Wayback Wednesday: The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

I would join this coven of fabulous witch bitches in a HEARTBEAT.

Without even realizing, it turns out that I’ve established a little Halloween tradition here at Luke’s Living Room. For the last three years, each October I’ve dedicated a Wayback to a movie about witches. In 2018 I reviewed Hocus Pocus (1993), in 2019 I reviewed Practical Magic (1998) and last year I reviewed The Craft (1996). By the way, check out my reviews for those movies here, here and here. I had no idea I was doing this! I mean, duh, it’s no surprise because I LOVE all media related to witchcraft, but now that I’m aware you better believe that it’s a tradition I intend to keep alive and well. That’s why this week’s Wayback is The Witches of Eastwick (1987). Let me just say that I have no trouble believing you if you told me that anyone in this cast is an actual magical being. 

Credit: imdb.com / Warner Bros.

Based on John Updike’s novel of the same name, The Witches of Eastwick tells the story of Alexandra, Jane and Sukie, three women who live in the town of Eastwick and discover that they’re witches after they unknowingly form a powerful coven. Heartbroken, the women innocently wish for the perfect man to come and liven up their stagnant lives. When the bewitching and mysterious Daryl Van Horne rolls into town, the women fall under his spell, a fantasy that soon turns into a nightmare. 

This movie is directed by George Miller a director who yes, has been steadily working since the late 1970s, but has one of the oddest filmographies I’ve ever come across. And not like, “oh, all his movies are quirky,” but more like, “wait, he directed ALL of those vastly tonally different movies?” For example, Miller is not only the mastermind behind the dystopian-action Mad Max series (1979 – present), but also directed the family movies Babe: Pig in the City (1998), Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet Two (2011). How do you go from futuristic biker gangs, to talking pigs, to dancing penguins and then back again? Like I said, odd. 

Then there’s The Witches of Eastwick, a dark-fantasy that inexplicably walks the line somewhere between a sensual, adult drama and a campy, magical comedy. From the way this movie starts you would think that you’re in for a fun, autumnal, witchy movie along the lines of Practical Magic or Hocus Pocus. I mean, within the first 10 minutes the main characters – played by the exceptionally fabulous Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer – spend a rainy girls night in a cute cabin binging on junk food, sipping martinis and talking about love and you’re like, “okay, YES, I am so down for the rest of the movie to be like this!” I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to be invited to that girls night. But unfortunately The Witches of Eastwick trudges through the first 45 minutes of its two hour runtime devoid of such fun and instead focuses largely on Daryl, played by Jack Nicholson, a choice that not only dominates the majority of the movie, but in my opinion, is also a huge mistake.

I heard another movie reviewer call this movie weird and while I’m usually all for a movie that’s far from the beaten path, I quickly came to realize that The Witches of Eastwick isn’t weird because it’s quirky and unique. It’s weird because it’s so unbelievably boring and not at all the spooky witchfest you hope that it’s going to be. The movie starts off strongly by establishing a sense of intrigue concerning the growing powers of the three witches, but once Nicholson’s Daryl is introduced shortly after, The Witches of Eastwick becomes less about the titular characters and more a vehicle for Nicholson to give a bloated and greedy performance that feels like something out of a completely different movie. So much of this movie, pretty much the entire first two acts, are dedicated to Daryl’s seduction of the three women. Considering the premise as well as the most interesting part of The Witches of Eastwick is the women getting revenge on Daryl, this is A LOT of setup and wheels spinning for what should be a simple and entertaining movie. But instead of the bountiful scenes of spooky witchcraft, sisterly bonding and spellbinding magic that I was hoping for, I instead endured scene after scene of Nicholson simultaneously seducing women and then monologuing about how much grief women cause him. Like I said, it’s a solid 45 minutes into the movie before even the slightest hint of witchlike fun begins to happen, then it’s MORE of Nicholson and then only in the final half hour of the movie does The Witches of Eastwick become the kind of movie I had hoped from the beginning it would be. It’s within those last 30 minutes that the wonderfulness of the three lead actresses is finally given the spotlight it deserves. 

You would think that having the likes of Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer at his disposal would inspire Miller to utilize their outstanding talents to their fullest. And yet, it almost feels like this cast of A-list actresses are an afterthought. The handful of times the women are actually given the chance to shine there is both an undeniable chemistry between the trio as well as the sense that you want to spend more time getting to explore the talents of these witches. There’s one scene where Cher reads Nicholson for filth and honestly, sign me up for that movie. I could watch an entire movie of Cher just telling off horrible men. If The Witches of Eastwick were filled with the same amount of fire and charisma that that one scene possesses, this could be a stellar movie that would be a Halloween staple. I’d say that this is a must see-for witch-lovers, one that is best enjoyed on a chilly October night in front of a fire and with a bottle of wine, but there just isn’t enough enjoyment to be had from this movie. 

I really wanted to like The Witches of Eastwick. I so badly wanted to add it to the lengthy list of witch-centric movies I love so much but alas, it wasn’t meant t be. It’s not necessarily a terrible movie but it severely needs to drop 20 minutes from the runtime and refocus its attention on the witches. You can go ahead and give this one a watch but I would recommend having Practical Magic on standby just in case. 

Have you seen The Witches of Eastwick?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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