The Craft – the Bitches of Eastwick and the mythology of Manon

By ·October 27, 2016 2:06 pm

Witches and witchery thrived during the 1990s. From 1993’s Hocus Pocus, to Charmed starting on the small screen in 1998, this horror sub-genre was everywhere. The best of these, in our view, is 1996’s The Craft, which not only grappled with the familiar tropes of this sub-genre but also dealt with the lofty and intriguing Lovecraftian subject that we love, which is ancient and terrible Gods.

We’re referring of course to Manon – the ancient deity that pre-dates God and The Devil, who the girls invoke during the film. Where shows like American Horror Story (which, notably, had an entire season dedicated to witches) are currently letting us down by raising the subject of ancient and terrible Gods then failing to address them any furtherThe Craft is a film the truly gets the ancient God trope right, by giving the audience just enough.

With Halloween fast approaching, we revisit The Craft, focusing mainly on the actresses and characters that make up the Coven, as well as the mythology surrounding the deity named Manon.

The four witches that make up the Coven. each represents a different compass direction and element.

The four witches that make up the Coven. each represents a different compass direction and element.

The cast

Casting is pivotal in ensuring a believable and cohesive Coven for audiences to become invested in. The four characters (mockingly dubbed “the bitches of Eastwick” early on in the film, which proves a prophetic title by the film’s close – at least for three of them) within the Coven are very varied indeed. While Sarah and Rochelle come across as girls who could pass for normal under different circumstances, Bonnie sits somewhere in the middle (with a transformation mid-film) and Nancy falls very firmly at the terrifying end of the spectrum. Below we reveal a little about the actresses behind these memorable characters.

Robin Tunney (Sarah Bailey)

Robin Tunney as Sarah Bailey in The Craft - the fourth and final member of the Coven.

Robin Tunney as Sarah Bailey in The Craft – the fourth and final member of the Coven.

The primary reason that we checked The Craft out in the first place was simply due to our appreciation of Robin Tunney and her work. From Teresa Lisbon in The Mentalist to the brilliant cult classics Cherish, Niagara, Niagara and Runaway, Tunney’s choice of roles is exquisite, as is her performance within them. So while you’ll no doubt have seen Tunney is a million things (no doubt Prison Break, for one), we urge you to venture deeper into her career and to check out those three films mentioned above.

At one point in The Craft Sarah changes her hair colour at will, using magic. When beginning shooting The Craft, Tunney had actually not long finished shooting Empire Records, for which she shaved her entire head. Due to this, Tunney actually wore a wig for the entire duration of The Craft (all of the hairstyles that you see her don are wigs). Throughout the film, Sarah walks the line between being the normal girlfriend of a jock and being fully involved in the witchery. It’s a delicate line to walk and Tunney does it well, ultimately proving to be the most powerful witch of the group.

Neve Campbell (Bonnie)

Neve Campbell as Bonnie in The Craft.

Neve Campbell as Bonnie in The Craft.

Neve Campbell has a naturally gothic yet pretty look about her, so it’s easy to see why she was chosen for this role. Bonnie herself is beset by hideous scars on her back, which she aims to remove – ultimately achieving this through witchcraft. While anyone would naturally wish for their scars to be removed, Bonnie proves that she’s very superficial at heart by transforming her look during the film to a cleaner and prettier appearance. When seen to be enjoying the attention that this brings, she defends herself against accusations from the other girls, yet is clearly enjoying the vanity boost.

Watching the film retrospectively, it can be easy to forget that this was Neve Campbell’s film feature film that got a wide release. It pre-dates her appearance in the Scream series, which was also released in 1996, but later on in the year. Neve was initially hesitant to follow up The Craft with another horror film, but went ahead with Scream (replacing Drew Barrymore as Sidney Prescott) due to it being her first chance at a leading role.

Fairuza Balk (Nancy Downs)

Fairuza Balk as Nancy in the The Craft.

Fairuza Balk as Nancy in the The Craft.

Of all of the cast members within the Coven, Balk is undeniably the most Occult-looking of the group, both in her appearance and her acting method. Fairuza Balk is Wiccan in real life and eventually purchased the Pagan store that she frequented to undertake research for her role as Nancy. Her character also holds the darkest arc within the film; she uses her abilities for wicked deeds and ultimately ends up incarcerated in an insane asylum.

Balk’s career shined in the 1990s/early noughties, with her appearing in various popular films including American History XThe Waterboy and Almost Famous. More recently, she has starred in the TV show Ray Donovan, among other projects.

Rachel True (Rochelle)

Rachel True plays Rochelle in the The Craft.

Rachel True plays Rochelle in the The Craft.

