If last week brought us closer to God (in the form of a glitter-covered Whitney Houston crooner), with this week’s film we are taking a hard right turn in the other direction. Witchcraft, creepy twins, wild accusations, and fiendish goats are all in store for us this week.
A Puritan family banished from their New England community struggles to survive despite being cursed…by witches?
It’s maybe not the best day ever for Thomasin and her family. Recent arrivals to New England, head of the family William is banished for his outspoken opposition to accepted religious doctrine. Big no-no for the Puritans.
Left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar land, the family seems to be exceptionally unlucky with a rotting corn crop, empty traps in the woods, and very little of value to sell or trade. In fact, the family is so unlucky they seem to be…cursed? Perhaps by witches?
The family’s troubles take an even more sinister turn when Thomasin, playing a game of peek-a-boo with her baby brother Samuel, witnesses him vanishing before her eyes. After this incident, Thomasin’s mother and younger siblings become suspicious of her, even believing she gave the baby to witches. It should be mentioned these two children are the creepiest twins since The Shining and are constantly singing to Black Philip, the family’s Satanic goat.
Pretty much the only one still on Thomasin’s side is her brother Caleb. She’s going to need the support as her mother decides the time has come for Thomasin to go into town and serve one of the respectable Puritan families. Overhearing this plan, Caleb comes up with a solution to help Thomasin. When the two venture into the woods, shit obviously goes horribly wrong.
After disappearing, Caleb emerges from the woods naked and shivering in the rain. He becomes seriously ill–an illness his mother is convinced is a sign of witchcraft. Accusations fly all around in the direction of Thomasin and the twins. Tired of this nonsense, William makes an executive decision to lock the children in with the goats for the night.
Who among these suspects is a witch? And will any of them survive the night?
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a revisit for both Christa and I this time around. I remember enjoying the film the first time I watched, but I got a lot more out of it with a second viewing.
The film is beautifully moody, eerie, and overcast, mirroring the bleak future ahead for the family. While it is faith that drives William’s decisions, it is also his faith that dooms the family and sends them on a course that is almost the complete opposite of what he wants. Proud to a fault, William constantly chooses his own beliefs over the well-being of his family, who are forced to follow the path he creates.
It’s hard to like many of the characters, but it is fascinating to watch them react to their environment and fall into chaos. The twins are truly terrifying and do a great deal in creating the film’s foreboding atmosphere suffused with dread.
There’s also a decided theme of women and power–specifically the fear of this combination. It’s no coincidence that the accusations of witchcraft swirl around Thomasin as she is growing into adulthood. The family fears Thomasin’s power as both witch and woman…which of course doesn’t hold up thematically in our world in any way…
Would Christa shun this one or grab a broom and unite with its coven? Find out here!
Rounding out May Mayhem is our first film set in Zambia, though absolutely not our first film about witches. This is by far our most realistic witch film as we get a glimpse into the lives of women accused of witchcraft in present day Zambia. Intrigued yet? Let’s dive in.
I Am Not a Witch
A young girl accused of witchcraft is sent to live on a witch camp, where she is expected to work, use her powers to help the government, and solve the ongoing drought.
After an unnamed girl with no friends and no family arrives at a small Zambian village, she struggles to go quietly about her business. The girl, later named Shula, is the scapegoat for accidental falls and even bad dreams, leading to the witch word being thrown in her direction. Shula, who is virtually silent in all scenarios, neither confirms nor denies being a witch.
As a result, Mr. Banda, a government official declares she must be a witch since she doesn’t deny it. Nevertheless, he has a witch doctor make an official analysis involving a chicken dying in or outside of a circle. After this witch test, Shula is taken to live at a witch camp with other women who have been declared witches.
At the witch camp, the women are expected to work by farming, breaking rocks, and completing other manual labor. Each woman has a ribbon attached to a large spool, intended to keep the witches from running away. While the witch camp seems to be largely an opportunity for the local government to recruit unpaid laborers, the women do what they can to make the best of things, caring for one another and forming their own family in exile.
