Witchy Wednesdays: The Witches of Eastwick

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Jessica Sowards

With American Horror Story returning to Wednesday nights this month with the decidedly witchy Coven, we at Comics Bulletin thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the more entertaining Witchy Movies of the past thirty years or so. Next up is the director George Miller's follow-up to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, um, The Witches of Eastwick?

Another treasure from the 1980s, The Witches of Eastwick is an entertaining film that boasts big names and a talented cast that delivers in quality and in quantity. It is based on John Updike’s novel of the same name and inspired a short lived television series, Eastwick, and a stage musical. Updike has also written a sequel, The Widows of Eastwick, but there are currently no plans to bring it to the big screen.

Eastwick is just your typical New England town. It is boring and everyone has assumed ho-hum roles. It is as if the entire population is on autopilot. One Thursday evening, over Martinis and canned spray cheese, three once married, but now single friends conjure up the perfect man. Ironically, a rich, riveting stranger, Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), swaggers into town the following day.

He buys the town’s historic mansion and quickly the town folk are buzzing. Plain-Jane (Susan Sarandon), artsy and independent Alex (Cher), and newspaper writer/fertile mother of six Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) find themselves being seduced by the stranger, each privately and in ways that scream to their unique personalities. In a Jerry Springer twist, they are shocked to find out they are sharing the new heart throb. During an intensely competitive tennis match, the three realize how powerful and magical they are when they are together, finding that they are delighted to share powers and their “horny little devil.”

Through Daryl, the three women become aware of their powers, but are not shown routinely practicing magic. Whenever anything supernatural happens, the three seem intrigued, surprised, and delighted by what they have accomplished. They are curious about what occurs, but not frightened. Their magic culminates when all three of them are together, forming a coven of sorts.

Daryl also awakens the women’s sexuality. He allows them to learn how to enjoy sex and to not apologize for it. He also allows them to speak their minds. Their days of toil and thankless work are transformed into passion, fun, and lavish excess. Of course, it kills the still oppressed women of the town to see others that are happy and free. Jane, Alex, and Sukie become alienated, harassed, and are branded as sluts.

Witches of Eastwick provides a social commentary on the view and role of women and on male/female relationships. Daryl voices this not so subtle commentary. He often spouts how he admires women and their power and credits women with being the source of power. Women have the power of nature, birth, and rebirth. He despises how men kill women emotionally and, in turn, complain that women are dead when men are the ones who killed them in the first place. These three women had been dead emotionally, sexually, and magically until he came into their lives.

Despite all that Daryl has given the women, it is he who relies on them. He has done wonderful things in their lives, but they could really take him or leave him. When the women grow tired of looks, stares, and rumors, they decide to drop Daryl. In a reversal of gender roles, it is he who pines after them. He tries to win them back, but they are strong. They truly no longer need a man in order to feel complete or powerful.

If I have one complaint, it is that the focal point of the film switches from the modern witches, to Daryl’s character. When the women decide it is best to stop seeing him, Daryl withers and loses his charming exterior to reveal that he is the Devil. At first, he tries to win them back with affection and kindness. He then resorts to punishing them and tries to force them to return to him. He does not try to turn the friends against each other; instead he preys upon their love and friendship, by torturing one of them. Daryl knows if one of them is suffering, the others will give in to end her pain.

During this time, we see Daryl suffer, obsess, and try to win back the women. In a montage, we see small snippets of the women, but we do not really see what they are going through and doing. It’s distracting and one of the weakest aspects of the film. We should see how Alex, Jane, and Sukie are dealing with their children, returning to their “normal” lives, and how they are mixing back into the neighborhood. After all, the title is The Witches of Eastwick, not Daryl the Devil!

Jack Nicholson is a monumental actor, though. He could be playing “Man in Store #1,” and end up stealing the show. It is just inevitable. He is also at his best when he is playing a madman. If a lesser actor had played the Devil, perhaps the filmmakers would not have opted for this change in direction. Either that or the portion focusing on Daryl would have just become weaker. It just feels that there is a missed opportunity to show the witches unite. At the end of the film, the trio does unite their powers and knowledge to overtake Daryl and unleash a powerful vengeance. We also get a neat little tag at the end, but this portion of the film just seems uneven.

It does allow, however, Daryl to punish the women for leaving him and rejoining their stereotypical gender roles. He has shown them freedom, and is pissed off when they refuse it. Is this freedom something they needed a man (or Devil) to grant them in the first place? Maybe the filmmakers are not applauding the women for usurping their freedom. Perhaps, instead, the film is making a statement that these women have followed the Devil which led to them abandoning their responsibilities as mothers and as women and they must pay the price.

As a whole, this movie is less witch and a lot more political than one would expect for the late 1980s. It has elements of magic, but, I believe, they serve only to reinforce the idea of women as powerful beings and to keep a lighter feel to a movie that could easily become too preachy. Had it not included the powerhouse talents of Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson, a strong script, and the beautiful music of John Williams, it would have easily been a forgotten flick of 1987.

When Jessica Sowards is not fighting crime, she can be found watching almost any movie that comes her way whether it be good or bad. She is obsessed with The Muppets and knows a little too much trivia from sitcoms of the 1980s. 

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