Today’s subject is Teen Witch (1989), and it’s one of those movies that has an amazing story behind it. I’m only going to refer to small bits of it that are relevant here, but if you want to marinate in the whole thing then go read this awesome article by slashfilm. To summarize incredibly briefly: a down-on-her-luck writer and her partner write a raunchy teen comedy, and then a director interprets that as a less raunchy musical, and then with barely enough time and barely any money (by Hollywood standards) a producer and scrappy group of actors and crew people made this semi-raunchy teen comedy with musical numbers chimera come to life. And it did not merely live, but it sold so well to distributors that the studio went back and shot more footage to provide the movie with some additional production value. They decided the best way to do this was with white people rapping poorly, but now I’m starting to get ahead of myself.
So that story has a lot to unpack, but the end result is that this movie has three distinct parts: the original movie, the musical numbers, and the cut-in footage.
The remnants of the original film are what forms the crunchy cookie center of the Twix bar that is Teen Witch. If it wasn’t being occasionally interrupted by music or scenes that have nothing to do with the plot, it would be a pretty good 80s comedy by itself. There’s some good comedy set pieces strung together by plot scenes, and the acting from our leads really isn’t terrible. Our titular teen witch Louise (Robyn Lively) even had a bit of acting experience by the time she got the role, including appearing in The Karate Kid Part III (1989) the same year.
Also, she was actually 16 during filming, which gets a little bit problematic near the end of the movie given that her love interest was played by then 24-year-old Dan Gauthier. But still, the age of the leading lady separates Teen Witch from a lot of other teen entertainment where “teenagers” were doing teen stuff. I’m lookin’ at you Happy Days.
But Teen Witch isn’t just crunchy cookie, it’s partnered with some sweet musical caramel. The musical numbers bump catchy 80s pop rock while actors who learned the choreography on a compressed shooting schedule try to find their marks. Watch the faces of the actors closely and you’ll see what I mean. Despite the limited timelines for the whole project, the songs are damn catchy and pretty varied. There’s bubblegum pop, ballads, rock jams, some dance music, and of course those dope raps (but again, slightly ahead of myself). This is more than slightly embarrassing to admit, but every time I watch Teen Witch I end up humming “I Like Boys” for at least two days afterwards, and it’s by far the worst song in the movie. Well, the worst song that was originally in the movie.
Which brings us to the chocolate coating, footage shot after the movie sold to distributors. The inserted footage tries to weave itself into the events of the existing movie by adding a rapping love interest named Rhet or Louise’s best friend Polly. The resulting raps are so, so, Bad, but one of them is probably my favorite rap battle captured on film. Rhet is enjoyable in that incredibly cringe-worthy way, he is difficult to keep looking at, but also very hard to look away from.
There’s a of fun to be had breaking the Twix bar open and examining the boundary lines and layers, like a scavenger hunt for the places where the movie shifts into a new phase (often in comically jarring ways). But that’s only half of the experience, we also have to eat/watch our candy bar/movie, and it’s damn satisfying. I haven’t mentioned them yet, but the supporting cast of character actors puts in work on this movie. Richie ( Joshua John Miller), the little brother, is an outstanding character. The performance is so over the top and pitch perfect at the same time, and so fun to watch. Similarly outstanding is Shelley Berman as Mr. Weaver. He was given the task of being the “mean teacher”, and his execution of that task is incredible. Every creepy and menacing line is just dripping with slime.
I really want to say more, like I have a deep urge to keep gushing about this movie. I also suddenly have a craving for a certain candy bar… but anyway, I feel that this wall of text has gotten too tall. Any more time I keep you here is time you could be using to experience Teen Witch for yourself. We live in an amazing future time where you can just go and stream this movie onto the supercomputer soldered to your retina for like 3 american US dollars. So go get your popcorn and candy bars and get watching already.