Shula soon learns that another duty of witches is to preside over court hearings and determine guilty parties in criminal cases. Of course, Shula has no supernatural insight into who is telling the truth, but she quickly earns a reputation as being a fair and accurate judge. While uncomfortable with this role, Shula must fulfill this role and condemn one of the suspects, whether guilty or not.
Because of Shula’s success, she spends some time with Mr. Banda and his wife at their obscenely gorgeous house. Mrs. Banda reveals she was once considered a witch but gained respectability through marriage. Shula must do as she is told and, if she is lucky, will end up in the same position.
In a bid to make some extra cash, Mr. Banda appears on a talk show with Shula. Once there, he tries to market special Shula eggs with magical properties. However, unexpectedly, the talk show host inquires about Shula’s education, serving as the catalyst for her attendance at school.
All of this takes place in the midst of a horrible drought that Shula is expected to resolve. After concerns that she isn’t prioritizing the drought, Shula is pulled from school despite quite enjoying it. This sends her into a downward spiral quickly–what is Shula meant to do when her future looks like nothing but serving the whims of others?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
There’s no doubt this is an utterly unique film and has an important story to tell. So few films focus on African women, let alone those as marginalized as the witches in this story. The ribbons are a beautiful symbol of the literal and metaphorical restraint these women experience as a result of baseless accusations against them. An accusation of witchcraft seems to be a convenient opportunity for government officials to step in and recruit unpaid laborers (who also serve as a low-cost tourist attraction).
Shula herself exhibits an admirable strength of character despite the isolation and mistreatment she experiences. One of the tragedies of this film is her brief introduction to childhood, learning, and playing with others her own age, which is cut short by the superstitions of others. This to me is the turning point for Shula, when she experiences what her childhood could be only to have it snatched away–all of her quiet endurance seems to be for nothing.
That being said, I found the lack of narrative structure distracting. Like Shula’s life, our experience in the film is disorienting as we see her shuffled around unexpectedly with little explanation. The tone is uneven at times too, with much of the film being satirically funny but becoming incredibly bleak in the end. I wasn’t expecting such a merciless ending for this one that turned my guts to stone.
Did this film impress my blog wife with its occult magic or leave her running around like a chicken with its head cut off? Find out here!
We do what we want in this Blog Collab…and what we want is to avoid over-thinking our theme-related decisions. Welcome to yet another Blog Free or Die Hard Month—this time with witchcraft!
Sisterhood of Night
Where to Watch:
Secret rituals! Vows of silence! Tattoos! There’s only one explanation for this kind of behavior in teens: witchcraft.
The Uncondensed Version:
Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe and Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom are all grown-up and embracing their inner mean girl.
Mary is something of a slacker in school, yet seems destined for fame with her serious charisma and IDGAF attitude, universally admired by teens everywhere. Emily, on the other hand, is a bit of a goody two-shoes, who tries (and fails) so hard to be interesting and well-liked in worlds both real and virtual. After Mary takes things too far by ruining Emily’s audition, Emily steals Mary’s phone and posts all of her texts online. The feud between these two is just getting started when Mary decides to be done with the net forever, taking a modern vow of silence from social media.
Thus the Sisterhood of Night is born. Mary begins the secret society with her closest friends and rumors swirl. Though the girls involved with the Sisterhood meet up only to unburden themselves of secrets, outsiders imagine they are basically a coven of lesbians. Oh, the horror.
Based on a series of mysterious clues, Mary reveals the time and location of Sisterhood meetings to members only. Desperate to be part of the cool kids club, Emily figures out where the next meeting will be in hopes of joining or, if all else fails, writing a really juicy post for her blog.
Rejected once again, Emily uses the opportunity to accuse the Sisterhood of physical and sexual assault, collapsing in church and revealing a scar on her hand inflicted by Mary. Emily isn’t winning any friends in her high school, but she is becoming somewhat internet famous, with thousands of blog followers.
