The Witches of Eastwick (film)
The Witches of Eastwick is a 1987 American dark fantasy-comedy film directed by George Miller and starring Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, alongside Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon as the eponymous witches. The film is based on John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwick (1984).
|The Witches of Eastwick|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Miller|
|Screenplay by||Michael Cristofer|
|Based on||The Witches of Eastwick|
by John Updike
|Music by||John Williams|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$63.8 million|
Alexandra Medford (Cher), Jane Spofford (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie Ridgemont (Michelle Pfeiffer) are three dissatisfied women living in the picturesque town of Eastwick, Rhode Island. Alex is a sculptor and single mother of one daughter; Jane is a newly divorced music teacher unable to have children; while Sukie has six daughters and works as a columnist for the Eastwick Word, the local newspaper. The three friends all have lost their husbands (Alex's died, Jane's divorced her, and Sukie's abandoned her). Unaware that they are witches, the women unwittingly form a coven where they have weekly get-togethers and share their fantasies about ideal men.
A mysterious man (Jack Nicholson) arrives in town and stirs up trouble by buying the town's landmark property: the Lenox Mansion. The arrival of this enigmatic stranger fascinates the townsfolk, all except for Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright), the devoutly religious wife of newspaper editor Clyde Alden (Richard Jenkins), Sukie's boss. Felicia senses that this man (whose name is easily forgotten) is up to no good. One night, at one of Jane's music recitals, the strange man appears and makes a spectacle of himself, which leads to more gossip. After the recital, Jane receives a bouquet of flowers with the initial D written on it. This sparks Sukie's memory, finally revealing the man's name as Daryl Van Horne. However, as chaos over the name spreads through the crowd, Sukie's bead necklace inexplicably breaks and falls to the floor, causing Felicia (who had mocked Daryl's name) to trip down a large staircase and break her leg.
The following day, Daryl sets out to seduce Alex. As he converses with her, he says insensitive, disgusting, and rude things every time he speaks. Appalled, she tells him off, refuses his amorous advances, and begins to walk out. Before she opens the door, he speaks to her, manipulating her emotions until she eventually agrees. The next morning, Daryl visits the shy and insecure Jane. As the two sit down and share polite conversation, Jane explains that the Lenox Mansion was built on a site where alleged witches were burned at the stake. Later that night, Daryl encourages Jane to play her cello with wild abandon, never before achieved, playing faster and faster while accompanied by Daryl on the piano, until finally the strings emit smoke, the cello bursts into flame, and Jane flings herself upon Daryl with passion. The following week, Daryl invites all three of the women to his mansion, his sights now on Sukie. Later, as envy and rivalry emerge among the women, they inadvertently levitate a tennis ball. Finally aware of their magical abilities, the women agree to share Daryl.
As the women spend more time at Daryl's mansion, Felicia spreads rumors about their indecency. Alex, Jane, and Sukie become social outcasts. As the witches begin to question their loyalty to Daryl, he causes them to unknowingly cast a spell against Felicia. Later that night, while ranting to her husband about Daryl being the Devil, Felicia begins to vomit cherry pits. Horrified by her uncontrollable behavior, Clyde kills her with a fire poker.
After Felicia's death, the three women become fearful of their powers and agree to avoid each other and Daryl until the situation has quieted down. Upset by this abandonment, Daryl uses his own powers to bring their worst fears to life. Alex awakens to a bed full of snakes; Jane's body begins rapidly aging; and Sukie experiences sudden, agonizing pain. Realizing the only way to get rid of Daryl is by using witchcraft against him, the women reunite with him, pretending to have made amends.
The next morning, Daryl sets out to buy bagels and ice cream, as per the request of the three women. While he is out of the mansion, Alex uses candle wax and Daryl's hair to create a voodoo doll in his image and the three women begin to harm the doll, hoping that Daryl will leave as a result. As the spell takes effect, Daryl - still in town - is buffeted by a sudden wind and begins to feel excruciating pain (each event corresponding to something the doll undergoes). He runs inside a church to hide from the wind and finds it full of people praying. Realizing the source of his troubles, he begins ranting about the women, cursing them as a group before vomiting cherry pits like Felicia did. An enraged Daryl then races home to punish the witches for their betrayal. Realizing their plot to make Daryl leave was ineffective, they attempt to hide their spell and toss the voodoo doll into a fire just as he enters the mansion. Daryl vanishes as a result, but not before reverting to a large, monstrous form that attempts to shake the mansion apart.
Eighteen months later, the women are living together in Daryl's mansion, each with a new baby son (each boy shares his mother's hair color). The boys are playing together when Daryl appears on a wall filled with video screens and invites them to "give Daddy a kiss". Before they can do so, Alex, Jane and Sukie appear and switch off the televisions.
Differences from novel
While the film follows the basic structure of the novel, several major developments are dropped, with the book being darker in tone. The setting of both is Rhode Island, but the novel sets the time during the late 1960s. In the novel, Daryl is more devil-like: less of an enabler and more of a selfish, perverse predator and architect of mayhem. Also, the film omits a key episode in the book, where Daryl unexpectedly marries a young, innocent girl named Jenny, and the jealous three witches magically cause her to die of cancer. None of the three witches get pregnant and at the end Darryl flees town with Jenny's younger brother, Chris, apparently his lover. Also in the book Alexandra’s last name was Spofford, not Medford and Jane was Jane Smart, not Jane Spofford, and Sukie was Rougemont not Ridgemont. There are differences in their hair and build too; Alexandra is plump and Sukie is the redhead.
