GothWatch: Nancy Downs

Fairuza Balk as ‘Nancy Downs’ in “The Craft”Switching my focus from vampires to witches, I watched The Craft (1996) last night, and reacquainted myself with one of the coolest/cutest/craziest fictional Goth chicks of all time.

For those who don’t know, this horror flick tells the story of ‘Sarah Bailey’, a rather blah teenager with a natural gift for magick and a rote tragic backstory, who moves from San Francisco to Los Angeles with her widowed father… and possibly a stepmother too, although it’s not very clear. After starting classes at her absurdly mean and bitchy new school, she is spotted by a trio of misfit teen witches, who happen to be seeking a fourth member for their coven, to help them call the corners and so forth. At first it’s all fun and giggles, but as their collective mojo grows, their dabbling takes a turn for the deadly, and the former friends start to turn on one another. Basically, it’s a morality tale illustrating the old maxim about power corrupting people… which plays out like a less satirical, supernatural remake of Heathers.

Fairuza Balk as ‘Nancy Downs’ in “The Craft”Playing the Christian Slater role to the hilt is Fairuza Balk, who appears here as ‘Nancy’, the “white trash” despot of their coven. With her crazy eyes, demonic grin, spiky attitude, and awesome goth-punk wardrobe, I thought she was the sexiest girl in the world when I first saw this movie, as an impressionable lad… and I still get a huge kick out of Balk’s performance, even if it does sometimes err on the side of hammy. To be fair, she is the villain of the piece, so I guess it goes with the territory… and she’s so much more dynamic than the heroine, it makes it rather hard for me to root for a “happy ending” where beige, woolen goodness triumphs over black, PVC wickedness. Apparently Balk was already a practising Wiccan before she was cast in the movie, so she was able to give the filmmakers a few pointers about the rituals and chants they were using, alongside the official “technical consultant” (i.e., witch) they had on set. For several years she even owned an occult supply store called Panpipes Magickal Marketplace, and I can’t help wondering how many kids snuck in there for a “five finger discount”, as a tribute to her character. Does the Law of Threefold Return apply to fictional acts too? Hmmm…

Fairuza Balk as ‘Nancy Downs’ in “The Craft”On the commentary track, co-writer/director Andrew Fleming makes a snarky reference to the TV show Charmed, and you have to admit the similarities are fairly blatant… I mean, aside from the whole “needing another member to complete their coven” angle,  they even used a song from The Craft’s soundtrack (“How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths) as their theme music… so it’s a shame that they didn’t have Rose McGowan play more of a snarling Goth chick when they brought her in to replace Shannen Doherty. That would have made the series essential viewing in my house… and might even have saved it from the sad, slow, downsizing that occurred in the later seasons! Seriously, that showdown in the penultimate episode was just embarrassing…

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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