As a kid who did a lot of growing up in the 1980s, it was well into the 2010s before I knew much of anything about this week’s featured B-Movie Enema, Teen Witch.
Now… Back in the day, I didn’t live under a rock. I kind of do now, but not back then. I went to movies constantly. Every other day or so I was at Videoland renting movies and NES games. I was once “with it” and vaguely cool…? Somehow, Teen Witch escaped my notice.
It’s probably safe to say that it wasn’t really “made for me” – for whatever that really means. I was a 13 year old boy in 1989. So a movie about a girl getting the ultimate wish fulfillment opportunities didn’t really jump right out at me like, say, fuckin’ Batman or something. Now, that said… I feel it likely that I would have probably crushed on Robyn Lively.
Let’s talk about Ms. Lively, shall we?
Robyn Lively had a pretty substantial acting career leading up to 1989. At the time Teen Witch released, Robyn was 17. However, she had already been in episodes of Knight Rider, Punky Brewster, Amazing Stories, and Silver Spoons. She wasn’t just in TV shows either. She had roles in the movies The Best of Times, Wildcats, Starman, and Not Quite Human. Then, in 1989, she did Teen Witch, The Karate Kid Part III, and Not Quite Human II, respectively. Each of those movies, she had a significant role. Teen Witch excluded, these were all things I was quite aware of. I could go on and name off her extended TV roles she had (including a recurring part on Doogie Howser, M.D.), but I think you get the point. She’s still working quite heavily to this day.
Most would likely wonder about that last name – Lively. Yeah, she’s the half-sister of Blake Lively, and, I guess, therefore the half-sister-in-law of that dreamboat Ryan Reynolds. So, she not only has a long, successful career, but she’s got bitchin’ family too. Good for her.
Now, for Teen Witch, this was originally intended to be a female version within the same universe as Teen Wolf. I feel like people often get this confused with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but they are unrelated. This movie turned out to be a huge success for a certain, not insignificant group of people from my generation. For the most part, I imagine this was mostly true for slightly-older-than-me teenage girls as it played over and over on cable. It’s relatable for mostly average teenage girls. It has a likable lead. It has music. It has dancing. It has the plain Jane girl getting the hunk. It had Zelda Rubenstein in it too.
What’s not to like for girls?!?
Speaking of the music (and we’ll talk a little bit about that more later), the film was eventually workshopped as a stage musical adaptation. The roles were cast and the music was recorded for a 2007 “soundtrack” that was eventually made for sale. However, despite the likelihood that it would have found a niche audience somewhere between off-Broadway and the popularity that the Xanadu stage musical enjoyed, the adaptation did not get outside of the workshop phase.
Right, so let’s get into the film Teen Witch proper, shall we?
The movie opens with a shockingly sexy saxophone solo while we see something that seems straight out of Red Shoe Diaries with our young protagonist, Louise (Lively), dancing in a bit-too-form-fitting red dress for a 16 year old (but… you know, 80s). Anyway, more on that in a minute (and no, not because of the sexual slant on the sequence, but in spite of it). Louise is dancing and being embraced and held by some stud muffin 80s dude. It’s essentially a very stylistic way to get you through the credits, be a music video for this song, “Never Gonna Be the Same Again”, and explain that Louise has a crush on the school stud muffin 80s dude, Brad.
Now, looking at this through the lens as a 43-year old weirdo man, you might be wondering the exact reason why I think this is actually a really good way to open your movie aimed at teenagers – specifically teenage girls. Well, quite frankly, it really helps set up a couple things. First, that Louise has normal feelings. She has a crush. She has dreams about him – dreams that any teenager might have as they are, ahem, coming of age if you know what I mean.
Second, it does set a relative thematic tone as well. Louise dreams of herself being something of a femme fatale, but, in reality, she is shy, a bit of a misfit, and, for a lack of a better word, “plain”. This is exacerbated throughout the entirety of the first act by her sixteenth birthday being a bit of a dud, her Garbage Pail Kid of a brother, Richie, and basically being rundown by her crush while riding her bike home one night.
But! Louise can be more, and is given the power to be just that.
I think there’s a really, really important reason why this movie is adored by a lot of people my age or slightly older. We’ve seen this story many times before… from a nerdy or bashful guy’s perspective. It’s not usual for wish fulfillment movies to be made for teen girls back then. Little girls, yes, what with your Barbie and She-Ra and Jem stuff, but normally, once girls hit their teen years, for the most part, pop culture kind of looks the other way until they are women and start marketing a ton of syrupy sweet melodramas at them. There are not that many teenage girl wish fulfillment movies out there from this era that were specifically made for the exact age that the lead character in this movie is. There just weren’t. Therefore, a movie like Teen Witch, with a modicum of fun, good acting, well conceived characters, and what have you, can really build a huge cult following.