With mysterious tattoos, odd meeting hours, and secrets piling up, the community demands to know what the Sisterhood is and what the girls do. They refuse to reveal the truth since, you know, it’s a secret society and all. The town sets a curfew for everyone under the age of 18, which Mary obviously ignores. Frightened one evening, she asks her guidance counselor (Kal Penn??!?!?) for help at his apartment. This of course gets horribly misconstrued and ends badly for Kal, the sole voice of reason in the entire scenario. After Kal’s departure, a media circus latches onto the story, sensationalizing the story to depict sex, witchcraft, and occult rituals.
As the Sisterhood grows, so too does Emily’s following as her reputation for being a survivor of abuse grows. She comes up with a rather nasty plan to force a confession of witchcraft from one of the Sisterhood, luring her out using her crush. Emily immediately feels remorse and tries to stop the plan, but it’s already been set into motion. Someone isn’t getting out of this alive—who will it be???
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
The ending is actually pretty moving and surprisingly feminist, but it takes a long time to get there. Everyone is so needlessly bitchy for such a long time, and someone has to fucking die for it to stop. The end calls the persecution of witches to our attention, and the supposed threat of feminine power and sisterhood inherent in these kinds of witch hunts. The girls do lift each other up at the end, which is empowering, but I was still hoping for at least a little bit of actual witchcraft.
The tone is odd as well, as sometimes it feels like a satire or dark comedy, and other times like a serious drama. It gets to have a bit too much of an after-school special vibe after a while. Kal Penn as the guidance counselor works but is also confusing, as I was expecting him to bring comedy to this film.
In spite of myself, I saw high school + witches and immediately expected The Craft. This isn’t as much fun to watch as The Craft, but it does have an interesting perspective and a message worth considering.
Would Christa get matching tattoos with this one or shun it entirely? Find out here!
Horror is this blog collab’s bread and butter, but as Christa and I have lamented, horror can be a terribly misogynistic genre. How refreshing, then, to watch a female-centric horror about witches that has a lot to say about women and power just in time for the 2nd week of our 2nd Feminist February. Complete with a lovely ’60s aesthetic, medieval pageantry, and harp accompaniment!
The Love Witch
A young witch uses magic and sex appeal to find love and happiness in 1960s California.
The Uncondensed Version:
Elaine is a young woman on the way to start over in small-town California after husband Jerry’s mysterious death. After his death, Elaine was reborn as a witch in a strange occult ritual (at least that’s what I gather). Now that she has the power of love and sex magic at her disposal, she’s determined to find a man who won’t disappoint her like Jerry.
Once she settles into the new place, she befriends a neighbor, Trish, who takes her to a Victorian tea room. It’s really bizarre and comes complete with a woman constantly playing the harp, and everything decorated with delicate cream and pastel pinks. I’ve just really never been a pastel pink kind of girl.
Elaine tells Trish of her sordid past, which has taught her to give men everything they want in order for women to get what they want in turn. Magic is simply a way to use your will to get what you want, and Elaine seems to have special magic staring powers to influence men. As Trish (fairly) puts it, it sounds like Elaine has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.
Shortly after, Elaine uses her magic stare to invite herself back to a university professor’s cottage in the woods. That, and a love potion laced with hallucinogenic herbs. After sleeping with Elaine, the prof (Wayne) becomes incredibly emotional and obsessed with her, claiming he’s unable to live without her. As it turns out, not an exaggeration—he dies very soon after, leaving Elaine with a body to bury and evidence to burn.
Rumors start flying around town around witch murders, casting doubt on the entire witch community. It should be added that witchcraft is treated as just another religion in this film, with practices that look strange to the outside observer but no less valid than mainstream religions. This begins to shift as the bodies pile up (spoiler?).
Determined to bounce back, Elaine sets her sights on Trish’s husband when he’s conveniently left alone for the weekend. Let’s just say this doesn’t end well at all for him.
