Sub-Cult 2.0 #5 Teen Witch (1989)
When it comes to getting them clicks and the page-views that allow you to stay in business in the Darwinian nightmare realm of pop culture media, it’s generally all about timeliness and glomming onto the latest pop culture monolith and riding it for all its worth. Marvel, Marvel, Marvel! Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars! Oscars, Oscars, Oscars!
It doesn’t work that way here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. I have discovered that y’all don’t particularly give a mad-ass fuck about what I think of the big blockbuster of the moment. You don’t seem particularly concerned with what I think will win the Oscars. Hell, you don’t even seem to care that I might never watch the Oscars again.
Back when we introduced Scalding Hot Takes around the launch of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast I wondered if readers might be intrigued that I was wading cautiously back into the world of film criticism after nobly rendering myself unemployable as a film reviewer out of a noble desire to make room for other voices sometime in mid 2015. Nope! Scalding Hot Takes articles on even the biggest new releases tend to rank among the least popular pieces on the site any given week.
That surprised me a bit initially but I’ve come to understand and appreciate that dynamic. After all, if you want to know what someone thinks about Captain Marvel there are literally hundreds of thousands of places you can go for reviews and think pieces and lists and whatnot.
But if you want to read about the episode of Donahue where Peter Criss angrily confronted his drunk impersonator or the 1985 “The Smurfs are homosexual Satanists” expose Deception of a Generation I’m the only game in town. That’s part of the reason why I want this website to succeed. Sure, there are other people writing about bad movies and doing podcasts about bad movies and television shows about bad movies, sometimes with tremendous insight and wit, like The Flop House or We Hate Movies. But nobody writes about bad movies the way that I do, with the history that I have or the perspective. Shit, I’ve been writing My World of Flops for twelve years. Twelve years! And that shit still got cancelled! I had to resurrect it in independent form so that it did not join the vast graveyard of things that people loved that died for no good reason at all.
On my site at least, a loving appreciation of the exquisitely insane 1989 supernatural teen sex comedy Teen Witch promises to generate about twice as much traffic as a Scalding Hot Takes on Captain Marvel, a motion picture about a woman who attains magical powers she bewilderingly does not use to trick a hunky football player into wanting to go on a kissing date with her. Some might call that progress. I call that political correctness.
Teen Witch opens with liberal use of something I like to call the “Fuck Sax.” If you’re hearing a good, long, orgasmic blast of that smooth-yet-sultry Fuck Sax you better believe that someone is trying to get fucked, someone is fucking or someone is reflecting dreamily on some fucking they did in the past.
In this case, the steamy romantic thinking about fucking is Louise (Robin Lively), a dowdy fifteen year old erotically obsessed with Brad (Daniel Lester Gauthier), a big old slab of beefcake with all the accoutrements of the archetype, including big college plans (Stanford like his old man!), a blonde sex bomb cheerleader girlfriend who is the envy of all her classmates, a need for tutoring that puts him in Louise’s orbit and the requisite football stardom.
Louise feels self-conscious around her classmates for a very good reason: she’s a plain teenager while they all appear to be Playmates in their early thirties, most notably Lisa Fuller as Brad’s super-popular cheerleader girlfriend Randa. Fuller was thirty-three when she played Louise’s rival for Brad’s affections.
Louise spends most of her life lusting after Brad but she’s not alone in being overwhelmed by hormones and lust. Everyone here is horny. The movie can barely contain its horniness. It is perpetually breaking out into extravagant displays of lust.
For example Louise is in the locker room one otherwise uneventful afternoon when a cheerleader bursts in and shouts “Hey cheerleaders! I’ve got the new cheer! It’s so fab!” A peppy production number set to an infectious surf-guitar-laced wad of bubble gum New Wave called “I Like Boys” follows that could not reasonably be deemed a high school cheer, or a cheer of any sort.
With, “I Like Boys”, the boy-crazed cheerleaders are rooting less for a team and more for a gender, that gender of course being male. The lyrics to “I Like Boys” are disappointingly not subtitled on Amazon Prime, perhaps because they chronicle a young girl trading in the girlish delights of childhood for more adult pastimes, as evidenced by lyrics about “making no more mud pies” in favor of making sweet, sweet love.
Teen Witch is a musical unlike any other, in the sense that I’m not sure it qualifies as a musical and also I’m not sure whether the filmmakers know what musicals actually are. Teen Witch’s cult consequently comes largely from its status as a surprise rap semi-musical featuring mercifully brief rap interludes featuring the three whitest men in existence this side of Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee.
The only person lame enough to be impressed by the Blindingly White Trio’s sub-“Super Bowl Shuffle” rhymes is Louise’s bootleg Blossom outcast best friend who says admiringly of one of the doofuses, “Look at how funky he is!”
Louise uses her dark powers to give her friend sub-par rhyming skills of her own in a scene that equally catapulted itself into the annals of camp cinema as the most gloriously pathetic rap battle/battle of the sexes ever just barely committed to film.
Before Louise discovers that she’s a witch and can abuse her Satanic powers to punish her enemies and reward her few friends (she’s our hero, of course) she leads the life of a dowdy sad sack who dresses like a Mormon grandmother and gets elected President of the Latin Club whether she wants the position or not. Heck, she’s got the kind of drearily responsible personality that leads to being elected President of the Latin Club even if you don’t speak Latin.