And did I mention Louise’s Garbage Pail Kid of a brother, Richie? You bet I did. The first time we see this monster of a boy kid is after Louise wakes up from her hunky dream to hear him under her bed. What’s he doing there? What all little brothers do under their big sisters’ beds – reading diaries and sloppily eating an entire chocolate cake.
Richie, one of the most off-the-wall supporting characters of any movie ever made, is played by Joshua Miller. This guy has all sorts of fascinating connections to B-Movie Enema. First, he is the son of Jason Miller – Father Karras from The Exorcist. That is fucking rad. His screen debut was as the son of Tom Atkins in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Also fucking rad. His mother was Susan Bernard, who played the kidnapped girl from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Ultimate radness. Miller is also the half brother of Jason Patric of Lost Boys fame. That’s pretty cool too! Miller mostly writes now with his professional and personal partner M.A. Fortin – together they wrote the horror/comedy The Final Girls. So yeah, Joshua Miller is still out there getting it done!
Not only does Richie eat an entire chocolate cake first thing in the morning, but he gets it all over his face and Louise’s floor too. Also, he has this panache to how he says his lines like he’s straight out of a 30s gangster movie but also like he’s definitely watched way too much Cinemax while he reads from Louise’s diary about Brad. Let’s put it this way, that chocolate cake is not the only thing Richie is chewing.
Richie, though, is only the tip of the insanity iceberg because things suddenly turn into something of a musical when Louise and her similarly plain Jane friend Polly get to school. There’s these three dudes who perform the rap music in the hallways of the school. Now I call it “the wrap music” because these dudes are whiter than the bread on my tuna fish sandwich I ate for dinner tonight.
These three white boys are a combination of utterly embarrassing but also star in the one scene that anyone who has spent any time on the internet over the past 5 or 6 years knows about. We’ll be getting to that scene in time.
Louise continues onto her classes, but she seems to be even more of an outcast as most everyone looks older and bigger than her. While she and Polly ride their bikes to school, others seem almost adult like in driving cars and dressing in more fashionable clothing. It’s somewhat alluded to that Louise is a little more advanced as she is in a literature class that mostly all seniors are in, and, while you might think that being an advanced student there, she is ridiculed by her teacher Mr. Weaver. If it’s not enough that Richie reads from her diary with his chocolate sticky fingers, but Mr. Weaver finds a piece of her diary stuck to her homework and reads it to the class. Not only that, but one of those white bread rap dudes ridiculed how she looks like a child. This movie is doing everything it can to make Louise out to be completely unpopular, invisible, embarrassed, and too kiddie for high school.
You think that’s rough for Louise, she then has to go to gym class and be in the locker room with the much more endowed and mature looking cheerleaders who break out into a song and dance routine.
This movie is utterly bonkers and I’m barely 10 minutes into it. I do have some questions, though. Would a school allow their cheerleaders perform to a song about liking boys? How do they all know the dance routine when the raven haired hottie there said she just came up with it? Is this a psychotic break in Louise’s brain? The way she keeps watching the girls do goofy things in the routine, I feel like this is Louise’s brain completely shutting down and she is imagining it all. Maybe I’m reading too much into a this musical interlude.
Louise then goes outside and watches Brad throw footballs through a tire and do sit ups and push ups shirtless. You know… As you do in a normal high school day. But whatever, later, THAT SAME DAY, Louise and Brad are running lines for the school play. A play in which, I guess, Brad needs his shoulder pads for.
Guys… I’m literally 15 minutes into this movie. This is gonna be a marathon.
Louise loses the lead in the play to some other bitch, and gets assigned to being the assistant costume chick. On the way home, Brad is getting a handy from his buxom blonde babe of a girlfriend, Randa, and he runs Louise off the road and into a ditch. Despite Brad offering her a ride home, she declines, but has to walk home with a flat tire on her bike. Louise passes by a pretty standard spooky house with a sign about it being Madame Serena’s palm reading joint. She goes inside and Madame Serena (Zelda Rubenstein) reads her fortune. Madame Serena tells her that she will receive powers on her 16th birthday because Louise is a reincarnated witch.
