THREE AMAZING WOMEN. ONE LUCKY DEVIL.
1987’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is a curious blend of horror, wish fulfilment, sexual politics, romance, magic, comedy, drama and surreal soap opera. Halloween connection: the movie has some genuinely scary moments. As in jump scares that will frighten and revolt you, with their visceral visual punch. Beds full of snakes! Bodies, covered in sores! Cherry vomit! Satanic metamorphosis. All ‘there’ if it is indeed horror and nasty chills /thrills you seek on the night of the witches. Equally though, you could, theoretically, fast forward all those creepy bits and skip to the other sources of fun. Either way? This is still a noteworthy piece of cinema and a timeless morality play.
JACK NICHOLSON is on fine form here in his middle era of playing big screen scenery chewing maniacal baddies. In many senses, he is warming up to play JOKER in BATMAN (1989). Somewhat spookily, there is even a scene where a Jack in the Box style toy jumps up in a nursery at an Eastwick house. Its face is that of the Joker.
Note also: Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the titular ‘witches’ in the Eastwick realm and she would go onto play Catwoman in a Bat-sequel, though her co-witches here (Susan Sarandon and Cher) were also considered for that role. As was every actress in the universe, in fact, before Annette Bening was cast but dropped out after getting pregnant with Warren Beatty’s baby..thereby clearing the road for an equally brilliant Pfeiffer to purr and meow as Catwoman.
But all of that could be coincidence. Hollywood is a small world as it happens. And we all see what we want to, right? THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK remains powerful cinema, with or without spooky Batman/other links. Jack plays Daryl Van Horn, a mysterious man with limitless means and power, seemingly conjured from nowhere by the eponymous trio of ‘witches’. He enables them to escape their wearied, unappreciated existences; resurrecting sexuality and creativity from a suburban slump. But as things progress and the fantasy unravels, the women start to see a truly nasty side to their new protector.
It transpires that Daryl is in fact, Satan, or at least, some personification of that evil construct. Did the women make him that way? Is it an illusory dream? Perhaps a kind of lesson in taking the war of the sexes too far? Frankly, you can ‘read’ the movie at many levels. Primarily it is a sexual comedy with horror and supernatural methods deployed in the telling. Well that’s how I see it, anyway. As to whether this is indeed Old Nick /Lucifer/a n other manifestation of evil’s overlord? Theologically, it makes perfect sense to say ‘yes’. The initial allure, glamour, pride and power are all there, as is the devastating menace, fear, evil and grotesque face of one’s worst nightmare. Textbook devil on film.
Pacino does a similar turn in Devil’s Advocate. Ditto Gabriel Byrne in End of Days. And so on. Even Tom Ellis’ ‘Lucifer’ tv show trades on a similar trope. The Devil knows no copyright, after-all and there is a genuine creative challenge and opportunity in presenting the avatar of evil as a consequence free fantasy wish fulfilment all purpose powerful man. But that has to have some original spin, too. It cannot just be James Bond or Dracula but called ‘Devil’.
JACK NICHOLSON as Daryl Van Horn IS the definitive Devil, onscreen, to date, imho. Often copied / referenced but never bettered. What Jack brings is a sense of pathos and even vulnerability to the role without ever diminishing the raw sense of pure evil. He captures a kind of petulance: delighting in the initial help to the 3 witches as a kind of ethical, hedonistic good turn, only to flip that into devastating demonic destruction when his muses start to desert him. ‘I WANT SOMEONE TO COME ROUND AND DO MY IRONING!’, he proclaims. And his physical decline mirrors the morality onscreen as the film’s twists unfold.
Cher, Pfeiffer and Sarandon are more than a match for Jack and they each enjoy a distinctive character arc of their own, whilst playing consistently and selflessly as a trio, throughout. Cher is the leader; Pfeiffer the innocent; Sarandon the creative spark. Taken together, these ‘witches’ are able to both lose and win in a war with Satan, itself a kind of analogy for their struggles at the hands of men and suburban society.
George Miller’s direction is fast, fun and visually stunning, all backed by playful editing. There is an integration of styles and angles and quality in footage, with great effects work to match. John Williams’ score is romantic, dynamic, genuinely spooky and atmospheric as in you can hear the rustle of leaves and whistle of wind as the magic spells kick off. Some of his best work, in fact and echoed years later in his stuff for Harrrrrrryyyyyy Potttttttterrrrr.
I have fond memories of this film, in a way, without detracting from its genuinely scary stuff. On starting sixth form at a new school, three lovely girls greeted me and enabled my settling in. Granted, that was 25 years ago. And I was no Daryl Van Horn; nor would I wish to be! But the three ‘muses’ were amused by the movie reference and the Eastwick comparisons were debated, apparently, in the common rooms. Ah, the memories. They conjured the perfect man ;)..
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK never had a movie sequel, which is a shame, though there were theatre productions, musicals and attempts at a television series or two. John Updike did create a follow up novel to his original story and WIDOWS OF EASTWICK is an intriguing read which could still be adapted.
I recommend this movie! Please celebrate Halloween responsibly. Be careful and cautious. Have fun. But remain vigilant and respectful. Remember: it is not so much a celebration of horror, death and darkness as it is a reclaiming of those forces, in a run up to remember the souls of those we love in this life and the next. HAPPY HALLOWEEN 😉 x