The Craft: How a Teenage Weirdo Based on a Real Person Became an Icon

Writer Peter Filardi on Nancy and the enduring appeal of The Craft, 25 years on.

The Craft (1996)
Photo: Columbia Pictures

“We Are The Weirdos, Mister.” A phrase you’ll find printed over t-shirts, pin badges, mugs, earrings, tote bags, necklaces, and more all over the internet. It’s the most iconic line from The Craft, a film released 25 years ago that still has a rabid following today. For anyone unfamiliar with The Craft, it’s a line spoken by Fairuza Balk’s Nancy, an inferno in black lippy and sunglasses, the de facto leader of a homemade coven made up of outsiders who have taken the raw deal the world has given them and rejected it by learning to harness the power of nature. This line is everything. We are no longer going to be victims, it says. We will no longer be afraid. We reclaim our space, our power. That we are four teenaged girls will no longer mean we have to watch out for ‘weirdos’ – because it is us who are the weirdos. Mister. 

“Nancy is the one everybody wants to be,” says Peter Filardi, the man who created Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah all those years ago, chatting to Den of Geek from his home, an original poster for The Craft peaking out from behind him on the wall. Next to it is a poster for Chapelwaite, the series Filardi is currently showrunning with his brother Jason, based on Stephen King’s short story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” a prequel to Salem’s Lot.

“Nancy is the one who is particularly put upon and who finds the power to get revenge or get justice and is going to do that with no apologies. I think it’s how we all envision ourselves or would want to see ourselves, I guess. Here we are 25 years later. Why do you think we’re still talking about it?”

It’s an interesting question because we very much still are talking about The Craft. With Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, A Discovery of Witches, His Dark Materials, and of course last year’s remake of The Craft, we appear to very much still be in the season of the witch, but none is quite as resonant and impactful as the original The Craft. Watching it back 25 years after its release, it’s still just as relevant.

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The very first script that Filardi sold was Flatliners, the story of arrogant, hot-shot medical students who plan to discover what happens after you die by “flatlining” for increasing lengths of time. Filardi’s script prompted a bidding war and the movie became a big hit, starring Hollywood’s hottest: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, and William Baldwin. 

After Flatliners, Filardi had been working on a script about real life teenage Satanist Ricky Kasso, (“He was one of the first to really put the hallucinogenics together with the music and the theology and then sort of brew them all up into this really volatile cocktail,” Filardi explains), so when producer Doug Wick approached him about another supernatural project, Filardi was game.

“He said he would like to either do a haunted house story or something to do with teenage witches. And because I happened to be working on what I was working on I was pretty well-schooled in earth magic and natural magic and Satanism and all sorts of stuff. And we just started talking, and we hit it off, and we decided to develop and create The Craft together,” Filardi recalls.

At the time Wick had just two full producer credits to his name – for Working Girl and Wolf – but he would go on to produce swathes of heavy hitters including Hollow Man, Jarhead, The Great Gatsby, and win the best picture Oscar for Gladiator. Meanwhile, Andrew Fleming, director of The Craft and co-writer of the screenplay, had made horror thriller Bad Dreams and comedy Threesome, and would go on to make several comedy movies as well as many hit TV shows – he’s currently working on season two of Netflix’s popular Emily in Paris.

Filardi’s story was always going to be about women, and it was always going to be about outsiders, the memories of high school still fresh enough for him to remember the pain. “I’m sure it’s like this for every kid. You have memories from those high school years of horrible things that happened to people around you, or were said or done and just the petty cruelties,” he says. “I’m glad I’m an old man now!” (He’s not, he’s 59).

Rewatching and it’s certainly striking how much empathy you feel for the girls. Sarah (Robin Tunney), who is the audience’s way in to the movie, lost her mother during childbirth and has battled mental health problems, even attempting suicide. Recently moved to a new neighborhood with her dad and step mother, she is instantly the outsider at her new school, and is immediately treated abhorrently by popular boy Chris (a pre-Scream Skeet Ulrich), who dates her and then spreads rumors that they slept together. Rochelle (Rachel True) is a keen diver, subjected to overt racist bullying by a girl on the swim team, while Bonnie (Neve Campbell) hides away because of extreme scarring she has all over her body. Before Sarah arrives, the three dabble in magic and protect themselves as best they can from the horrors of high school by telling people they are witches and keeping them at arm’s length. It’s the arrival of Sarah, though, a “natural” witch with some serious power, that turns things around.

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“I think that maybe traditionally Hollywood would have done a version where the women were witches like Lost Boys,” Filardi says. “The women were witches, and they had this power, and they’re the dark overlords of their school or something like that. And that’s exactly the opposite of what worked for me and how I thought magic works in general. 

“Magic has always historically been a weapon of the underclass, for poor people… Think of England. People of the heath, who lived out in the country… The heathens, they didn’t have a king or an army or the church even behind them. They would turn to magic. And that’s kind of what I saw for our girls. For real magic to work, you have the three cornerstones of need and emotion and knowledge. And I hate magic movies where somebody has a power and they just do this and the magic happens. I think it’s much more interesting if the magic comes from an emotional need, a situation that really riles up the power within.”

These witches aren’t evil and they aren’t even anti-heroes. Instead, this is pure wish fulfilment for anyone who’s ever been bullied, or overlooked, or been dealt a particularly tough hand, and this level of empathy comes across hard in the film. Watching now and so many of the themes are so current with reference to issues of racism and the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

“I did not write it as a feminist piece per se,” says Filardi. “I really just wrote it as an empathetic human being, I think.”

There’s extreme empathy dripping throughout the script, but don’t mistake that for pity. The Craft deals in female empowerment and just plain fun. It’s here that one of The Crafts enduring conflicts arises. Are you Team Sarah or are you Team Nancy?

