offerings by decade. I switch the sliders to 1900 – 1990, open up my Netflix window and start adding stuff to my queue. Maybe I get around to watching them before they disappear. Maybe I don’t.

Luckily, we have also have Twitter personalities like @bobfreelander (operator of the fantastic website Rupert Pupkin Speaks) who specializes in underseen and underappreciated films. Last week sometime he noted the addition of Teen Witch to the Netflix Streaming lineup and offered a hearty recommendation. Thursday I queued up Teen Witch.

 

This is Episode IV: A New Hope of The Best Thing.

 

besthingIwatchedthisweek2

 

The first scene is a Vaseline-scrubbed, slo-mo dream sequence. Flowing capes. Shadow silhouettes. Smoke machines. Neon everywhere. A killer 80’s jam.

 

 

…and yadda yadda yadda… I didn’t do any work during my daughters’ nap time.

Teen Witch was a movie clearly born in the wake of the success of Teen Wolf. You can imagine the pitch meeting. “It’s Teen Wolf, but for chicks.” Great success! Well, nobody went to see it. The movie bombed at the box office and despite the litany of killer jams just like that opener sprinkled throughout the movie, the producers didn’t even think to release a soundtrack for the film. No one, not even the producers thought this movie was any good. In fact, before they realized that there was any demand for a soundtrack, they’d moved on to finance Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.

 

sean connery shocking postively shocking

 

That’s the thing about time and nostalgia… Teen Witch may not have been any good in 1989 or it might have been too awesome for our then simpler minds to comprehend. As a culture, the kitsch of the early- to mid-eighties had grown a bit stale by 1989. The synth and neon had faded and we entered that grossly awkward stage where the 80’s death-gasped Zubaz pants, Magic Eye paintings, Dwayne Wayne and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air forward into the early 90’s. It took us at least five years to scrub all of that out of the Burbur carpet. But now we can look back on all of it and smile/recoil in equal measure. We’ve gone through the stages of 1980’s pop culture acceptance.

  1. Embrace.
  2. <Groan>
  3. Deny altogether.
  4. Enjoy ironically.
  5. Enjoy without irony.

The 90’s, I think, are still stuck somewhere between Deny/Enjoy Ironically.

 

fresh prince of bel air

 

Movies like Teen Witch, blatant imitations of the teen movies of the decade, had been relegated to the realm of unwanted B-pictures. The simpler charms had been marginalized by the constant push of pop-culture progress. Even John Hughes, the Orson Welles of 80’s teen movies, had grown up. His last true “teen” film had been Some Kind of Wonderful in 1987. After that his scripts skewed to a more adult experience. John Hughes’ characters were having babies (She’s Having a Baby), trying to get home to families (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), and taking family vacations (The Great Outdoors). The glorious era of the 80’s teen comedy had ended by the time Teen Witch graced theater screens. Perhaps as a result, the studio buried the film, cutting its losses. The $2.5 million film grossed just $375,000 at the box office.

 

teen witch

 

To accompany that lead-in, I stress that Teen Witch is not necessarily an objectively good film. Despite the reasonable budget there’s a few blatant gaffes and dubbing issues. Teen Witch is also an amalgam of all that was right and wrong with the 1980’s. Cinematic cheese just for the fun of it. It also highlights the aforementioned growing pains between the 80’s and 1990’s. The movie misappropriates hip-hop culture, wants to be a weird female empowerment flick but confuses the issue entirely, and doesn’t really have any clear idea what it wants to be. Is this a parody? A musical? A straightforward teen comedy? The following scene, the infamous “Top That!” scene, demonstrates all of that awkwardness in just over 2 minutes.

 

 

I contend that Teen Witch’s director Dorian Walker winks and nods with knowing self-awareness, though I’m unsure if the cast was ever really in on the joke. There’s no other explanation for this movie. The music, the dance routines, the very 80’s tendency to de-sexify an objectively very attractive girl because she dresses in frumpy sweaters rather than skin tight tanks and mini-skirts. The premise is thus: frumpy girl Louise has a massive scorcher of an unreciprocated crush on Brad. Louise then learns that she’s descended from the Salem witches and that on her 16th birthday she’ll inherit their powers. She, of course, uses them to woo Brad and wreak unanticipated havoc on everyone around her (like turning her cantankerous little brother into a dog). There’s an especially effective gag involving a teacher, a voodoo doll, and a car wash. All of this takes place in and around awesomeful impromptu musical numbers.

After watching the film, I had to do some research about such a glorious, lovable mess of a film.

The actress that stars in Teen Witch (and would go on to star in Karate Kid III) is Robyn Lively, Blake Lively’s older sister. Despite initially disowning the film, many of the actors have come around to appreciate the cheese to which they helped contribute. At Blake’s wedding to Ryan Reynolds, Robyn surprised Blake with a reprisal of the climactic prom dance sequence from Teen Witch. I also learned that there’s a huge cult of Teen Witch fans, including the renowned L.A.-based improve group the Groudlings (alumni include Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Pat Morita) who produced a Teen Witch musical.

How have I missed out on this movie for 26 years? This is my PSA to you. If you haven’t seen Teen Witch, don’t live without Teen Witch any longer. And if you’re an 80’s nostalgist like myself, just go watch it now. Quit whatever you’re doing and queue it up on Netflix Streaming sooner rather than later… because you never know when Netflix will send it back to the pastures from whence it came.

 

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