I first saw Teen Witch on a rainy afternoon when I was 14-years-old. It had been hyped all week as the feature film on UPN’s ‘Disney Afternoon.’ Being a lonely kid obsessed with both The Craft and Sabrina the Teenage Witch — I’d taken out every book on witchcraft at the nearest public library in an attempt to emulate my icons, become popular, and control the weather, although all I managed to do was make myself seem somehow even creepier — I knew that I’d love it. I just didn’t know how much.
I watched the VHS I made of the film countless times before it was (somehow) sold at a garage sale. Years later, when I was 22 and working at a video store, I was forced to take the DVD home because customers complained that I played it too often (read: on repeat, 4 times every Saturday night) and that I would stop doing my job — no matter how long the line was — to pause the movie and offer my commentary. I did the same when dating (it was sort of a litmus test for who could stand me) (although I ended up marrying someone who doesn’t understand my fascination with the film) and when I started writing professionally, friends would joke that I would have reached the apex of my career if I ever got to speak to Robyn Lively (the titular Teen Witch herself!) about the film. It feels almost silly to say this, but they weren’t wrong.
There’s no rhyme or reason as to why Teen Witch is still such a big hit. Perhaps it’s because it defies any sort of labeling (is it a musical? a comedy? Make-over wish fulfillment with fantasy elements?) and doesn’t actually feel like it’s an ’80s film, even though it was created in 1989 and literally throws every trope from that era — from tutus, to big hair, to Zelda Rubinstein, to that one big scene at prom (or homecoming, it’s never clear) — at the wall in what seems like the decade fiercely holding onto itself as time marches on into a new era. Or perhaps it’s because the film is so unbelievably cheesy, and so painfully sincere that you can’t help but love every technicolor second of this beautiful mess of a romance (which literally has no meaningful ending). And there are so many questions left unanswered! Even after hundreds of viewings of this thing, there are still things even the most ardent enthusiasts (me, you, everyone you know) need to know!
It turns out that Lively — who you’ve seen everywhere after Teen Witch — is just as big a fan of the film as the rest of us, and she happily spoke to me about everything about the film, from its enduring legacy, to the music, to the dilemmas we’ve all had about the film’s internal logic.
And you know what? Just like the film itself, it was f*cking magic.
You love this movie just as much as the rest of us!
I love it! Do you know why I love it? Because it makes people so happy and that makes me happy. That just gives me so much joy. I love it so much because I seriously don’t know why people love it so much. I still haven’t quite figured out the phenomenon of it all, but I love so much that it’s just magical for people. Whether it’s just so terrible that it’s good or whether it’s cheesy, it is magical.
Can we start with the abandoned house Louise and Brad go to make out in?
Oh my, you have no idea the innocence behind this! Okay, we’ll talk about the abandoned house because I had no idea any of the implications of what that was, none of it. None of it!
You didn’t know that Brad and Louise were going there to have sex?
No, are you kidding me? When I look back on it now, honestly, it makes me sweat because I’m just mortified. I’m like, ‘I cannot believe this.’
You’re going to laugh at me when I say this, but it was very innocent. I know you’re going to say ‘what, the tongues, all of that?’ but in the 80s, that was very much the style of movie kissing. That was how you kissed. Thankfully, that’s not the way it is now.
I think the kissing freaked people out because it was too gentle. On How Did This Get Made, they said, “It’s too gentle. Why is it so dark? It’s creepy!”
It was gentle? What do you mean gentle?
It was far too intimate for high school kids kissing. The question I had was ‘why are they kissing in a way that people do not actually kiss when they really want each other?’
Dan [Gauthier] and I, our relationship was very innocent. It was very much an innocent flirtation that went on between the two of us. It was nothing that was lascivious or gross or creepy, but that scene — it just makes me sweat. I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, the horror, the horror of it all!’
I read that scene was added in post-production, so I guess since this was done in post-production, it was out of context.
The producers were just like you’re going to this haunted house and you’re going to do some stuff?
They were just trying to add a little sauce to the movie at that point.
Do you think Louise and Brad had sex? That’s a question I remember discussing with people when I was a teen.
No, I don’t. Because honestly, I was so innocent. I was just like, ‘Oh yeah, more kissing with Brad, the red hot lover.’ I had such a crush on him, so I was like ‘woohoo, yeah, more smooching.’ I loved that, I was down for it, but it was just kissing for me. That was it. I didn’t have any idea what was being implied.
We all thought Louise and Brad had sex.
Of course, you did. Of course, you did. No. Louise did not have sex. Louise is way too innocent.
This has been a burning question for me since I first saw the movie: Did Mandy Ingber actually do the singing on “Top That” ?
No, she didn’t.
Did she want to do it?
No, she and Noah [Blake] were horrified that they had to do it. They thought it was so silly. They were just mortified, didn’t want to do it, and now look at it — it’s like the best scene in the whole movie. It’s the crowd pleaser!
Is it Noah’s voice on the rap?
No! I just looked it up and I saw that — you know Phil McKeon who was in Alice? Nancy McKeon’s brother?
Larry and Tom Weir, the geniuses behind all of the music in Teen Witch, they’re really good friends with Phil McKeon. I’m sure Phil was just at the studio the day they were laying down that track for Teen Witch and they had him be a backup singer for “Top That,” so his name is in the credit.
