How we made The Craft

‘I got rats dumped on my head and had to do scenes with hundreds of snakes. I thought they were going to be fake’

Andrew Fleming, director

I grew up in Los Angeles and always found it such a peculiar place. You have this glossy city, the LA most people think of, but there’s this whole other side to it: eerie, mysterious, almost gothic. That’s what I wanted The Craft to be like.

I hadn’t wanted to direct the film. At first, I was just brought in to work on the script. I’d recently finished a horror movie called Bad Dreams and I didn’t want to make the same thing again. But then I realised The Craft was essentially a character piece: the story of four teenage girls not fitting in at school as much as one about spells and witchcraft. I didn’t want the witches to have pointed hats or fly around on broomsticks. I wanted them to look like they were in the Cure.

Witching hour … the trailer for The Craft

That said, I did want it to feel authentic, and I hired somebody who could advise us on Wicca, a form of witchcraft. Her name was Pat. She was great – she became our spell consultant. Some of the incantations in the film are traditional, but some we wrote ourselves. Pat would rework them, make them realistic, but not too realistic – the spirit the girls invoke is called Manon, who’s invented. We thought it would be more respectful to make a god up.

It was exhausting – a lot of location work, a lot of nights. One time we started to film outside because the forecast was good, only to be caught in a massive deluge. And once a flock of crows just flew in out of nowhere. Another incident has become part of folklore: we were shooting on a beach, the girls were doing an incantation, and we’d carefully worked out tide times. Then, as we were filming, the sea suddenly rushed in and washed away the whole set. No one could understand it. But when you’re shooting horror movies, weird stuff happens.

It wasn’t all bad, though. One day, Pat came up to me and said she’d written a spell to make us No 1 at the box office. It worked.

‘Terrifying gifts’ … The Craft.
‘Terrifying gifts’ … The Craft. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Shutterstock

Robin Tunney, actor

I had rats dumped on my head and I had scenes with hundreds of snakes. I asked Andrew if we were actually going to do it with real snakes. He said: “Didn’t you read the script?” I thought they would be fake. And the hours were punishing – we’d shoot all day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then through the night on Thursday and Friday, often until 6am. I felt jetlagged the whole time.

Maybe that explains some of the strange stuff. But my memory is that Fairuza Balk, who plays Nancy, was actually into witchcraft. She seemed to know a lot about it, and there’s an authenticity to her performance. Maybe, in the moment, I believed it all, too.

Fairuza Balk, left, and Robin Tunney
Fairuza Balk, left, and Robin Tunney Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Shutterstock

The movie’s a metaphor: most people don’t enjoy high school, or they feel alienated by it. You’re living in your parents’ house, you don’t have any independence. But these characters escape all that with their amazing and terrifying gifts. They can cast spells that make people fall in love with them. They have power over their friends – and enemies. They’re able to take revenge. I think that’s why so many people gravitated towards it.

These days, there’s this kind of factory in Hollywood, churning out young girls who look totally identical. You get the odd independent film with a young protagonist who looks awkward, but that becomes the point – that she’s fat or can’t get a boyfriend. In its way, it was radical: it was a mainstream movie, but one of our leads was African American and no one was taller than 5ft 3in. We were nobody’s ideal of physical perfection.


Interviews by Andrew Dickson

The GuardianTramp

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