The Witches of Eastwick (1987) dir. George Miller
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Cher, Michelle Pfieffer, Veronica Cartwright
By Alan Bacchus
Time warp back to 1987. One of the higher profile summer movies of that year was the Witches of Eastwick based on the 1984 novel by John Updike. It was a lavish production, very expensive for its time, with some 80’s dream casting of Nicholson, Sarandon, Cher and Pfieffer. It brought decent numbers, $63million, which in 1987 ranked it as the 10th highest grossing movie of the year.
Looking back, the film is mostly forgettable a silly horror/sex/comedy, which ironically is neither funny, horrific, and features no sex or nudity. What cinema fans should take home from this film is its place in the body of work of the great Aussie director George Miller. For Miller, known best for his Mad Max trilogy, it was his first feature in Hollywood. His first taste for La La Land was his segment for Twilight Zone the Movie, arguably the best episode, a remake of Terror at 20,000 Feet starring John Lithgow.
But with Eastwick, it was his first crack at the money, toys and stars of Hollywood in the feature realm. Those familiar with his work will recognize his trademark visual flare – a constantly moving camera, with expressive crash dollies and creative compositions, and lavish production design reminiscent of his later work on Babe: Pig in the City.
Unfortunately, other than these technical elements, there’s not much of a story to latch onto. The trio of lovely ladies, dressed in full on big curly 80’s hair play three sullen single gals who fall victim to the seduction of Daryl Van Horn, a handsome ponytailed stranger played by Jack Nicholson. It’s not overt but the ability of Van Horn, despite his chauvinistic attitude, is able to easily swoon the women with a power presumably derived from Satan himself. Soon the ladies form a sort of coven, who don’t really do much other than hang with Daryl and his luxurious mansion. When the local cynic played by Veronica Cartwright is killed off, the coven suspect Daryl is the cause leading to a violent and over-the-top finale featuring some cooky effects from The Thing’s Rob Bottin.
I still can’t be sure if Witches of Eastwick is a feminist or anti-feminist film. In the beginning the ladies desperately desire to find men in the lives to replace their divorced or dead former husbands, and the one who comes along to claim them happens to the devil himself. The decadence of the 80’s is front and centre, with Van Horn portrayed as the ideal 80’s bachelor – a successful businessman with all the luxurious fixings, Mercedes, Mansion, Matisses et al. Naughty sexual innuendos and double entrendres fly back and forth associating sexual conquest with business and money. Religion is mostly kept out of the hijinx, with the exception of Veronica Cartwright’s character who is characterized as the Evangelical zealot, but who unfortunately gets killed off for her beliefs. Sounds pretty misogynistic to me.
There’s isn’t much about 80’s cinema that is memorable, if anything it’s the quality of cinematography from the likes of Vilmos Zsigmond. And Zsigmond’s work on Eastwick is typically lush, a beautified look, dense and textured frames and full of rich colours. The 80’s produced some memorable film scores as well. And Eastwick has John Williams at his best, turning in a romp of a score which skips along complimenting the tone of fun naughtiness.
But if you're looking for 80’s nostalgia, stick with Wall Street or Back to the Future. Witches of Eastwick is for George Miller, John Williams and Vilmos Zsigmond fans only.
Witches of Eastwick is available on Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video in a two-pack with Griffin Dunne’s Practical Magic