Smash cut to Louise’s lame Sweet Sixteen party where no one came. Louise finds out from Polly that no one came because Randa had a party on the same night and everyone went to that instead. That night, Louise is haunted by Madame Serena’s words about the powers she will have on her 16th birthday.
The next day is Sex Ed Day! Based on the visual aids that this teacher had to draw herself because I’m fairly certain, even in the 80s, there were no templates for this, it looks like Sparky Sperm and his friends are about to make a big splash all over Edna Egg’s face while she’s on her way down the Fallopian tubes.
Meanwhile, Louise gets all warm in her Edna Egg Tubes when Brad comes along to save her from the embarrassment of a malfunctioning Coke machine. If that’s not the only change of luck for her, her drama teacher Ms. Malloy (Marcia Wallace), finds an old necklace that she gives to Louise as a good luck charm. Right away, Randa asks Louise to be her out of town cousin’s blind date to the school dance. He’s a complete nerd, though.
So… When Louise leaves the house, she is in a fairly frumpy, drab outfit with a super long skirt, a long sleeve button up shirt under a sweater vest. But when she gets to the dance, she goes to the bathroom and changes into something much more fashionable, right? Okay, before leaving, she sat down with Dick Sargent, who plays her dad, and tells him what she would like to get in terms of clothes and what is fashionable. But… she already had what she wanted to wear on, but just under the outfit that would have been approved by her parents, but she is complaining about her clothes. Did she wish the new outfit into existence like the opening credits of the Sabrina, the Teenage Witch show? Did she just have fishnet stockings in her closet for a rainy day?
Anyway, Dorkfuck Jones (David) says it will embarrass him for her to be dressed like this. Yeah, sure. The guy in the bow tie is embarrassed by the girl with the teased hair and makeup. Does he know this is the 80s? She’s dressed like every girl I went to middle school with? I will say that Louise is kind of a bitch to him the whole night just because he wasn’t as good looking as his cousin. She laments to Polly that she just wishes that Brad would look at her, and he does. She then says she wishes he would just come over, and he does. They go outside to talk. He asks if he can come over to her house tomorrow so she can help him with an English paper.
…And here’s where things are going to start really getting kooky.
David is driving Louise to a party that Brad and Randa are going to, and David begins groping and going full on Duke University Date Rapey on her. She exclaims, “I wish you would just leave me alone!” David disappears. Louise comes home and Richie starts calling her a dog before he himself turns into a dog. She throws him into the bath that was already drawn… somehow… and he turns back into his normal self.
Louise goes to see Madame Serena. She explains that Louise’s powers have manifested just like she said and the amulet she got at school belonged to who she was in the 1600s. She teaches her how to make money which freaks Louise out. However, Madame Serena says there’s much she can change at school now with her powers. She can get revenge on people or she can simply live out her wildest fantasies. I’m sure this will go perfectly.
Oh sure, everything starts out innocently enough when she causes high winds to kick up, or for it to suddenly rain, or for the creepy abandoned merry-go-round to start up on its own, but things start to escalate. Louise puts a truth spell on Randa and another of the popular girls to tell their friend and lead of the school play that she can’t sing for shit. So, now it’s time to make Brad love her too!
Or, more accurately, a “love slave” as Madame Serena says.
She starts in on the spell as instructed by Serena. However, she has a change of heart. Probably for the best because that would be pretty underhanded to, you know, make someone fall in love with you against their will. That would be something a villain would do. However, Brad does like Louise. Maybe he doesn’t like like her, but he does appreciate her for helping him. During class the next day, he tells her about some frustrations has has about Randa, but Mr. Weaver is a major dick and, when he chastises Louise for talking during study hall, he spills her purse and PUBLICLY GOES THROUGH THE CONTENTS. So she makes a voodoo doll of him and makes him strip in front of the class the next day.
This does start a marvelous little sequence of first Louise using the doll to make Weaver do the strip in the class. Then Richie kicking the doll down the stairs causing Waver to fall down the stairs he’s walking down. Finally, when Louise’s mom washes the doll, it makes Weaver walk through a car wash. It was goofy as hell, but it was a fun little scene.
Louise makes it so Ms. Malloy wins the state lottery and meets a tall, dark Argentinian to run away with. But there’s only one thing that can… TOP THAT.
