Craft (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (3rd November 2009).
The Film

After the big horror boom of the 80’s came to an end, the early-to-mid 90’s were something of a wasteland for the genre. The slasher films, which had kept the 80’s afloat and churned out plenty of cult classics, were on the decline. Quite frankly, things had become stagnant. But somewhere around the mid-90’s, the pace began to pick up once again. 1996, in particular, became a watershed year for the genre when Wes Craven’s “Scream” hit theaters in December, and with it came a virtual wellspring of knockoffs, worthy companions and unimaginable drivel.

But in the spring of that same year an entertaining, somewhat memorable teen-girls-run-afoul film called “The Craft” (1996) appeared. It dealt with a theme that was heavily mined back in the early days of horror, one that had been largely forgotten: witchcraft. I think this, in part, helped the film to achieve a minor cult status. That subgenre had lain dormant for quite some time. Previous entries, such as “Witchfinder General” (1968) and “Mark of the Devil” (1970), were notable more for their sadism and scenes of excruciating torture than their quality. “The Craft” is far lighter in tone, though it does have a sinister streak, and a film dealing with teens exploring the realms of witchery hadn’t really been done to good effect since Kevin S. Tenney’s “Witchboard” (1986).

Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), a suicidal teen, moves to Los Angeles and enrolls in the local Catholic high school, but she has a hard time making new friends. When a student, Bonnie (Neve Campbell), sees her moving a pencil using only her mind in class she decides to alert Nancy (Fairuza Balk), one of her close friends. Bonnie and Nancy, along with Rochelle (Rachel True), are a group of practicing witches, and they feel that Sarah would be the perfect complement to their coven. With their group now complete, the foursome evokes some powerful spirits which grant them all powers over their fellow students and their own lives. Vengeance is sought, lives are lost, good fortune comes to the girls, and in the process Nancy becomes consumed with her new-found powers. Soon, Sarah has to face her new friends when things begin to spiral far out of control.

A big part of what made this work for me was the performances. Granted, none are phenomenal by any means. But the one that stands out most is Fairuza Balk as Nancy. Prior to this film, I hadn’t seen her in anything else. She has such a unique look, almost as though she herself could be a witch in real life. There is an eerie distortion to her face that appears to thinly-veil madness; it’s so expressive and, yet, strangely angelic. Even though Robin Tunney is the focal point of the picture as the protagonist, I found myself far more enamored with Balk, simply because she provides such a seething performance that firmly anchors the picture.

Her friends, played by Neve Campbell and Rachel True, provide some good support, but they are merely puppets in the big picture. Neither has much of a backbone, clearly evidenced by their own actions once they obtain powers beyond anything they could have imagined. They prefer to waste their spells on trivial school matters, like bullies and boys, whereas Nancy sees her power as an opportunity to become god-like. Still, characters such as this are needed to flesh out the group, and the two do a fine job. It’s also worth noting that Campbell would later headline that year’s “Scream”, which thrust her into the cultural eye and made her much more of a household name than anything she had done prior. Also coincidental is that Skeet Ulrich stars in this film as well. He would go on to play Campbell’s boyfriend, Billy, in “Scream”.

I feel it’s also worth celebrating the fact that this was made during a period when studios weren’t afraid to release R-rated films. Though “The Craft” doesn’t feature prolonged scenes of mutilation, torture devices or graphic sexuality, it has an edge to it, though whether or not it truly warrants that rating is debatable. In fact, on the commentary track Fleming notes that the film was given an R-rating simply because of the subject matter: teens messing with witchcraft. However, my point is that these days every major film studio seems to think that a watered-down PG-13 horror film is what fans want to see, and they’re wrong. Horror fans don’t want to watch something with as much tension and terror as a Lifetime “Movie of the Week”. Things are beginning to look good for the genre once again now that some R-rated films have been making a mint, so hopefully this current trend of weak horror turns around. I know that the content of the film is more important than the actual rating, but I look at an R-rating as a blanket of comfort. At least you know almost anything could happen. With a PG-13, most horror fans know exactly how far things can be taken.

