The 1980’s were…a weird, weird time. A former actor was in the White House. Women’s shoulders were strangely huge. New Coke was on the market. Regular Coke was on the market. And coke coke was on the market. Stallone was a man’s man. Schwarzenegger had punched an alien in the dick. And James Bond was a Welshman. God, those were the times. But then there’s the other side of the 1980’s. The one where films were made because…why the fuck not? The 1980’s were a test run of Netflix’s current strategy of “Sure, we’ll make it. Garbage Pail Kids? Sure! Why the fuck not? Greenlight! Where’s my coke?”
It’s with that attitude that I imagine the 1989 movie Teen Witch was made, and since we’re currently stuck in an Ouroboros of milking nostalgia for everything it’s worth to the point we feel nothing at thinking about our childhoods anymore, let’s look at THAT movie, shall we?!
Here’s the plot of this: teen Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, of “sister of Blake Lively” fame) wants nothing more than to be with Brad Powell (Dan Gauthier). Or maybe it’s to be popular. Or maybe to not have an annoying-as-shit brother, Richie (Josh Miller), who is probably on the spectrum? Or maybe to be/meet her rock star idol, Shana (Cindy Valentine)? Or maybe it’s to get her best friend, Polly Goldenberg-Cohen (holy shit…that’s her character’s name. Talk about driving a point home…anyway, she’s played by Amanda Ingber) to become a rap star? Or maybe it’s just to get a perm? I don’t know.
I really don’t.
So, Louise is riding her bike through a storm one night (after nearly getting hit by a car wherein Brad is passenger), and busting her bike her, she finds herself at the door of Madame Serena (Zelda Rubenstein), a fortune teller, who doesn’t have a phone, but has no problem with electricity and neon lights. Anyway…turns out — SURPRISE! — Louise is a witch! Who died 300 years earlier?Or maybe just a descendant? And her powers will begin to manifest on her 16th birthday! Which is conveniently only a few days away? And Madame Zelda too is either immortal or also reincarnated. What’re the odds that two witches who have known each other for centuries would live in the same small California suburb (or is it New York? Because there are a LOT of New York plates in the backgrounds of this film).
What does Louise do with her new powers? First, she makes it rain while sitting in a closed-down amusement park. Then she turns the merry-go-round on. Then she disappears a rapist-in-the-making (who has a family that CONSTANTLY worry about him and ask about him throughout the film…what the hell happened to him?). She turns her annoying-as-shit brother into a dog. She forces the school literature teacher, Mr. Weaver (Shelley Berman) to strip in front of class (how the SHIT is he not, at the least, fired for that? Why does he keep his job?). She forces her music idol to give up her most valuable, personal possession to her, apropos of nothing. They’d never met before, and Shana just gives Louise her favorite jacket. Louise just does…things. Minor things.
And here’s the kicker: the most significant change she undergoes is just changing her hairstyle and appearance…something she could do on her own, whether she had powers or not. What the shit, movie? This is a really odd message. Which brings me to the next point…
Who is the market for this film? The movie opens with a “let’s-fuck-right-now!” slow ballad set over a barely-contained sexy dance sequence, but breaks into fully choreographed, silly musical numbers at the drop of a dime. So it can’t really be for teenagers (or teenaged girls, more specifically). And there’s a lengthy, highly suggestive scene with Brad and Louise going to, like, an abandoned house and just touching each other really, REALLY sensually, and you’re watching thinking, “There’s no way they’re not banging in like 2 seconds”. There are scenes that just happen, for no reason at all; just watch this surreal thing unfolding, entirely free of context:
Why did I not provide any context? Because the movie doesn’t either. This scene just occurs, we never see any of these characters again, they never mention this song again (it’s a song, not a cheer. No cheerleading group is doing that shit on the field), and it occurs out of nowhere.
Then there’s the weird tonal shifts (hey, remember that long essay I wrote a while back about tone? This film is why that is important). This film isn’t sure whether it wants to be a lighthearted musical, a teen comedy, or a drama. It’s as if the director was carrying three separate scripts from those three genres, then tripped, fell, and just compiled one movie from whatever pages he could find. There’s an awkward sex-ed scene (that, again, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie) that would fit right inline tonally with something like Porky’s (eh…maybe Porky’s Revenge), and, again, it doesn’t do anything for the movie.
Director Dorian Walker just throws all these elements together in the hopes that something…ANYTHING!…hits, and he directs it with a bizarre feeling of uncertainty, like no one is sure if the jokes are going to land, or if the movie even works. They’re there because, damnit, they’ve got a job to do! There’s a lazy listlessness to this film, with scenes that start abruptly, and either end abruptly, or just peter out without any ebb or flow.
The climax of this film involves Louise eventually returning the supposed magic amulet given her by Madame Serena (who, for some reason goes to Louise’s prom/dance?) and realizing that, oh my God guys! The magic was in her all along! All she had to do was believe in herself! Except that point isn’t really made dramatic. And the pacing and framing of the last shot suggests that there should be at least another two scenes. Something to wrap the story up…but nope. The movie just ends with Brad and Louise dancing awkwardly as the rest of her school awkwardly dance around them, the cinematic equivalent of the movie looking askew, shrugging its shoulders, and sauntering off.
Somehow, though, this film endures. It’s actually…maddeningly…a cult movie. I’m not sure why. There’s a charm here, sure, but it’s not “bad movie” charm…it’s more like “lazy movie” charm. Like an after-school special that goes for sincerity, but just whimpers to an end. Seriously, again, what is the message here? And why does Madame Serena go to the school prom? Why does no one ask her, “Hey. Old woman. Get out of this kid’s dance.” However, there is one scene that I think saves the film, the one musical number that pulls the whole damn thing together:
Fuck me. I take back everything I just wrote. This is the best movie I could possibly have imagined existing.
1,000,000/5 Ceramic Ducks on the staircase
Next time, I’m reviewing God Himself.
Teen Witch can be seen on the Netflix. Or at the bottom of any garbage can. Or not seen.