This post is part of Fusion's Teen Month series, a month-long dive into the lives, loves, and language of teenagers.
When I was 12, I fell head-over-heels irrevocably in love with horror movies. My best friend Heather and I devoted our Saturday nights to epic scare-a-thons sponsored by the Blockbuster down her street, which allowed us to rent R-rated movies without a parent. We would watch anything that featured serial killers, zombies, vampires, or child-eating clowns. But even though our mission was to watch every gore-fest Hollywood could offer, there were certain films we came back to again and again, movies that we always reached for at a certain point in the night, like Circus Animal cookies and microwave nachos.
I can’t remember the first time we watched “The Craft,” because I can scarcely remember who I was before that movie infiltrated my psyche. The 1996 cult hit starred Robin Tunney as a high school student who discovers her occult powers and forms a coven of teenage witches with Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, and Rachel True. They cast love spells, take magical revenge on bullies and abusive stepfathers, and play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” all while wearing amazing ‘90s clothes and trading witty quips. It’s basically “Clueless” if Cher could set fires with her mind.
I cannot overstate how crucial “The Craft” was in my formative years. Sure, the girls in the coven abused their power and end up in a magical battle between good and evil, but what I cherished was the beginning of the movie, when they realize that as long as they’re united in purpose, they have the power to do anything they want. As a baby feminist who desperately wanted hundreds of things I couldn’t even fully articulate, I savored that image of shared female power, of girls working together to tear down anything that stands in their way.
A few years after “The Craft” came out, inspired by horror movies and generic teen rebellion, Heather and I went through an occult phase. We wore a lot of black – if you had stock in Hot Topic when I was in eighth grade, I hope you’re enjoying that boat I paid for – accessorized with thrift-store stockings and pentacle necklaces. I didn’t consciously model my style on Fairuza Balk in “The Craft,” but looking back, there were a lot of plaid skirts, chunky black boots, and studded chokers that Balk’s bad witch Nancy would have thoroughly approved of. We bought tarot decks and tried to talk to Kurt Cobain on Heather’s Ouija board, convinced that the universe was more vast and mysterious than we had ever imagined before, but equally convinced that we were on the verge of being able to not only grasp it but shape it with the strength of our will. (Kurt Cobain, unfortunately, never got back to us.)
For teenage girls, “The Craft”’s central metaphor resonates with astonishing depth. You begin to realize at that age that the world is fundamentally working against you, trying to keep you powerless. Countless direct and indirect messages remind you that your value, if you have any, is primarily decorative; that you should fix your hair, close your mouth, and be grateful for any attention you receive, no matter how objectifying. In middle school, constantly teased for my acne and my face full of badly-needed orthodontia, trying to come to terms with my bisexuality and terrified of romantic rejection from boys and girls, unable to control my loud mouth and the opinions that constantly spilled out of it, magic seemed like my best hope. I wanted desperately to be able to pass a hand in front of my face and appear as someone new, to be able to scream “You don’t even exist to me!” and have it become true. I wanted to be able to control my world at a time when I felt painfully, terrifyingly out of control.
Adolescence is by turns thrilling and horrifying for everyone, of course, but it’s particularly so for girls. The growing need to be in control of your own life contrasted with the dawning realization that doors are already being closed to you is enough to give you whiplash. Young girls in our culture are constantly being mocked, underestimated, and ignored, at the same time that they’re being sexualized, harassed, and pressured to fit into increasingly restrictive narratives of femininity. The urge to break free and run amok, no matter the consequences, can be practically irresistible. And when you’re with your best friends, the girls your own age who understand everything about you without even having to speak (or at least, in the throes of adolescent platonic infatuation, it feels that way), it’s barely a stretch to imagine that you could lift each other up into the air with just the tips of your fingers. You could erase scars, punish the deserving, and rewrite the world as you know it should be.
“The Craft” tells a sneaky truth underneath all the dead sharks and fingers turning into snakes: As a young girl, the greatest power you have is each other. You can tell each other you’re beautiful and strong and brilliant and important, and the more you say it, the more it becomes true. It might not be as flashy as walking on water, but it’s magic of its own kind.
Horror is one of the only film genres where women are portrayed as having real power – not just the power to get the guy or crack a witty one-liner, but the power to save or end a life. I’m not saying that scary movies, with their virginal, virtuous Final Girls, are harbingers of a gender-equality utopia, but the fact is that they’re ahead of the curve when it comes to portraying women who can get shit done. Horror is full of iconic images of female competence, whether that means Jamie Lee Curtis defeating Michael or Carrie White slaughtering her entire high school class at prom. Sure, not all of these female characters are aspirational in the strictest sense, but if and when I have daughters I’d rather they look up to Nancy, defenestrator of high school misogynists, than Robin Tunney’s drab good witch Sarah, who only uses her powers to get the popular boy to like her.
The truth behind witches in horror movies is that the world is afraid of young women with power, and particularly of young women sharing power. If the marginalized band together, what form of revenge might they take on a culture that has belittled, shamed, and tormented them? Who could hope to survive it? I’m not saying teenage nihilism is a great foundation from which to build your eventual adult life, but at the very least, it’s understandable. Of course young girls gravitate toward movies in which the heroine gets to cast vicious revenge spells or crush a serial killer’s skull. Of course I craved movies where the Final Girl ends up bruised and covered in blood but still breathing, movies where girls can’t depend on anyone but themselves – and maybe each other.
When the upcoming remake of “The Craft” was announced in May, it was, of course, decried by ‘90s kids the internet over, wary of losing a cultural icon to a new generation that might misunderstand or tarnish it. But if Nancy taught us anything, it should have been that power needs to be shared – and having images of strong, capable, terrifying women to look up to is a form of power. Personally, I’m looking forward to the remake, even if I may never get around to seeing it. I’m hoping it will inspire a new generation of girls to take up the dark magic of believing in each other more than the world believes in you.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.