Want to spend 92 minutes watching a bunch of white teenagers fumble around in a bizarre romantic-musical-fantasy relic from the 1980s? “Teen Witch” is the movie for you. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free.
A great bad movie is a work of art. It goes beyond poor filmmaking technique or editing or plotting. Bad acting alone doesn’t make it. The key to a great bad movie is that the director and actors believe they’re making something great. That enthusiasm and optimism is what separates a great-bad movie like “The Room” from a bad-bad movie like “Movie 43.” Do you delight in watching cinematic disasters? If so, join our Bad Movie Club as we dive into our first entry: 1989’s “Teen Witch”
Why you should watch ‘Teen Witch’
The movie begins with what appears to be an excerpt from an 80s soft porn movie as our hero, Louise (Robyn Lively) stands on a rooftop and has her hair blown by a wind machine as she circles around her crush Brad (Dan Gauthier). This slow-motion opening credits sequence lasts 3:57. The whole time, you’re treated to a sweet up-tempo saxophone song with a chorus that is simply, “Never gonna be the same again. Never gonna be the same again.”
It turns out that weird slow-mo sequence was all a dream. Louise wakes up in her own bed with much more age-appropriate clothes. Here, we meet her brother Richie, who is one of these kid actors who amuses his parents, but is recognized as grating by everyone else. Every Richie scene plays like the director said, “Get out there and pretend the camera is the most annoying kid in your school and you’re trying to set him off.”
As we’ve mentioned, Louise is in love with her classmate Brad, but Brad is dating the most popular girl in school (obviously). Louise eventually finds herself in the home of a fortune teller, who tells her she will gain special powers on her 16th birthday. Those powers are somehow triggered or amplified by a special amulet given to her by a beloved teacher (portrayed by the voice of “The Simpsons” teacher Edna Krabappel, Marcia Wallace).
As you might have guessed, Louise becomes a witch on her birthday. The movie refuses to declare why this happens. The fortune teller seems to suggest Louise is a reincarnated witch. The 16th birthday thing seems to hint at a family history of witchcraft (her parents never seem witchy in the least). At the end of the movie, Louise discards the amulet, as if to suggest that is the source of the power, but then why would her 16th birthday matter? Louise can summon her powers by speaking some pseudo-Latin phrases or simply by saying she “wishes” something would happen. So this movie could have easily been called “Magic Amulet” or “She-laddin.” But they went with the witch thing. Cool. Louise also uses a voodoo doll at one point. All bets are off.
The movie follows a predictable and thin pattern: unpopular girl likes boy, girl gets powers (and a makeover), boy falls for her, she discards the powers and the boy loves her for who she is. You’ve seen that a million times. It’s Cinderella all over again.
But what you haven’t seen is the way the filmmakers chose to stretch that thin story over 90+ minutes: several insane songs. When Louise is hanging out in the girls’ locker room, all the popular girls break out into a choreographed song about liking boys:
If this film were made today, you might expect that someone in the room might say, “I’m not sure this song speaks to the complexity of a teenage girl’s inner dialogue.” Thirty years ago, it was easy for a filmmaker to rattle off the one and only thing he knew about girls: girls like boys.
The lyrics are a masterclass in buffonery:
I’m throwing out my dollhouse / I’m giving up my toys / I realized this morning: / I like boys
Chorus: I like boys (I like boys) / I like boys (I like boys)
I’m giving up my hopscotch / To keep a little voice / I’m putting on some lipstick / To attract some boys
I’m making no more mud pies / I’m staying out of the dirt / I’m gonna buy some nylons / And a leather mini skirt
According to this song, girls graduate from making mud pies to bosom-heaving lust overnight. That’s how it happens. One night, you’re playing with dolls, then you have a slow-mo sex dream about Brad and you can’t help yourself.
But “I Like Boys” isn’t even the film’s most notable song. Throughout the film, we’re treated to a trio of awkward boys who stand around in the hall and attempt to rap. It was the 1980s. Everyone tried to rap and breakdance. It was highly embarrassing. Fortunately, for those of us who survived the decade, our attempts at these arts were not recorded for posterity. Unfortunately for the cast of “Teen Witch,” theirs was.
The weird rap boys are standing on the street, performing some terrifying choreography and one of their original songs. Louise and her nerdy friend Polly ride up on their bikes, then Louise uses her amulet magic to empower Polly to go up and talk to these dweebs. Instead, Polly rap-battles the trio in a truly amazing scene. We proudly present “Top That.”
This short clip is the most legendary part of the movie. You may have noticed it popping up in places like “30 Rock.”
As you might expect, “Teen Witch” couldn’t weave its spell over the box office. Although it cost $2.5 million to make, “Teen Witch” earned just $27,843. That’s not a typo. But thanks to reruns on cable, the film lived on and earned cult status. If you’d like to remember a simpler time when everything was dumb and innocent and fashion was terrible and songs were worse, fire up “Teen Witch.”
And it looks like the cast is still friendly!
— Robyn Lively (@RobynLively) May 17, 2016