Jack Nicholson expressed interest in playing the role of Daryl through his then-girlfriend Anjelica Huston, after hearing that the original actor for the role, Bill Murray, had dropped out. Huston was in the running for the role of Alexandra Medford, and screen-tested opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, who had already been cast as Sukie, and Amy Madigan, who was being considered for the role of Jane. After giving a self-confessed "terrible" audition in which she struggled with the "tough" dialogue, Huston realized she had lost the role, and it was eventually offered to Cher.
While The Witches of Eastwick was originally set to be filmed in Little Compton, Rhode Island, Warner Bros. instead turned to Cohasset, Massachusetts, after controversy erupted in Little Compton over whether or not its Congregational church should be involved with the film's production. Principal photography began on July 14, 1986, and took place over the course of six weeks in Cohasset and nearby Massachusetts towns, such as Marblehead and Scituate. Castle Hill in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was used for the exterior of the Lenox Mansion, while the lobby of the Wang Center in Boston stood in for the main hall. Other interiors were filmed at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, though the swimming pool and Daryl's library were sets built on the Warner Bros. backlot.
Prior to filming, a small carving shop led by woodcarver Paul McCarthy was commissioned to hand-carve all the wooden signs for the businesses shown in the movie, including the newspaper where Michelle Pfeiffer's character worked – The Eastwick Word.
The Witches of Eastwick received positive reviews. It currently holds a rating of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews, with the consensus "A wickedly funny tale of three witches and their duel with the Devil, fueled by some delicious fantasy and arch comedic performances." On Metacritic, based on 10 critics, the film has a 68/100 rating, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The Washington Post wrote that "Hollywood pulls out all the stops here, including a reordering of John Updike's original book to give you one flashy and chock-full-o'-surprises witches' tale." Janet Maslin in The New York Times commended the "bright, flashy, exclamatory style." Variety described it as a "very funny and irresistible set-up."
Some critics thought that the last part of the film spiraled into ridiculousness. The Washington Post wrote that the second half "lost its magic and degenerated into bunk." According to The New York Times, "beneath the surface charm there is too much confusion, and the charm itself is gone long before the film is over." Time Out wrote that "the last 20 minutes dive straight to the bottom of the proverbial barrel with a final crass orgy of special effects." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, acknowledging that "the movie's climax is overdone" yet added that "a lot of the time this movie plays like a plausible story about implausible people."
The majority of critics saw the film as a showcase for Nicholson's comic talents. The Chicago Sun-Times thought it "a role he was born to fill... There is a scene where he dresses in satin pajamas and sprawls full length on a bed, twisting and stretching sinuously in full enjoyment of his sensuality. It is one of the funniest moments of physical humor he has ever committed." The New York Times wrote that although "the performers are eminently watchable... none of them seem a match for Mr. Nicholson's self-proclaimed 'horny little devil'." Variety called it a "no-holds-barred performance," and wrote that the "spectacle of the film is really Nicholson." The Washington Post wrote that Nicholson was "undisputably the star of The Witches of Eastwick, despite formidable competition from his coven played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon," although even more praise was reserved for Veronica Cartwright in an eccentric, scene-stealing supporting role.
Ruth Crawford wrote: "This film includes many fantasy elements. By far the most fantastic of them is the depiction of a single mother of five, who has to work for a living and still has plenty of time and energy left to engage in wild adventures of sex and magic. If being a witch gives you the ability to do that, quite a few women I know would be very happy to sign up at the nearest coven."
Awards and honors
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards in the categories of Best Original Score (for John Williams' music) and Best Sound, winning neither. The film won a BAFTA Award, however, in the category of Best Special Effects, and received a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Williams was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television, and won a BMI Film Music Award.
Jack Nicholson won a Saturn Award for Best Actor, and the film received nominations in a further six categories: Best Fantasy Film, Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Supporting Actress (Veronica Cartwright), Best Writing (Michael Cristofer), Best Music (John Williams), and Best Special Effects.
Jack Nicholson also won Best Actor awards from the New York Film Critics Circle (for his work in Witches, Ironweed and Broadcast News) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (for Witches and Ironweed), the latter shared with Steve Martin for Roxanne (1987).
|Academy Awards||Best Original Score||John Williams||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Wayne Artman,
Tom E. Dahl, and
|BAFTA Awards||Best Special Visual Effects||Michael Lantieri
|Grammy Awards||Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television||John Williams||Nominated|
|Hugo Awards||Best Dramatic Presentation||Nominated|
|Los Angeles Film Critics Association||Best Actor||Jack Nicholson||Won|
(tied with Steve Martin)
|New York Film Critics Circle||Best Actor||Jack Nicholson||Won|
|Saturn Awards||Best Fantasy Film||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Jack Nicholson||Won|
|Best Actress||Susan Sarandon||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Veronica Cartwright||Nominated|
|Best Writing||Michael Cristofer||Nominated|
|Best Music||John Williams||Nominated|
|Best Special Effects||Michael Lantieri||Nominated|
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