Meanwhile, the police are investigating Wayne’s suspicious disappearance and all signs point towards Elaine. Luckily, Elaine still has that magic eye trick up her sleeve, and manages to get a horseback riding date (not a euphemism) with a detective (Griff) instead of a murder charge. While out together, the pair encounter a group of witches having some sort of medieval pageant, including fake sword fights and songs about unicorns and goblets of joy. Pretty cringe-y, TBH. There, Elaine and Griff are bound together in a fake marriage ceremony, finally fulfilling Elaine’s happily ever after fantasy. At least for the moment… Believe me when I say the ending gets appropriately dark and gory.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
The aesthetic is beautiful, and of course I’m all about feminism in films. One of the biggest challenges in dissecting this one, however, is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. It’s never overly clear to me whether Elaine believes her own nonsense re: men or, like magic, she’s using these lies to get what she wants. She’s not as straightforwardly feminist as I expected, caught between wanting to assert her independence and hoping to live out her princess fantasies. I was really hoping she would have a better relationship with Trish because I’m all about that female solidarity.
Compounding the problem of unlikeable characters is that of one-dimensional acting, which I think is supposed to be part of the tribute to ‘60s films…but sometimes I can’t actually tell either way.
The dialogue gets a bit preachy at times, hitting you over the head with its meaning. Elaine gets some classic lines (“According to experts, men are fragile and can be crushed if you assert yourself”) along with some truly horrible lines (“I’m the love witch; I’m your ultimate fantasy”).
However, it’s nice to see a film address the complexity of feminist issues surrounding female sexuality in a world where “virgin slut” is an actual insult that can be hurled at women with no one blinking an eye. I admit I’m still puzzling about this movie, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Would my blog wife marry this one in a fake a ceremony with this one while surrounded by witches or slip it one too many hallucinogenic herbs? Find out here!
School is still in session in this blog as we’ve chose a high school movie theme for this month. It’s my pick this week, which I’d like to preface by saying (a) I thought it would be way better and (b) it wasn’t as bad as Monkey’s Paw. Nothing can possibly be worse than Monkey’s Paw.
All Cheerleaders Die
Where to Watch:
Cheerleaders killed in a terrible accident return from the dead seeking vengeance. With a witch thrown in there for good measure.
The Uncondensed Version:
Lexi is a cheerleader very much looking forward to senior year, as she explains to amateur filmmaker Maddy. She tells us cheerleading is a dangerous sport and cheerleaders are much more likely to suffer injuries than football players…just before she performs a flip that goes horribly wrong. Right, it’s that kind of movie.
Fast forward a bit, and the squad is holding tryouts for Lexi’s spot. In an unexpected move (almost as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition), Maddy tries out and earns a place amongst high school royalty. However, for reasons unknown to us, Maddy reveals to her video blog (not using the word “vlog”) that this is all part of some elaborate plot to ruin senior year for all of the cheerleaders. Because that’s what you do in high school instead of read, write super emotional entries in your journal, and fear the day you’ll be called on to participate in class. Or so I’ve been told.
Complication to Maddy’s plan is Lena, a really needy Wiccan who has named a cat after Maddy and doesn’t understand why they broke up. Lena walks away angry and upset, which is probably not the best.
The new head cheerleader Tracy is now dating Terry, Lexi’s ex-boyfriend. Terry is a huge douche and cheating on Tracy, which Maddy uses to drive a wedge between them and date Tracy herself. When Terry figures this out, he’s extremely pissed off and ends up ruining a cemetery party. Honestly, dude.
Coincidentally, Lena is sitting in a dark corner near the party casting spells, tossing runes around, and doing general witchy stuff. But really this is just an excuse to stalk Maddy, who is busy making out with Tracy.
But back to Terry, who picks a fight, punches Tracy, and begins a high speed chase between the football players and cheerleaders. We get a classic afterschool special scenario in which irresponsible drinking and driving leads off a cliff into the river below. The football players come out of this unscathed, of course, and just sort of quietly slink away.
