I Just Love Teen Witch!
By Kristin Battestella
I can’t help myself- I think I have the 1989 family friendly spookfest Teen Witch memorized. Though seriously dated and trapped in the eighties time warp, there’s still plenty of enchanting fun here for young and old.
Soon to be sixteen, frumpy teen Louise Miller (Robyn Lively) doesn’t fit in with the popular crowd at school. Her parents (Caren Kaye and Dick Sargent) are clueless, little brother Richie (Joshua Miller) is an annoying slob, and her big crush Brad (Dan Gauthier) doesn’t know she exists. After a bicycle accident, however, Louise encounters Madame Serena (Zelda Rubenstein) and learns her true calling as a reincarnated witch. With Serena’s help, Louise realizes her new found powers and casts spells to be the most beautiful and popular girl in school-but will there be consequences to these magical ways?
As if we haven’t seen the fantastical teen powers metaphor before, Teen Witch is for girls what Teen Wolf is for boys. We begin with a bad music video dream sequence and it only gets more eighties bad greatness from there! Director Dorian Walker (Making the Grade) keeps the comedy relatively innocent by today’s standards and Robin Menken (Young Lust) and Vernon Zimmerman’s (The Unholy Rollers) story is a fun, if typical plot. The relatable scenarios and likeable cast create multiple layers of charm and wit with the sassy script. Innocence and eighties stylings may hamper our fast paced, technological and violent or profane sensibilities, but this simplicity and youth also make Teen Witch’s memorable scenes all the more fun.
Despite recognizing her in plenty of other shows, Robyn Lively (Savannah, Chicago Hope, Twin Peaks) will always be known as the girl from Teen Witch, I don’t care what you say. Her fun charm and comedic delivery establishes the heart of the film perfectly. Dan Gauthier also always recalls ‘Hey, the guy from Teen Witch!’ every time I see his guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s not easy to be the popular guy without being a jerk. These characters are fun and likeable, and the romance is reasonable despite the supporting eighties saxophone. Lively is naturally lovely, and Gauthier has just enough of that eighties handsome to keep everyone looking pretty; but Amanda Ingber (Cheers) as Louise’s unhip best friend Polly is also a lot of fun. She keeps it real when all Louise’s spells get out of hand. I could however, do without her ‘Top That’ rap. Oiy!
Maybe we are just really silly, but my sister and I can quote Joshua Miller’s (The Mao Game, Near Dark) Richie in casual conversation. His pudgy and youthful appearance mixed with a sardonic, acerbic delivery and love of messy foods creates the perfect evil little brother on whom to cast spells. Of course, we can’t help but love the late Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist, Sixteen Candles) and her adorable Madame Serena. She uses the young witch for her own gains, but she’s just too dang cute for it to be an issue. Casting spells to make twenties and turn frogs into handsome men, we can forgive her those! The rest of the teens, however, all look 30 and have some strange names- Randa and Kikki, anyone? Lisa Fuller (Freshman Dorm) is the usual buxom blonde, and Megan Gallivan (Married People) and Tina Caspary (Can’t Buy Me Love) round out the bitchy eighties trio in proper fashion.
Sadly, Caren Kaye (It’s Your Move, The Betty White Show) and Dick Sargent as Louise’s parents Margaret and Frank don’t have a whole lot to do-or rather as much as I might have liked. Nevertheless, they are a cute, yuppie, and oblivious couple who make the most of their scenes. I mean, it’s the second Darrin from Bewitched! Shelley Berman (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boston Legal) is juicy and love to hate worthy as Mr. Weaver, and his nasty style and ruthlessness towards Louise is made all the more fun when he gets his hysterical comeuppance thanks to a voodoo doll. Marcia Wallace (The Simpsons, The Bob Newhart Show) is also a delight as the flighty theatre teacher Ms. Malloy
Unfortunately, the music wasn’t super then; and to some, perhaps it’s worse now-although that makes the guilty pleasure of Teen Witch all the better, too. ‘Never Gonna Be’ and ‘Finest Hour’ are still eighties catchy, yeah, but the hit here is ‘Popular Girl’. Maybe I’ve just heard these songs so many times that I’m used to the sound by now. I know some of the dance routines, too-that’s all I’m saying. The early rap and beat box songs are, however, so sad. Maybe the super dated and niche styles of Teen Witch are an acquired taste to those who didn’t see it back in the day, but the nostalgia and time capsule here is still a lot of fun. Do you need a big dance-off finale or musical montage or two? Teen Witch has ‘em!
Oh me oh my, even what’s supposed to be the hip look in Teen Witch is woefully eighties: the fluorescent colors, ruffles, layers of skirts with leggings, hideous patterns everywhere, too much denim with lots of glitter and rhinestones, and double slouchy socks with high heels! Goodness me, the styles look way too old for high schoolers, and the frumpy look for Louise looks like the grandma section of the old Sears catalog. What was deemed sleazy onscreen is beyond tame to us now- a full coverage sweater and a skirt to the knees! What ever happened to that kind of modesty? And why do they all wear purple bodysuits for gym? The hair is just as bad, too. Again, the feathered, over-sprayed high bangs of the popular girls no longer looks pretty. Louise’s seemingly plain, wavy, and pulled back hair is actually more becoming than the styled tresses that come with her magical transformation. This is why I don’t like to see too much popular fashion in recent films. You know modern styles are going to seem just as hokey in a few years’ time. Even the sets, couches, and sports cars suffer here in Teen Witch. Just check out that wallpaper!
For being so dated, Teen Witch still has plenty of rewatchablity. Unfortunately, the bare bones DVD is dang tough to find. It took forever to come from Netflix, but cable airings are often found around Halloween. There is one funny sex education scene dealing with condoms and a make out scene that looks like an old Obsession commercial that might make parents feel iffy, but otherwise Teen Witch sticks to its PG rating. Magical girls will especially enjoy, but any family audience can spend the night with Teen Witch. I can’t believe there’s remake talk of this one when a proper video edition isn’t even readily available. Yes, it’s horribly of its time, but Teen Witch still has a lot of charm to give the witchy folks of today’s generation. Take in a virgin viewing or revisit the eighties with Teen Witch ASAP.