That all changes once she encounters a tutor in the Dark Arts in the form of Madame Serena Alcott (Poltergeist’s diminutive scene-stealer Zelda Rubinstein), a bogus fortune teller and real witch who hips Louise to her untapped demonic powers to wreak havoc upon the living.
Louise is one basic-ass witch but everything changes once she starts harnessing her witch powers. When she ends up on a date with an angry, pot-smoking, modesty-fetishizing date rape type, for example, she realizes that she can make him disappear just by wishing it so.
Louise’s date comes on hot and heavy with Eddie Deezen energy. He’s a bow-tie wearing Poindexter/fuck beast with a giant pompadour who is REALLY turned on by his date coming to the dance in what appears to be an Amish housecoat but gets angry and self-conscious when she changes into something sexy and flirty and fun, something that non-grandpa type weirdoes might enjoy.
An appalled Louise sasses him right back with the nonsensical zinger, “Nice bow tie. And where did you get the haircut, hmmm? Dr. Demento?”
It feels like one of the screenwriters was a big Dr. Demento fan but they could not shoehorn him into the script in a way that made sense but they went ahead and did it in anyway. I mean, obviously Dr. Demento is synonymous with dorkdom but the man has worn a hat as part of his professional costume for a half century now. He doesn’t have a nerdy haircut nor does he have a history of encouraging other people to get nerdy haircuts. It pains me to have to say this, but that joke does not stand up under scrutiny at all. Nor does any other joke in the film.
On the way home, Louise’s date tries to force himself on her while driving. He leeringly proposes having sex in the car while he’s still behind the wheel, which, to be blunt, sounds dangerous, impractical and not particularly erotic. Honestly, you’re more likely to die in a fatal car crash than effectively achieve orgasm in that scenario. But this creep, possibly hopped up on the marijuana he offered Louise earlier, tries to get laid all the same until Louise uses her witch magic to make him disappear. Bear in mind, we never see this man again. For all we know he’s dead. For all we know, he’s in the Phantom Zone. For all we know, he’s in the Sunken Place, the land of wind and ghosts. For all we know he’s in some unspeakable Hellraiser realm of infinite pain and torture. Louise straight up murders a man for getting too handsy and the movie is fine with it. Heck, I’m fine with it. Humanity is garbage in Teen Witch and old Louise isn’t exactly a saint either.
Louise uses her dark powers to sabotage her romantic rival for Brad’s affections, causing her to sing so poorly her sidekicks compare her voice to that of Pee-Wee Herman. In an even more desperate move, this thirsty-ass basic witch, who of course wants to date the cute jock football player and be Queen Bee, Miss Popularity, casts a spell to make her the most popular girl in school.
But she’s not just the most popular girl in school. She’s the most popular girl in the world, apparently. She inspires a curious form of Beatlemania only instead of the kids in her high school going crazy over The Beatles or a similarly popular band such as The Ramones, or a movie star the kids all go nuts over a previously unpopular classmate who has seemingly done nothing to merit or win their outsized devotion.
The hallways of the school are filled with posters and banners reading “We Love Louise!” “Louise is the best” and of course, “Louise.” I wonder how they explain this phenomenon to visitors from other schools. I hope there is a deleted scene of a visiting principal asking who this”Louise” woman is who is inspiring such dramatic displays of adoration and worship and having the principal of Louise’s school answer, “Yeah, funny thing, she’s not an athlete or movie star or pop star or anything. Heck, she wasn’t even a particularly popular student. In fact, she was aggressively unpopular, a real nerd, to be honest, but then something that just kind of happened and people started plastering the hallways with posters about how much they love Louise. Ten different Louise Appreciation Societies sprung up on the same day and we changed our school fight song to a rapturous ode to Louise. I honestly don’t know what has gotten into us. It’s almost as if we’re under an exceedingly cheesy spell. Now shut up and help me make this float for upcoming Louise Celebration parade and tell me, what do YOU like best about Louise?.”
People show up on Louise’s front lawn to profess their feverish fandom for her and Louise, honestly, seems pretty cool with it. She was a brain for the first two years of high school. Shouldn’t she be rewarded for her suffering by being worshiped by the very mortals who once foolishly shunned her?
Louise wants to take Brad to the bone zone. Since their high school now serves as a worshipful cult, Louise has the social capital to make that happen but she wants Brad to want her for her boring, vindictive, plain “true self” and not because she can make a teacher she hates played by Shelly Berman take off all his clothes in a moment of acute psycho-sexual humiliation.
Louise tells Brad that there’s so much more to him than just football. I’m here to tell you there is not. There is literally nothing to Brad but his looks yet we’re supposed to be invested in him and his success all the same.
Teen Witch began life as an official female variation on Teen Wolf, the schlocky Canadian supernatural sports horror comedy that became a bona fide pop culture sensation due to some wonderfully sticky elements and of course the great Michael J. Fox at the apex of his charm and adorability.
Somewhere along the way the movie lost its official connection to Teen Wolf yet it became a cult classic all the same by virtue of being at once hopelessly rooted in shameless teen-sex comedy cliches and legitimately unlike any other movie ever made, including Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too.
Teen Witch represents such an insane smorgasbord of disparate elements that it would be foolhardy to try to replicate them. The totally eighties quasi-musical elements alone render this a camp oddity for the ages. “Top that!” Teen Witch challenged other bad movies and “so bad it’s good” camp classics. Three decades later, few, if any films have topped this demented romp for sheer, WTF lunacy.
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