Lena has seen everything and drags all of the girls out of the river in the hopes of saving Maddy. She’s too late, but does this really bizarre ritual that makes a sort of blood snake and draws some sort of life essence into stones that each of the girls absorb. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, you guys.
The next morning, the cheerleaders wake up in Lena’s room, which is exciting because (a) Maddy is alive and (b) Lena’s weird witchcraft thing actually works. However, for some reason this also means that the girls have to drain the spirit from living humans and they also have a sort of psychic connection through the stones. I just…don’t follow. At all.
This goes on for a bit until there’s some typical high school drama, of which I will spare you the details. Then, of course, things take a turn for the worse when Terry realizes he can absorb the stones, which make him sort of all-powerful? I think? And all of this means a showdown in the cemetery where some will live, some will die, and some will…remain undead I guess? If that’s what they are?
First of all, this was a bit of a trainwreck in terms of plot and explanation of supernatural elements. Witchcraft brought the cheerleaders back from the dead, gave them a psychic connection, made them thirst for human energy, and switch 2 of their bodies??? Are they witches or zombies or all of the above? There was a further plot twist at the end that made even less sense.
Also towards the end, the writers tack on a rape revenge story, which I hate hate hate so much because it’s focused on having a really creepy voyeuristic murder scene that’s portrayed like a rape scene. And it spends way more time on that scene than anything resembling female empowerment.
Besides that, the character motivations made no sense—it was unclear to me why Maddy wanted revenge against the entire cheerleading squad when she really had a bone to pick with one particular sleazeball.
This one wanted to be The Craft but also a zombie movie while providing biting social commentary, so it made little to no sense.
2/5 Pink Panther Heads
Because there were witches, guys. Witches and I didn’t even care.
Would Christa bring this one back to life or run it off a cliff? Find out here!
Someone must have posted this on the internet; if not, it’s included on the last season of Sabrina
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, travels to Rome in order to uncover the secret of a locket that has been in the family for centuries.
The Uncondensed Version:
Just as a word of caution, the music in this film is about as good (bad) as you’d expect from a movie based on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Right out of the gate there’s this really bad ‘90s dance track about everyone traveling their own road.
So basically the big setup for this movie is that Sabrina is in Rome to open a locket her dad sent her in a letter; she has to figure out a way to open it within the next 2 weeks or…I don’t know, I guess it will just be closed forever. At this point I was trying to get beyond the fact that Sabrina’s parents aren’t dead. Or at least her father isn’t. I kind of assumed that she lived with her aunts at least partially because her parents are dead.
When Sabrina arrives in Rome, she discovers she has a roommate in what is essentially a B&B for witches. Her roommate is Gwen, who I thought was her cousin, but I guess not. Gwen is an English girl with a really bad cockney accent and a jellybean obsession. Because the writers of Sabrina NEVER give in to stereotypes.
With Gwen’s help, Sabrina discovers the owner of the necklace was her aunt Sophia, who was banished after she fell in love with a mortal artist. He revealed she was a witch, and that gave her 12 hours to turn him into a pile of stone or be banished (yeah, those are the fucking rules in witchcraft. You do not talk about witchcraft).
So Sabrina and Gwen kind of alternate between fun touristy trips and locket-uncovering missions. Sabrina makes a wish in the Trevi Fountain and sees Sophia reflected in the water in a moment completely out of The Lion King. She’s just about to fall into the fountain when a really smooth American dude helps her (moral of the story is always don’t date the foreign guy).
Suavity in action:
Sabrina: You forgot to make a wish.
Smooth American Paul: What if it already came true?
Then he basically loses all points in his favor when he starts taking pictures of her after saying goodbye. It turns out he’s a photographer for a shady Italian tabloid. Paul and his friend Travis follow Sabrina to a museum the next day, where Gwen accidentally brings the statue of David to life. Sabrina, master of trickery and deceit, yells “Hey, look—the pope!” to distract Paul and Travis (which works). However, Paul and Travis are both onto her. Travis, true American that he is recognizes immediately what to do with an unbelievable, incredible story: sell it! The two bros have to get video of Sabrina practicing witchcraft to sell to the shady tabloid editor. With the money, Paul can finally be a REAL journalist.