I always thought “Top That” was auto-tuned but I didn’t realize that it was completely different voices.
Are you serious?
Tell me about that scene. It was also added in post-production. Did the producers just call you up and say ‘bring your tennis rackets, we’re going to do another scene’ and then just say ‘We’re going to do a rap now’?
Right! Of course, they had to prep. Mandy had to prep learning the rap. I now remember I improvised the line “want a Pez?” to shout out to my best friend, Jackie. I was always trying to do little shout outs to her.
IMDb claims that Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson was in the movie. Is that true?
Yeah, Dan said this in the commentary and we were all freaking out about it [Ed. Note: the cast recently reunited to record commentary for the DVD]. We were looking for her name at the end, and we didn’t see it. He claims that she is, that’s still something that we need to investigate further.
Okay, I have some questions about the actual movie for you: Why is Randa the villain in the film? Some people actually consider Louise to be the villain. What do you think about that?
What? Why is Louise the villain?
Because she just does whatever she wants and doesn’t care about other people. Randa wasn’t particularly mean. She even got Louise a date, even though, admittedly, it was terrible.
No, are you kidding me? You really think that Randa was all that sweet, seriously?
Tell me about Randa!
Okay, first of all, you can just tell that she’s the typical, popular Bee, you know what I mean? You can just tell. She’s the popular Queen Bee at the school, she’s got her little clique of friends, she’s the cheerleader, she’s not nice and, no, she didn’t get Louise the date with her cousin to be nice. She knew what she was doing.
Poor little Louise thought that she was being set up with Randa’s cousin, she thought Randa was being sweet! No, Randa knew her cousin was a tool. She was being mean. And then, on Louise’s birthday, she ends up having a party so that no one will show up to Louise’s. She was not nice!
This leads me to the biggest question I’ve ever had about this film. I actually stop the movie to discuss this when it happens. When Polly calls Louise and says ‘Girl, huge emergency. Randa is having a party.’ First of all, Randa lives across the street.
That’s right, because Louise sees Brad pick up Randa from across the street.
I agree with all the magic in the movie, but I have a problem with this: How would Randa’s party impact Louise in any way? They don’t travel in the same social circle! How would people not show up to Louise’s party? Louise isn’t friends with any of Randa’s friends! She’s a shoo-in for Latin club president!
What mean girls do, I imagine, is invite the nerds anyway. When you’re a nerd, you’re going to go the popular girl’s party. Hello, that’s what you do, okay?
Let me tell you why she did it. This is what I think. Remember when Louise is on her bike and she falls [ed. note: Brad runs her off the road] and Brad pulls over and he’s giving Louise all this attention? He wants to give her a ride home and Randa is really mad about that? She’s like, “Bradley.”
Right but Louise lives across the street from Randa, so that would be no expense.
Yes! Then Randa gets really annoyed with all of this, so she’s got it out for Louise. Louise is not the villain here; it’s Randa. That’s my two cents. That’s why I think she did that.
Can you explain Louise’s style and her relationship with her mom? Why did her mom get her such ugly clothing? Does her mom hate her? Is Louise’s mom the villain?
When we were watching the commentary, I thought even for me, personally, as an almost 16-year-old girl, I love that I had no self-awareness, that I was okay wearing polyester pants and olive green, puke green shoes.
And the trench coat.
And the coat! And I was okay with that. You know why I was okay with that? Because I got to have my time. I got to have the makeover. I love makeover movies. Here’s something many people don’t know — a lot of the clothes in the movie were my own clothes.
Yeah, a lot of them. I should have kept the clothes, but I didn’t. My mom was really hands on with the hair and the hair styling. Thankfully, it was a very low budget movie, and the production team was really lucky to have my mom be as influential as she was. They all worked together and it was amazing.
I’m giving you the third degree, here, but why did Louise take Madam Serena to the prom even though that’s like taking your sister?
Well, she was like Louise’s fairy godmother, so it was probably her proud mother moment to see Louise there. Right before that she said ‘just believe in yourself and anything can happen.’ That’s Madam Serena letting Louise make her own decisions.
At the end, Louise throws the amulet to Serena. The question we all have is, does that mean that Brad now likes Louise even though the spell is over or did Louise ever remove the spell? That was never clear.
My opinion is that the spell is over, that she’s given her powers to Serena, that she’s taken the necklace off and she’s giving it away because it’s not making her happy. It’s not fulfilling Louise to have people like her because she has these powers, because they’re under the spell. It doesn’t feel real. She doesn’t know if Brad’s kissing her because he’s under the spell or because he likes her. It’s making her unhappy.
So everyone likes Louise for real, then.
Right, I think that’s the message. It seems clear to me that she’s saying ‘here this is for you, this is not what I want.’ There’s no longer a spell and Brad really likes her for who she is. He’s fallen in love with Louise the person.
I gotta tell you: I felt bad for Randa because Brad came with her and left with Louise.
She’s fine, she has a Schwinn.
One more question about the ending: Watching it as a teen I got why Louise would throw away her powers, but as an adult I know I’d want those powers back. And I’d do anything to get them. Wouldn’t she?
You know what? Maybe those answers will be answered in the near future. Stay tuned…