Monday, May 9, 2011

Cinema of the Absurd: Teen Witch

1989, dir. Dorian Walker

So, I watched this last night.

No, not just some random awful white rap musical sequence from 1989 teen fantasy Teen Witch, but the actual entire movie! All 93 bizarre, weird and somewhat wonderful minutes of Dorian Walker's cultish flick that can lay claim to some of the worst musical numbers ever put to film. It's like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, but with less talking cats that only ever look real when curiously running away from the camera and more dance sequences involving women with big hair wearing lavender leotards. I mean, if Sabrina had one of those then I sure don't remember it (so it might've been during the "Sabrina goes to college with Punky Brewster no it's true I'm not making that up!" years.

Beginning with an opening credits sequence that looks a lot like my Saturday mornings watching Video Hits, Teen Witch stars Robyn Lively as "Louise Miller", a dowdy and unpopular high school student who, upon her 16th birthday, discovers she's a witch. Isn't that always the way? Louise wants to look and be as popular as fictional freestyle pop musician Shana, a singer that sounds an awful lot like Brenda K Starr and looks a bit like Stacie Q meets Robin Sparkles (it's the bedazzled jacket, I think.)

Eventually she gets too popular and wants things to be the same again, except when she does she's still kinda popular? I dunno. Who knows what anything in Teen Witch is trying to be. The entire movie is filled with these completely random musical sequences that at once don't feel real and yet aren't ever presented as elaborate fantasies. They do nothing to propel the plot ("the plot"), but instead act as a less-than-stealth effort to ship ancillary soundtracks. It didn't work.

My favourite part of this particular scene, set to the song "Most Popular Girl", is the white boy rap (yet again rearing its ugly, bloated head) from the car window as Louise walks around awkwardly trying to be "sexy". Let's remember that Robyn was only 16 years old at the time and she carries the sequence off with as much confidence as a cat in a clothes dryer. Still, the actress went on to appear on six episodes of Twin Peaks so I'm gonna cut her some slack.

Of course, there is a hottie football playing jock that she is just totally in love with who's dating the sexy cheerleader bimbo. His name is "Mark" and is played by Dan Gauthier as some sort of Jake Ryan of 1989. I will give them this: Gauthier is a handsome man. And, yes, even more handsome without a shirt one, which is something we get to discover early on.

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It's my understanding that he got even more, ahem, handsome throughout the rest of his career, if you know what I mean. Especially Illegal in Blue. Ahem. Yes, very handsome. Naked handsome.

Oh, damn! I was trying to not be so obvious!

"Geez Louise!"*

We also discover that the cheerleaders at this frightening school (I'd certainly believe that the town Teen Witch is set in is actually Sunnydale and that the hellmouth is directly below them) are even more impressive than Nomi "Showgirl" Malone or Ali "Burlesque" No-Last-Name at learning choreographed dance moves; these cheerleaders can memorise them before they've even been shown!

So fab! Except not.

It seems silly to poke holes in the logic of a film such as Teen Witch, but there I was doing just that. Whether it's cheerleaders knowing dance routines through freaky mental telekinesis, Louise suddenly becoming a cheerleader or the increasingly perplexing manner in which Louise's witch powers work. Apparently she needs to be wearing a secret amulet, and yet if her teacher hadn't have found it in the school costume department (?!?) then her witchery would never occur. Furthermore, at first Louise just has to say "I wish..." for something to happen and then later she needs to do a spell, and then make a potion, and then use a voodoo doll (a particularly terrifying sequence involving a paedophile teacher walking into a car wash to get a "hot wax" *shudder*) and then... and then... it doesn't make a lick of sense. Louise is seen riding a broom stick on the cover (left) and this DOESN'T EVER HAPPEN ONCE! Very disappointing if you ask me. It also features a witches hat that also never appears. The makers of Teen Witch were clearly not very hip to the Wiccan ways.

The moment at film's end (OMG SPOILERS!!!) where Louise attends the prom and throws her magical amulet away in order to bring her old life back (except it doesn't, it just means she's no longer a witch? because her popularity seems to remain in check!) actually features the movie's best song. And from such a glorious soundtrack, it sure was hard to pick!!!