Paul waits by the B&B wearing shades and holding a single rose. Sabrina hesitates but agrees to get breakfast with him, aka zip around Rome on a scooter. (I totally never realized how much of a Roman Holiday rip-off [tribute?] this is.) When they finally make it to breakfast, Sabrina bonds with Paul over the “real issues” she’s covered in her high school paper.
To search for clues, Sabrina and Gwen dig around the archives (archives in popular culture!). They discover the house where Sophia lived, but don’t realize Paul and Travis are on their trail.
So it turns out Sabrina has to find the portrait the artist, Roberto, painted of Sophia. There’s also an extended shopping montage for no apparent reason besides that this movie is apparently targeted to preteen girls. Paul and Travis continue to follow them around. Travis turns out to be a frenemy; when Paul is taking artistic pictures of Humans of Rome, Travis says it’s a waste of time.
Meanwhile, Gwen accidentally turns Alberto, the son of the lady running the B&B, into a pigeon. The spell can only be broken by kissing Alberto…so Gwen has to go around kissing EVERY pigeon in Rome.
I need you to appreciate that there is a montage to “Crush” in which Sabrina does archival work, runs around exploring with Gwen, and goes on dates with Paul.
Sabrina tells Paul she’s researching a minor Renaissance painter (you’ve probably never heard of him), and he finds a museum that houses a still life he painted.
Shortly after, we FINALLY get the time travel scenes we’ve been waiting for. Sabrina goes back in time to warn Sophia, who, conveniently, looks EXACTLY like her. Roberto’s “best friend” Mercutio suspects Sophia’s a witch and threatens to publicly announce it in the square tomorrow. Roberto then says she’s cool even though she is a witch, thus betraying her. It turns out Lorenzo, the dude Sophia’s family keeps pushing at her, paid Mercutio to trick Roberto. Somebody needs to tell these dudes to ditch the frenemies. Sophia forgives Roberto and refuses to turn him into a pile of stones, which means she will be banished. She then disappears, and Sabrina has to swordfight EVERYONE. Luckily, she makes it back to the painting and returns to her own time fairly quickly.
At this point, Paul decides he’s too noble to keep up this sham; however, Travis continues to creepily record everything Paul and Sabrina do.
At the end, Gwen finally kisses Alberto Pigeon, and he becomes human again. He overheard Travis and Paul’s plans when he was a pigeon, so he and Gwen race to warn Sabrina.
Too late—Sabrina has already revealed her secret by transporting herself and Paul to see his family, who I’m pretty sure are all dead? Paul promises never to reveal her secret just as Salem, Gwen, and Alberto arrive to tell her about the scam he and Travis are running. Salem’s sage advice is to turn Paul into a pile of stone, but Sabrina refuses.
Paul then finds Sabrina at Sophia’s portrait, showing her the destroyed tape of her performing witchcraft. His message is, essentially, thank you for believing in me (and not turning me into a pile of stone).
At last, the locket is magically opened with LOVE. Sophia appears as a hologram and advises Sabrina that the ones you love are always with you. Also that you should always choose love over magic (I’m sorry, but I would choose magic, esp. witchcraft). Salem, a cat after my own heart, tells Paul “You’re lucky I’m declawed!” Sabrina just kind of fucks with Travis by turning him into a bunch of different animals.
And they all lived happily ever after, except for Harvey.
I just don’t like this one as much as Sabrina Down Under, largely because Salem gets significantly less screen time. Also a little bit because Sabrina dates someone besides Harvey. I know that’s wrong. Sabrina can date whoever she wants to, but I’m still going to be upset when it’s not Harvey.
There’s something generally punch-able about Paul’s face.
2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I feel I need to express my discontent with the lack of Salem screen time, though, objectively, this is probably no worse than Sabrina Down Under.