I recall seeing “The Craft” in theaters and thoroughly enjoying it. Mind you, I was 15 when it came out so my cinematic tastes were far less discerning than they are now. Being that I was of an age where almost anything horror-centric appealed to me, regardless of quality, I tended to give many films I wouldn’t give the time of day to a passing grade. If you’re a fan of 90’s horror, this is likely going to be right up your alley. I’ve got plenty of friends who despise the 90’s output; they think it’s some of the worst crap to hit screens in decades. But, as I tell them, if you grew up in that era the films do hold a certain charm that isn’t easy to describe. Suffice it to say, if you didn’t like “The Craft” when it came out this Blu-ray will do little to change your mind. But I think for what it is and what it set out to do, it’s a fun flick.

Video

The Blu-ray disc’s 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image was a bit of a disappointment to me. Though we do get an appreciable upgrade in terms of clarity and sharpness, the image itself is sorta dull. Colors, though well reproduced, don’t have much “pop” to them and they appear lifeless and drab. Some night scenes, in particular the final showdown at Sarah’s house, exhibit some heavy grain which obfuscates some shadow detail. There isn’t much in the way of depth to the image, leaving it flat and two-dimensional. The best looking scenes are those which take place in the daylight, where the image does get to show off some of its finer points. It isn’t altogether bad, but those who already own the current DVD might not exactly want to rush out to buy this if they’re looking for a vastly superior upgrade.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mixed at 48kHz/24-bit was, for the most part, solid. The soundtrack is rife with 90’s rock/grunge hits, particularly the memorable cover of The Smiths' “How Soon Is Now?” by Love Spit Love, and these tunes rock your system. The film relies heavily on atmosphere, so the rear channels get a good workout with gusts of wind, thunder storms and eerie noises panning across your room. Bass is used to increase the tension in some sequences, rumbling with deep levels to create an aura of foreboding. We even get an unexpectedly powerful explosion near the end that caught me off guard with its furious blast. French and Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound tracks are also included.
Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Traditional, Korean and Thai.

Extras

Sony hasn’t conjured up a single new feature for “The Craft” on Blu-ray. We are given the same audio commentary, featurettes and deleted scenes that were present on the special edition DVD. On top of that, there is the customary link to Sony’s BD-Live website.

First up, the audio commentary with director Andrew Fleming is a good, if not somewhat dry, listen. He rattles off numerous production anecdotes while filling us in on minute details that may have been overlooked by the casual viewer. The track is both technical and observational, so fans of the film would be advised to give it a listen if they wish to know more about how it all came together.

“Conjuring The Craft” is a behind-the-scenes featurette which runs for 24 minutes and 53 seconds. This is a nicely fleshed-out piece on the making of the film. Director Fleming and some of the film’s cast and crew discuss what drew them initially to the project. They talk about how each of the four main girls represents an element (fire, earth, air and water) and how those were used to play for, and against, each of them. The entire cast was very enthusiastic about their respective roles, especially Balk, who herself was involved in aspects of witchcraft in her personal life.

“The Original Behind-the-Scenes of The Craft” is a featurette which runs for 5 minutes and 59 seconds. This is your standard studio-produced EPK fluff piece.

Three deleted scenes are available to watch separately or with the “play all” feature, and have optional audio commentary with director Andrew Fleming:

- “Healing Bonnie” runs for 3 minutes and 26 seconds, Sarah tries to help Bonnie with her disfigurement.
- “Confrontation” runs for 2 minutes and 44 seconds, Sarah and Nancy have some terse words on campus about her behavior.
- “Nancy Performs Magic” runs for 28 seconds, Nancy plays a sinister prank on Sarah.

Bonus trailers are available for the following:

- “Blu-ray Disc is High Definition!” promo runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “The Da Vinci Code Extended Cut” runs for 1 minute and 8 seconds.
- “Ghostbusters” runs for 1 minute and 23 seconds.
- “Men In Black” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds.

Finally, the disc contains a link for BD-Live access for those with profile 2.0 players, though when I selected it a message popped up stating there had been an error. I’m going to go ahead and assume that, even if it had worked, there is no content specific to the film available.

Overall

“The Craft” is a competently written and directed teen horror flick that, thankfully, doesn’t feature a cast of annoying, fresh-faced models. The plot moves quickly and has some great performances to keep the film even-keeled. I’m more pleased to see witchcraft getting some much-needed love more than anything. If you already own this on DVD I’m not sure how much of an upgrade this Blu-ray disc will be for you, but it is doubtlessly the best audio/video presentation currently available. It would have been nice to see a new retrospective featurette, but at least they saw fit to carry over the bonus features from the DVD.

The Film: B- Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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