Listen to our The Witches of Eastwick episode on:
After wrapping up the original Mad Max trilogy, who would have predicted that Australian director George Miller’s next move would be a feminist horror comedy? Perhaps working with Tina Turner on Beyond Thunderdome inspired him to work with more with screen divas, or perhaps he was just attracted to the strong fantasy themes and potential for visual flair in John Updike’s acclaimed source novel. Whatever the reason, The Witches of Eastwick was a triumph – earning back over three times its budget and providing enough quotable one liners and costume inspiration to keep a generation of drag queens in work for the next thirty years.
Hilarious, inventive and frequently completely insane, The Witches of Eastwick made for an ideal first entry in our mini-series of loosely Halloween-themed movies. Sure, there are some pacing issues and strange tonal shifts, and the plot is pretty much threadbare. But the movie succeeds through a perfect level of self-knowledge, relishing its campy ridiculousness without ever descending into flat-out parody.
This self-aware quality is reflected in the performances. Everyone involved in the film is doing some of their best, funniest work. Jack Nicholson obviously has an absolute ball putting his unique spin on the Prince of Darkness, a middle-aged sleazeball with terrible hair and trousers pulled practically up to his nipples.
As the trio of women who fall under his spell, Cher gets one of her best sharp, spiky and impeccably styled screen performances, Susan Sarandon gets a pilgrim to harlot transformation for the ages, complete with flaming cello and ludicrously big hair and Michelle Pfieffer is… there. (Pfieffer is a wonderful actress, but it’s fair to say that she’s a bit underserved in this one compared to the other women. She’d get her chance to embrace her campy diva side playing Catwoman in Batman Returns five years after this.)
There’s also an instantly iconic supporting turn from Veronica Cartwright as hysterical local busybody Felicia, a sort of foul-mouthed proto-Maude Flanders who gets to deliver one of the all-time great church freakout scenes as Nicholson’s devil sinks his hooks into both her community and her sanity.
Despite the obvious thematic differences to Mad Max, Miller’s eye for framing and memorable visuals are undiminished. From Cher’s endless array of fabulous ensembles to the women’s matching hairstyles to some inventively grotesque special effects, The Witches of Eastwick is a real visual treat – although the turn into full-blown monster horror in the final act is perhaps a bridge too far, let down by some uncharacteristically shonky looking special effects.
There was a literary sequel to The Witches of Eastwick in 2008, twenty-four years after the original novel and one year before author John Updike’s death. A movie adaptation reuniting the original cast seems unlikely, although the original book has inspired a couple of TV projects since the film’s release. For our fantasy sequel ideas this week, we explored a gender-swap remake and a direct sequel that unites the original trio with a new generation of fabulous screen sirens. But to hear about that – and our many, many drinking game ideas for this movie, you’ll just have to tune into the Podcast… (see links at the top of this post).
Every week on Beyond The Box Set, myself and my co-host Harry take a classic standalone movie and compete to pitch sequel, prequel and remake ideas to bring them back to our screens. Sometimes they’re feasible, other times they’re completely ludicrous. We like to let our listeners be the judge. If you like the show, please subscribe on your podcasting platform of choice for a new episode every Friday morning, and leave us a review if you’re feeling especially generous. It’s the best way of helping other listeners to find the show.
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