The correct answer of course, is Team Nancy…

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“It’s always harder to be the good guy or the good girl,” laughs Filardi. 

After all, before Sarah shows up, the other three are doing fine – surviving, doing minor spells, and looking out for each other. The influx of power Sarah brings allows the group to up their game and together they each ask for a gift from “Manon,” the (fictional) deity who represents all of nature that they worship in the film. Bonnie wants to heal her scars, Rochelle wants the racism to stop, Nancy wants the power of Manon, but Sarah casts a love spell on Chris. Sarah is either taking revenge on Chris, or she’s forging a relationship without consent, and it’s a move which eventually leads to Chris’s death. 

Meanwhile, Nancy is someone who just refuses to be a victim, despite the fact that of the four she’s clearly had the toughest life, living in a trailer with her mom and her abusive stepdad. Nancy won’t allow the audience to pity her. Nancy doesn’t let things happen to her, she makes her own choices, whether they are good ones or not. When newly empowered Nancy is running red lights, with Rochelle and Bonnie whooping in the back, and Sarah telling her it’s all gone a bit far, “Oh shut up, Sarah” feels like the right response. While Sarah might be technically correct, we are rooting for these girls to be allowed the pure joy of something they have created between them.

Nancy is an amazing creation, and Filardi says he couldn’t have anticipated how much the character would resonate.

“I did not envision the great look that Andy Fleming brought to her,” he smiles. “But Nancy was inspired by a real girl, whose older brother lived in a trailer in their backyard, and just had a hard go of it. She’s true to the one I wrote. She always embodied the earth element of fire. Each of the girls is their own earth element. There’s earth, wind, water, fire. And you can pretty much guess who’s who…” 

We could speculate but it’s perhaps more fun to let the audience decide for themselves.

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“Nancy in the beginning was always the constructive aspect of that element. She’s the light in the fire in the dark woods that draws the girls together,” he explains. “When she’s all passion and raw nerve, she’s very much like fire, but then when she crosses Sarah and gets overwhelmed with the power of her new abilities, she becomes the destructive side of that same element and burns the whole thing up. But she’s a fantastic character. I think that Fairuza Balk just elevated Nancy to a whole other level. I guess that’s what happens when you’re blessed with the right actor for the right part.”

Exactly who the true protagonist of The Craft is is something Filardi still contemplates. What is notable is that though, yes, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle do at one point try to, um, kill Sarah and make it look like suicide, which isn’t a very sisterly thing to do, they never really become true villains. By the end, the only fatalities are sex pest Chris and Nancy’s abusive step father, and both deaths could reasonably be considered accidental. While Bonnie and Rochelle are stripped of their powers, they aren’t further punished, it’s only Nancy who gets a raw deal. Driven to distraction by her surfeit of power, we find her ranting in a mental hospital strapped to a bed. 

Filardi’s ending was different, though he won’t be drawn on details.

“The original ending was different. I’ve never really gone into the detail of what the original ending was. Well, the original ending was just different…” he says, mulling over what he might say. “So, let’s see. Well, Chris always died… and it was just very different,” he hesitates. “I don’t really get into it because there’s no real sense. It is what it is. I always like in a movie… Having two different children and you love them both for different reasons, but I would have never wanted to be hard on the girls in the final analysis in any way thematically.”

One element of the script that saw slight changes was the motivation of Rochelle, after the casting of Rachel True. 

“To be honest, I think she was the exact same character. She was picked on by the swimmers. There was an added element that she had an eating disorder. She used to vomit into a mayonnaise jar and hide it on the top shelf of a bedroom closet. But other than that, she was really the same character,” he says. “Andy Fleming and Doug Wick, I don’t know who came up with the idea, but they cast Rachel and she added this whole other element to it, the racial element, which I think it was great and I think totally appropriate.”

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Though Filardi didn’t work on the remake and hasn’t actually seen it, he’s able to see for himself, first hand, how well the film has aged and how it continues to endure for young women – he has teenage daughters of his own.

“I see them going through all the same stuff that I watched girlfriends going through. And it hasn’t changed all that much,” he says ruefully.

“It’s funny. For years, they had no idea what I did for a living. I think they just thought I hung around in the basement. And one daughter was like… She was going to school with somebody whose father was in a rock band or something, ‘Nobody in this house does anything interesting. Everything’s boring.’ And it was around Halloween and they were showing The Craft at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. I took them to the cemetery and it was great. There were boys dressed in Catholic high school uniforms and women all in black and with blankets and candles and wine and snacks. Amidst the tombstones, they set up a huge screen and showed the film. So, that’s when they first saw it. And it was really fun. A really nice thing to share with my daughters.”

Things don’t change that much. High school is still horrible. Magic is still tantalizing. The outfits are still fabulous. And Nancy is still a stone cold legend. The Craft is an enduring celebration of outsider culture that we’ll probably still be talking about in 25 years to come. After all, most of us, at one time or another, feel like the weirdos. 

“I think of it as the story about the power of adolescent pain and self-empowerment. I think of beautiful young people who are just picked upon or put in positions they shouldn’t be or don’t deserve to be, and having the ability to fight back and weather it and survive,” says Filardi when we ask him what he’s most proud of. 

“I’m also proud of all the great contributions that the other talented people brought to the script. All I did was a script, but you have actors and directors and producers and art directors and production designers who just… Everybody seems to me to have brought their A-game. I didn’t come up with Nancy’s great look. Other people get all that credit. Like you said, you see her on t-shirts. So, so many people just brought so many things. I guess I’m just proudest to think that a bunch of strangers come together and connect to the message of the piece, and together just make something memorable all these 25 years later.”

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