It's called "Finest Hour" and it's amazing in that '80s teen movie kinda way. I still don't understand why the creepy fortune teller played by Zelda Rubenstein is at a high school prom, but let's just leave that be, shall we?

Oh yeah, and that is Zelda Rubenstein as "Madame Serena", riding that late career Poltergeist spike into the ground with yet another mystical psychic person whatever. She even got on the poster! She wears a wicked shawl and funny hat, which is basically all the character she has.

And don't even get me started on Louise's obnoxious brother, "Ritchie", played by Joshua Miller. The worst movie character I've had the displeasure of watching since Josh Gad in Love & Other Drugs.

But, really, in the end, it all comes down to whether one finds hilarity gold within Teen Witch's most famous ("most"? Only!) sequence: the "Top That!" white boy/white girl rap number. Let's watch it again.

And again.

There really isn't anything about this clip that doesn't ring my bell of fantastic. How about the truly epic fugness of that Hawaiian shirt/blue singlet/capri jeans combo worn by "Rhet"? Actor Noah Blake went on to become kinda cute in a douchey sorta way (he starred on Harry and the Hendersons!), but I'd love to know what he thinks of this. Hell, I'd love to know what Amanda Ingber things especially. She's the actress playing "Polly". You know, the girl who's rapping and yet her lips and the vocals don't seem to quite sync up. Yeah. Wow.

Indeed, Polly. Indeed.

Just as an aside, I love that somebody tried to create links for each individual song on the "Teen Witch" soundtrack! Either they did exist at some point and Wikipedia took them down, or whoever did the editing on this movie's page had a lot of faith in its fandom. "Surely there must be a Wikipedia page for 'Top That!', right?"

Unfortunately it appears that no soundtrack was ever made and yet The Foo Fighters continue to get their music released? What kind of a world is this?

Of course, white boy rap was actually pretty common around 1989, but it's as if everything that could possibly go wrong(/amazing) did. The clothes! The bad singing! The homoerotic vibe! The bicycles! The Vine recently labelled it the third worst musical number of all time, higher than Vanilla Ice in Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze, another all time classic white boy rap moment.

To paraphrase Polly in Teen Witch: Look how funky they are!!

It's impossible to resist the funk.

Teen Witch was apparently intended as a female version of Teen Wolf (why is it that the words "female version of" are almost always associated with really bad movies?), but got changed around and ultimately became the Teen Witch not many of us know and sorta love, but not really.

I particularly like this little factoid from the movie's Wikipedia page:

The production budget for Teen Witch was $2,500,000. The film was released in the US on April 23, 1989 and grossed $3,875 in its opening weekend at the box office, and only $27,843 total in its entire run.

Well done to everyone involved, I say! I imagine the box office would have been better if it had more studded denim jackets, robots and lines like "I'm gonna rock your body like it's Canada Day". Now, see, earlier I mentioned that a character in Teen Witch reminded me of Robin Sparkles. Little did I know that somebody out there in this magical world that we know as "the internet" had actually mashed the two of them together and made the fabulous video below entitled "Teen Witch Goes to the Mall". Amazing.

I can't think of anything better to end this entry on than that. Can you? Actually, not true... watch the video below for the final word on Teen Witch.

Teen Witch is certainly an absurd movie, just one look at Louise's denim jacket with leopard print panels will tell you that! It actually has a charm about it though that will remind many viewers of a certain age of a time of film and TV made for young adults. It's harmless, so it's absurdity ranking is lowered somewhat, but how can one watch "Top That!" and not think it is an eye-popping WTF moment? I give it a ranking of 3.5/5 on the scale of 1-5 thrusting showgirls.

*actual dialogue :|


John from Jersey said...

I forced some friends to watch this back in the early 90's. I remember during the "Most Popular Girl" part that my friend Heather said, with absolute contempt, "It's like a shampoo commercial." And that is how I will forever view this movie.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I had a teacher that looked exactly like Zelda Rubenstein and was trying to show a friend of mine a vid of her in action. When I YouTube'd her, only Teen Witch (strangely enough) came up...and I've never looked back. The brother is that kind of obnoxious that you have to see to believe (he also played the best friend in Meet the Hollowheads) and JESUS can that really be MARCIA FREAKIN' WALLACE as the weird-as-fuck drama teacher? Of course it is...this is TEEN WITCH.