Time for Remembrance of Films Past, my oft neglected series of posts started with the best of intentions.
Sabrina Down Under
Where to Watch:
Youtube (apologies in advance for the terrible screencaps)
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, visits Australia to fulfill her dreams of becoming a marine biologist. There are mermaids.
All Clips Featuring Mark Stanley in Lieu of Trailer (one of the only Youtube clips I could find besides the entire movie):
The Uncondensed Version:
Hopefully if you’re reading this review you’re okay with a little (a lot) of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Remember how there were a couple of TV movies that seemed to have approximately zero connection to the series except for the fact that Sabrina and Salem appeared in them? YOU’RE ABOUT TO. (Don’t worry, I WILL be reviewing the other one, Sabrina Goes to Rome, as soon as possible.)
At the beginning of this particular movie, we learn of Sabrina’s hitherto unexplored passion for marine biology. (Right? I seriously don’t remember her mentioning marine biology even once in the series.) Apparently a book written by one Dr. Martin (don’t worry—not Doc Martin) inspired her to visit the Great Barrier Reef. I WONDER IF SHE WILL ENCOUNTER THIS DR. MARTIN DURING HER VISIT. HMMMMMMM.
As Sabrina rides over the ocean in a helicopter to wherever the fuck she’s going in Australia, she sees someone in the water. I wonder if it’s a merman (spoiler alert: it is).
Meanwhile, Salem has planned his own getaway, booking his favorite suite at a hotel where it is apparently normal to get a room for your cat and arrange for him to have massages and drink cocktails. “Your cat’s every whim is our desire” is literally a line uttered in this movie.
Meanwhile, Sabrina is meeting up with her English cousin, Gwen, who is something of a fuck-witch (get it? Get it?). Gwen’s goal is basically to watch hot Australians sunbathing, a hobby Sabrina greatly approves of but is not very good at. One of her astute observations is “He has dimples as big as coconuts.” Uh…are we talking about the same thing here, Sabrina?
This is interrupted when Sabrina realizes the disgruntled Aussie yelling at everyone for trespassing is none other than Dr. Martin. Sabrina tells him she’s a huge fan; he basically just continues to mutter to himself. However, he does invite her to join his diving expedition the next day. (It’s okay—for once, that is not a euphemism.)
The next day, Sabrina and Gwen show up in what has to be Barbie brand diving gear. They go diving to this really bad cover of “Octopus’s Garden.” Like the ’90s pop version of “Octopus’s Garden.” I would recommend watching this scene on mute. Sabrina turns herself into a fish for no apparent reason whatsoever EXCEPT to conveniently assist her in discovering a supposedly extinct species of fish. Gwen swims back to the surface and meets BARNABY (that’s seriously his name) the merman who appears to be sick or injured; when she tries to introduce him to Sabrina, he mysteriously vanishes.
Meanwhile, Salem discovers there’s a white Persian staying at the hotel, who is a witch serving out a sentence as a cat. There are SLOW MO shots of the Persian shaking her head and licking her lips. (This movie’s target audience HAD to be cat ladies.) Though Salem expects they will bond over being trapped in cat bodies, the Persian flat out rejects him. He tries to win her over by sending himself to her on a tray. Yeah, there’s an uncomfortable amount of cat sexualization in this movie.
Returning to the Sabrina storyline, Dr. Martin informs her they will have to verify the rare fish sighting and is generally a dick since he’s miffed he wasn’t the one to discover the fish. There’s also some dramatic foreshadowing about toxic waste being dumped in the ocean and killing the reef.
Then Sabrina and Gwen find what they initially believe is a dolphin but is, in fact, Barnaby the MERMAN lying on the beach. OF COURSE they try to give him mouth to mouth as Barnaby’s sister, Fin, and a dolphin watch, dismayed that the humans have Barnaby. Sabrina teleports them away from the beach, and they drag Barnaby to her room run a bath for him (I promise you this movie is not a porno).
