The first time I saw Teen Witch, I was in ninth grade and had waited an entire week — it was the Saturday afternoon movie on a local station — to tape the entire thing (along with commercials) on my family’s barely-functioning VCR. I knew nothing about the film until I actually saw it, but I was hooked from the first moment the sultry saxophone riffs sounded through the TV’s tinny speakers and Louise Miller appeared on a rooftop, dancing in a tight red dress and a diaphanous shawl thing while her love interest followed her every movement, enchanted. (Alas, it was all a dream.)
I’ve probably seen the film around 50 times now. When I worked in a video store on the weekends, I watched the movie so often (in rotation with Cats: The Musical) on Saturday nights that I was first banned from playing it and then invited to just take it home because “no one is going to rent it and it’s bothering the customers.”
Why do I love it so much? I have no idea: The film is ridiculous, it makes zero sense, and has no real plot. The best way I can describe it to others is thus: It was made in 1989 and is therefore the ’80s holding on to the ’80s in the only way that it can, with tutus, outrageous musical numbers, and a mandatory appearance by Poltergeist exorcist Zelda Rubinstein, who’s meant to guide Louise (Robyn Lively, half-sister to Blake) through her transition into full-on witchiness, which is never really explained. (Why and how is Louise a witch? The world will never know!) (This is actually another reason the video store made me take the movie home. Sometimes I’d pause it in the middle and try to engage a whole line of customers — all of whom just wanted to rent something and go — in a discussion of why the hell it mattered if the popular girl was throwing a party at the same time as Louise’s birthday shindig, because it’s not like anyone from that group was showing up to the latter, right?)
Known to millennials — and my husband — only as the “Top That” movie, Teen Witch is finally getting the credit it deserves. Along with reignited interest at midnight showings, the film became available on Netflix in February, and Slashfilm just released an amazing oral history of the movie, speaking with all the main players involved in the cult classic — Yes, even Brad! — to figure out exactly what the hell happened to make Teen Witch a reality.
Here are some amazing things you didn’t know about the film: For one, it was supposed to be much raunchier, even though its inspiration was allegedly a little girl who wanted to know why boys got a Teen Wolf but girls didn’t have a witch to call their own. And it turns out that the first version wasn’t so great. The man who ended up directing it, Dorian Walker, didn’t even want to do it at first because it was all too Porky’s. But then something changed his mind:
Dorian Walker: For whatever reason, this script just literally sang out to me as I was reading it. So I went back and made notes and in the course of the script I found right off the bat about nine places where I thought music could go in there and elevate the core story, and so armed with that I took the meeting with Trans World Entertainment. After we got through the formalities of chitchat, they asked, “So, what do you think about our script?” And I said, “Well, you know, I didn’t really care that much about the script. I thought it had a nice storyline, but it had a lot of unnecessary elements.” Like what? By this point in my career, I had turned down enough things and I had adjusted to the notion of being quasi-broke pretty well and so I didn’t really have anything to lose by sharing what my feelings were. So I mentioned a few of the unnecessary elements—like the lesbian coach, for example—and when I finished speaking, they didn’t seem happy. To them, it was like: Then why are we having this meeting? “But,” I said, “I see something in this script that I find appealing.” And so, after I just told them that their script sucked, I said, “Well, I see this as a musical. As a teen musical.” And there was a silence. And then there was a longer silence.
Anyone who’s seen the movie knows that it can hardly be called a musical even in the loosest sense of the word — a movie with random songs for no reason is more like it — but now we finally know why there are cheerleaders singing “I Like Boys” in the locker room and why “Top That!” (performed by Amanda Ingber, who, by the way, quit acting to become a yoga instructor to the stars, including Jennifer Aniston) was ever brought into existence. Can’t complain about that, right?
Nor can we complain about the fact that Robyn Lively was chosen to play the title role, one that Debbie Gibson was originally considered for. According to Lively, she was “15 and couldn’t dance,” but even if there was an amazing dancer competing against her, there was no way anyone else was becoming Teen Witch. Can you imagine the film with another ’80s sensation? (I shudder to think). But without a huge name came some problems. Per the casting director/producer:
Alana H. Lambros: And Robyn’s mother was really sweet. She came to my house because I couldn’t even afford a hair dresser in preproduction until the very end, so her mom came to the house and said, “We’ll put the extensions in her hair.” And I said, “I’m sorry, I have no money for extensions.” And I remember Robyn’s mom saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it.”
One more huge surprise? There was only one person that the film’s production company felt wasn’t right for the film. You may have heard of her:
Dorian Walker: So everything was coming together, though ironically, the only casting that TWE disagreed with was for one of the teachers that we wanted to cast: Ellen DeGeneres. I had seen her at some comedy clubs, we had a reading with her, I said I’d like to cast her, but this one the one place where Moshe stepped in and said no. But I couldn’t complain because we got almost everything we wanted. We had a little comedy in the movie, we had a little music and we had a very ambitious shooting schedule.
What was shooting the movie like? Aside from the producers having to try to make do with very little money and protest from teamsters, everyone agrees that it was a magical experience. Teen Witch may not have been the best makeover movie from the ’80s, but it was a makeover film, and Robyn Lively told Slashfilm that being in one was like a dream come true. Kind of weird, though, that she was 15 and Brad, her love interest, was 22. But what are you gonna do? Hollywood, you know?
Here’s a giant piece of gossip:
Robyn Lively: Oh, and this is the best piece of dirt ever: Dan and Lisa [Fuller, who played “Randa”] ended up getting married shortly after that!
Man, Kiki must have been piiiiiiiissssed.