Yes… That’s the scene everyone who knows anything about this movie knows. Louise is getting what she wants – Brad notices her, she makes Randa out to be that much more of a real bitch, and Mr. Weaver gets his comeuppance. She’s spreading the goodness around too. Ms. Malloy gets a chance a life she missed out on when she was younger. Now, Polly gets to show up the Wonder Bread Boys, and impress a boy she likes, in the MOST epic of rap battles ever. Fuck you 8 Mile. Teen Witch just proved it could “Top That” in the whitest moment to have ever been caught on film.
Despite all this power Louise has, she’s not quite where she wants to be. Brad said that he dates Randa because every guy wants to date the most popular girl in school. She thinks that popularity is the key to true happiness. You know, like all high school kids think. Louise and Randa sneak into the backstage of a concert for the world famous Shana. With stuff from Shana, and a potion Serena gave her, she will become the most popular girl ever.
The next morning, Louise has a new look and new friends – Brad and Randa. Instead of riding her bike with Polly, everyone else is giving Louise the attention. I mean, Louise has lines of cars with white guys rapping at her asking her to ride with them following her everywhere. I mean it. She really does.
Now, I had this trouble back in ’94 when people would follow me around and beg me to ride with them or applaud when I walk into the room, but I later found out it was just significant brain trauma and I was only imagining it all as I was slowly going insane.
Well, things seem to be working out for the best all of a sudden. Louise is popular, Brad wants his Sparky Sperm to find her Edna Egg, and everyone thinks she’s just the bee’s knees. Brad takes her to this abandoned squatter’s house where she walks around the dusty, dirty place barefoot while she chases him down until they make out in a room that seems to be full of tetanus. It is also heavily implied they have sex too.
I hope she has a “morning after” spell in her arsenal.
As days pass, everyone begins to basically worship Louise. People are copying her look, hanging signs up around the school that read “Louise Mania” in a writing style that looks like a murderer has written it. Polly is getting more and more frustrated with Louise. When Kiki, the star of the play breaks her leg after Louise tells her to “break a leg” (because… you know), Polly is a little suspicious that Louise purposely did it to her to get the lead in the play now that she’s gotten all the popularity.
Popularity may have been the bridge too far for Louise to cross. Sure. Brad fucked her in that tetanus factory of an abandoned house. She’s the lead of the play. She’s adored by all the kids at school. Hell, even Richie treats her like she’s royalty by bringing her breakfast in bed and taking the liberty of ironing her homework.
Things seem to be great… But she lost her best friend in the process. That sucks, but she has an entire yard full of admirers holding up signs and chanting for her to come out and grace them with her presence. She sneaks out and gets picked up by Brad to go to the lake. He reveals he isn’t so hot on popularity too. That’s kind of the interesting thing of this whole popularity thing. Brad dates her and is, by all accounts, actually a really decent guy to her. Maybe his whole initial reason for dating her is due to her popularity, but he seems to end up liking her for more than that. When he asks her to the dance, she declines because despite how much he really would like to go with her, she knows this isn’t real.
Louise goes to Serena to ask her how to reverse all the spells so things go back to the way they were, but she refuses because she’s benefited from Louise’s spells too. Serena tells her that she had to make people like her because she didn’t believe in herself. If Louise can believe in herself, she’d learn the moral of the movie and would find out she can do anything.
Louise arrives at the dance much to the attention of everyone else. They dance at her. They dance with her. They lift her up and spin her around. Then, she tosses away her amulet and finds Brad to make her own happy ending in true 80s fashion. No, I mean it. Everyone at this dance is dressed as if the 80s puked all over them.
It takes hardly any time at all to find somebody’s “angry” or “ranty” review of the movie on YouTube, but, here’s the biggest twist of them all… It doesn’t deserve it. It’s a charming little slice of 80s insanity. More importantly, though, it filled a large gap that pretty much no other movie in the decade really could – it provided teen girls something on the level of what teen boys had previously. It’s that wish fulfillment that guys like me had all over the goddamn place, but girls, for some reason, just couldn’t have.
Are there really goofy things in this movie? Oh god yes. Are there things like Richie that defy explanation? Oh yeah. For sure. However, dammit if there isn’t quite a lot to override those oddities. Robyn Lively is fantastic in this. The soundtrack is silly but in that really charming way. There’s that word again… charming. I guess that is an extremely appropriate word for a movie about a young witch coming of age.
Alright, enough of Teen Witch, but we’re not done with school settings. Next week, I’m going back to the Roger Corman filmography for one of his more recent films he produced. I know nothing of this film outside the fact that I randomly found it on Best Buy’s website on sale – Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader! Until then, I’ll dream of being the most popular girl with this playing on loop on the ol’ iPod…