When he wakes up, the merman has an American accent; clearly, the moral of the story is don’t date Australians. (The human/merperson barrier is easier to breach than the Australian/American.) In order to better fit in while he recovers, Sabrina gives him legs as well as blue camo pants and a beanie (I think Sabrina’s cruel streak runs deeper than anyone ever knew during the series). There’s a montage of Barnaby using his legs to a really bad cover of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” including riding a Sea Doo, going shopping, and eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
In the meantime, someone shows Dr. Martin pictures of the merman, which he vows to find and capture FOR SCIENCE. When Sabrina brings ointment to a sick Fin, Dr. Martin places a tracking device in her backpack so he can finally have a merman of his own.
On the comic relief front, Gwen accidentally turns Salem into a catfish, who falls into the ocean. The Persian is supposed to meet Salem for dinner (and nobody at the restaurant questions this), and it turns out Salem is in fact a fish in the restaurant’s tank. By the time Sabrina transforms him back into a cat, the Persian has already left. To make it up to her, Salem takes the Persian to see the sunrise and conveniently snaps pictures of illegal toxic waste dumping in the ocean.
Returning to the unfolding mermaid tragedy, on the day Sabrina’s spell on Barnaby will wear off, Dr. Martin prepares to find the mermaid colony. To stop him, Sabrina decides to create THE PERFECT STORM; this can only end in tears. Because she’s standing in the water when Sabrina accidentally hits herself with lightning and knocks herself unconscious. Apparently this renders her temporarily unable to cast any more spells.
This entire sequence is all in vain as Barnaby crashes a car just after turning back into a merman right in front of Dr. Martin, who imprisons him in the hotel pool (that has got to be against hotel policy). Luckily, Gwen’s boyfriend, who does a really bad mermaid drag act, distracts everyone while Sabrina and Gwen free him. Unfortunately, Dr. Martin and his gang of scientists put out nets to catch Fin and Barnaby. Sabrina manages to get aboard with the help of Fin’s dolphin friend (seriously). After Dr. Martin catches the merpeople, Sabrina magically finds the supposedly extinct fish and tries to convince everyone it’s more impressive than the discovery of merpeople. She starts cutting the net; I want a movie about Sabrina becoming a member of PETA and throwing blood on people wearing fur. Is that weird? She then makes a point about who is REALLY the poacher and demands Dr. Martin let the merpeople go (LET MY MERPEOPLE GO).
After this sequence of events, Dr. Martin’s dedication to the profession is renewed; he proceeds to recite the Endangered Species Act. The Persian transforms back into a woman since her sentence is over and breaks up with Salem (as a side note, witches/warlocks really need to work on a better crime deterrent because spending 1,000 years as a talking housecat does not sound like punishment at all to me). The identified ship that has been illegally polluting is stopped, and the reef is saved. Sabrina and Gwen go scuba diving with the merpeople, wooooooooo.
The biggest disappointment of this movie is that Sabrina’s quirky aunts don’t appear at all. They were a vital part of the show, and the dynamic is entirely ruined by their absence.
I am also both delighted and dismayed that there was no Sabrina/Barnaby romance. In my memory there was, which is rather upsetting because of Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey and also because the merman’s name is BARNABY. (I really apologize to any and all members of the general population named Barnaby, but to me it sounds like the name of a sickly child in a 19th-century novel.)
On the bright side, there’s A LOT of very dramatically urgent didgeridoo music in the score (if made-for-TV movies can be said to have scores). I still think this is a reasonably entertaining movie, though perhaps not exactly the stuff that dreams are made of.
3/5 Pink Panther heads
It hurts to give this movie a mere 3, but, my love of Sabrina aside, this is a fairly nonsensical film. If you never watched Sabrina, you will probably only enjoy this movie if you’re really into didgeridoo solos, cats, and/or mermaids. Mercats?
Sorry my longest review ever focuses on a made-for-TV movie about Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. It’s unforgivable, truly.