TV film review: Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996), directed by Tibor Takács
You may remember a certain TV sitcom about a teenaged witch who lived with her two witch aunts and a talking cat called Salem. This TV film is the precursor to that series. And much like the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the series that came after was a vast improvement.
Sabrina Sawyer (Melissa Joan Hart) lives with her aunts Hilda (Sherry Miller) and Zelda (Charlene Fernetz) while her parents are on a long European vacation.
About to turn 16, Sabrina lives a normal teenager’s life. She hangs out with her free-spirited friend Marnie (Michelle Beaudoin, who is the only other cast member from the film to make it on to the TV series – where she played the same character, only re-named Jenny), lusts after jock Seth (a spotty, young Ryan Reynolds), and has an ardent admirer in Harvey (Tobias Mehler).
Everything could be just peachy, if it wasn’t for queen bee Katy Lemore (Lalainia Lindbjerg) taking an instant dislike to Sabrina. After all, just because Katy dumped boyfriend Seth to spice up the relationship doesn’t mean he can go around chatting up other girls! Well, so there’s Katy and her crew (one of whom is Laura Harris, Maggie in Severance), and also the fact that at the full moon after her 16th birthday, Sabrina finds out she’s a witch … as is her entire family!
A love-sick, hormone-ridden teenager with magical powers? What could possibly go wrong?
One of the things that’s striking about this film is “OMG IT’S SO NINETIES, LOL!” I was 13-14 in 1996 and this film definitely was something I could relate to, in an odd sort of way. The second were everyone wearing bikinis. Not that they were in bikinis (there was a pool party, see) but that times have changed so much since this film was made. The girls look healthy and natural (Hart’s black bikini looked fab!) – and yet, today, they would most likely be scorned for being “too fat” despite being nothing of the sort. What the hell happened to us since then to adopt these ridiculous notions?
Anyway; the film. It’s not really funny, for starters. It’s mostly a film about teenagers struggling with love and rivalry. It should come as no surprise that Seth is a complete douchebag, and Katy … she’s just evil. Harvey – cute, sweet, darling Harvey – manages to cross the line from being the constantly over-looked friend who’s (not so) secretly in love with Sabrina to actually being creepy. I mean, he gatecrashes a party by sneaking around in the bushes just so he can be near Sabrina. Dude, that’s not charming, that’s stalking!
However, it does highlight important issues, like not going with your prom date to “Lookout Point” (or whatever the local spot is for young ‘uns to drive to and make out) because he only really wants to get inside your knickers. Fortunately, Sabrina does the Good Role Model thing and tells him where to stick it and walks off. She would have been an even better role model had she told him to feck off before leaving the prom, because really? She’s that naive?
“Say you and I drive up to Lookout Point right about now?”
“Oh gee, I’m not sure …”
“Everyone else is going.”
“Oh yeah. Everyone else is definitely going. Don’t you trust me?”
“Right. Manipulation by guilt. Well, you’re obviously lying just to convince sceptical li’l old me to come make out with you. Like it’s a good idea for a girl to get into a car with a guy she doesn’t actually know (and who has shown himself to be a total jerk during, oh, the whole prom) to go to a famously secluded spot and potentially either do something I’m not ready to do but get talked into doing because I don’t want to be slut-shamed if I don’t, or I’ll just simply get raped. Brilliant idea. No thanks, jerkwad, I’ll pass.”
Hrm. At least it has a happy ending. And I mean that in the Disney sense of the phrase, not dodgy massage parlour.
If anything, this humdrum high school drama about a young witch coming into her powers has made me want to see the TV series again. I used to watch it in the afternoons when I came home from school. It was amusing. Salem’s dry wit (not half as dry in this film, boo) was always fun. What was the most confusing thing with the film was that the aunts seem to have swapped places. Here, Hilda is the serious one and Zelda is the more emotional one. It’s supposed to be the other way around! The cast does okay with what they’ve got, but I still prefer the TV show’s aunts, Salem and Harvey. Sabrina … well, she’s just Sabrina. Or, as I was thinking at the time, “a slightly older Clarissa”.
The film’s meh. Good for a bit of nostalgia, but that’s about it.
2 out of 5 full moons.