February 2, 2012 by abbyo
After you spend a certain amount of time watching bad movies, you start to feel like you’ve seen everything. There are certain depths of crappy movie perfection that just can’t be surpassed. I mean, how many “Hercules in New Yorks” or “Gymkatas” can there be in the world? Finding good candidates for “Plan 9 Cinema” isn’t an easy job, folks. You have to wade through an awful lot of straight-up junk before you find something that’s even worth making fun of. I was starting to wonder if I’d ever find another bad movie worth dissecting for this blog. Then I saw “Teen Witch,” and my faith in bad movies was restored. “Teen Witch” is a perfect bad movie. It’s bizarre, inexplicable, at times inappropriate, and was a total failure at the box office. How much of a failure? The budget was $2.5 million. In its opening weekend, the movie grossed just shy of $4,000. Now that is a bad movie.
Like lots of people, I was only vaguely familiar with “Teen Witch” through other cultural references made to it. For example, this scene from 30 Rock:
In fact, “Top That” is kind of the “Teen Witch” legacy. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, the chances are good you’ve at least seen that clip.
But it turns out “Teen Witch” isn’t any one-note bad movie. It’s spectacularly bad on multiple levels. That infamous rap battle is just the tip of the iceberg. “Teen Witch” has creepy performances by the busload, a really horrible soundtrack, random musical numbers, and choreography so bad that Martha Graham would run screaming from the theater in search of the nearest chiropractor.
“Teen Witch” is the story of Louise, a brainy misfit who just wants what every girl in high school movies wants: to be the most popular girl in school. Unfortunately, she’s at the bottom of the social ladder. Her teachers taunt her, her demonic little brother torments her, and Brad, the object of Louise’s affections, barely knows she’s alive. All that changes one night when Louise meets Madame Serena, a diminutive psychic who gives Louise a magic amulet that solves all her troubles.
Right from the start, the message of “Teen Witch” is that the ultimate goal in every girl’s life should be to attain maximum popularity, a fantastic wardrobe and a hot boyfriend, brains and academic potential be damned. But feminist qualms aside, there are plenty of other disturbing features in this movie. One is the cast. Madame Serena, for example, is played by Zelda Rubinstein, who you’ll probably recognize as the organist from “Sixteen Candles.” Rubinstein’s also got quite a history in horror movies and TV, like “Poltergeist” and “Tales from the Crypt,” and her particular talent for being tiny-but-menacing only serves to make “Teen Witch” weirder. She’s incredibly creepy.
Louise’s little brother Richie is the same kid who played Homer, the creepy man-child vampire from “Near Dark.” He’s basically giving the same performance in this movie, and it doesn’t work as well here. In Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, it was impressive. Here it feels bizarre. Check out the way he enters the movie, snarfing cake under Louise’s bed:
Not exactly the way one would choose to wake up.
But better than Richie or Madame Serena are the bizarre, painful-looking dance numbers. There are several. This is what a typical school dance looks like for the high school students in “Teen Witch:”
Most of the moves are done from the hips up, and they involve an awful lot of flinging. The kids who didn’t snap their spinal cords probably ended up with really sore necks after they finished filming.
Plus there are strange elements that just don’t seem like they belong in a kids’ movie, but are casually thrown in as though they’re the most natural things in the world—if you saw the clip above, you’ve already got a taste. In one scene, Louise makes a voodoo doll of her awful English teacher (who’s already breaking school policy like a dry twig), and uses it to make him disrobe in front of the class. A drama teacher not only shares inappropriate personal information with her students, but chooses to abandon her career and run off with a mysterious Argentinian aristocrat (I swear I am not making this up). And Louise’s obsession with Brad hits some pretty hilariously fetishistic heights. “Teen Witch” definitely crosses some lines, whether it means to or not.
In closing: if you love bad movies, you owe it to yourself to see “Teen Witch.” It does everything a bad movie should, and it has some catchy musical numbers to boot. Its growing cult revival is richly deserved. After years of cable TV obscurity, people have finally realized that when it comes to bad teen movies, you just can’t top that. Seriously.
Best line of the movie: “I like you. I like your cute little Punky Brewster face.”-Madame Serena, meeting Louise for the first time. Classic.
Remember what I said about this movie being inappropriate? Well, here’s the scene where Louise and Brad finally get together:
Not only is this just weird, but note that they are meeting in an abandoned house, Louise isn’t wearing shoes, and Brad only has on a cutoff t-shirt. Those kids better have been immunized for tetanus, that’s all I’m saying.
Special note: I’ve passed 100 posts! Hooray! Thanks, everyone, for following this blog through its various stages of development. It means a lot to know that someone other than my mother reads this thing.