Surprisingly (and commendably), The Craft does touch upon racism in schools. This is achieved via the character Rochelle being bullied due to her skin colour. What makes Rochelle so interesting to us is looking at her you’d assume she’d be among the more popular kids. She looks, to put it simply, very normal, yet she’s fully at home among these self-professed abnormal girls, ultimately proving herself to be as shallow and power-hungry as Nancy and Bonnie.

Rachel True was by far the eldest of the cast, with her actually being 30 years old at the time of release (and playing a school student no less). Rachel and Neve Campbell became good friends during the filming of The Cast and remain strong friends to this day.

Manon

Fiction, not fact

While many assumed after watching The Craft that Manon was a real God from mythology or from Occult literature, Manon is actually entirely made up just for the film. Technical Advisor Pat Devin requested that the writers not use a real God for the film, because they “didn’t want hordes of teenagers running down to the beach or out to the woods invoking anybody real.” This stems from the fact that the film uses real Wiccan rituals and that Pat Devin is a Dianic Elder Priestess who consulted on the elements used in the film and modelled them after actual Wiccan rites.

The creators thoroughly researched lists of Gods to make sure that Manon didn’t exist anywhere and it has been reported that undertaking the same search after the film came out provides lists with Manon included, because people who saw the film assumed that he was a real deity and added him to such lists. While not real, his name does resemble the name of the Gaelic God Mananan, who is God of the sea. This makes the scene where Nancy is able to walk on water and where she finds dead sea creatures make more sense – if the writers were basing their God upon Mananan, but just using a different name, then the God of the sea would naturally provide sea-orientated powers and gifts.

Invocation of the Spirit

Invocation of the Spirit is purchased by Nancy and costs 25 dollars.

The book that Nancy purchases to invoke Manon is a fictional book and a prop for the film (which isn’t to say that there aren’t books out there on how to invoke spirits – we’re certain that there are). However, allegedly, while filming the invocation scene on the beach a series of strange occurrences happened. A colony of bats allegedly appeared and lingered on set. Waves rose high and extinguished the candles being used for the invocation and when Nancy was calling for the spirit to “fill her” the set experienced a power cut.

This isn’t the only potentially spiritual experience that happened on set. Technical Advisor Pat Devin has also stated:

“On the last day of shooting at the beach, one of the actresses asked me to Dedicate her to the Path of the Goddess. We walked up the beach in the dark, away from the lights, to a cove where I Dedicated her and presented her to all four quarters. For her name, she took a name that I’d told her I would have named my daughter, had I ever had one.”

Why never revealing Manon is the right move

One of the things that we love the most about this film is the handling of Manon. You hear a lot about him and he is always at the centre of the plot, yet importantly you never see him appear in any physical form, nor do you hear him speak. He only grants powers to the girls and plays a role in the background. This makes him all the more terrifying and awe-inspiring, as it allows the viewer’s imagination to conjure up their own image of him, without ever knowing his true form.

We also love Nancy’s description of him as being much older than God and The Devil and that if those two were to have a football match, Manon would be the stadium that they played in and the sun that shined down on them. While Nancy could have been a tad more poetic here, with this you get a real sense of Manon being the beginning and the source of the universe; the entity that remains when all else – including God himself – is dead and gone. Usually Witches worship Pagan Gods, who are tied in closely with the Earth and nature, yet Nancy very clearly states that Manon is not nature, but something greater.

The duality of Manon

There’s a great line in the film spoken by the owner of the Wiccan shop Lirio:

“True magic is neither black, nor white – it’s both because nature is both. Loving and cruel, all at the same time.”

While Manon is not nature, it is clear that he is the closest thing to “true magic” which means that he too is neither evil nor good, but is both at the same time. This can be evidenced by him helping Nancy first, who holds dark intent, then helping Sarah later on in the film, who needs saving and holds good intent. Having the focus of the film being on a deity who exhibits both good and evil is very forward-thinking in our eyes and we love the mythology that the writers build around this.

A Sequel

While there were plans to make a straight-to-DVD sequel which would focus on Nancy’s character, as well as (unsuccessful) petitions to make this happen, this fell by the wayside. Despite the film opening at #1 at the box office, being in the top ten highest grossing films about witches of all time and being a huge cult hit, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever see a follow-up.

The Cult is a great 90s film and one of the best films about witches. If you’re into films and TV shows about the occult, no doubt you’ll have already seen it. If you haven’t seen it for any reason, we urge you to check it out and this approaching Halloween would be the perfect time to do so.

Image credits: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Red Wagon Entertainment, Angel Perez Guzman (title image)

More: The Craft Throwback Thursday

Written by Christopher Hart

Co-Editor in Chief / Film, TV and Literature Writer

Christopher holds an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature, and currently works as an analyst for a major Bank in London.

Christopher self-publishes his own Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. His completed series of short stories is titled 'Altered Stone' and can be found on Amazon.

His specialist subjects include LOST, Preacher, Supergirl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kevin Smith, Bioshock and Fallout.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *