The Witches of Eastwick (1987) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA - R for strong sexual references, disturbing images, and language
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Veronica Cartwright, Richard Jenkins, Keith Jochim, Carel Struycken
Director: George Miller
Screenplay: Michael Cristofer (based on the novel by John Updike)
Review published September 19, 2011
Loosely based on the 1984 best-selling novel of the same name by John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick is a broadly dark, risqué comedy. It features a stellar cast, and Jack Nicholson (Prizzi's Honor, The Postman Always Rings Twice) doing what he does best, play horny imp in over-the-top fashion, chewing up much scenery along the way.
However, the film's stars, as bankable and terrific as they are, get eclipsed by the film's very showy special effects, which are definitely impressive, but come at the expense of the story, which doesn't have much of a clear destination except to give more and more scenes of debauchery and mayhem, while delivering even more displays of the visual effects. Tastelessness overtakes the film rather early, though some may be amused by this, until ultimately growing darker and rather distasteful as the climax takes root.
The plot revolves around three divorced, sexually repressed women -- the spunky artist Alexandra (Cher, Moonstruck), the journalist and fertile mother of six Sukie (Pfeiffer, Scarface), and the reserved teacher and cellist Jane (Sarandon, Bull Durham) -- who meet regularly to do what mature female friends might do, though there is no question that their lack of romance is making their spare time awfully stale. After they begin to imagine aloud the kind of ideal man they'd like to meet, a stranger blows into their colonial Rhode Island town named Daryl Van Horne, who is, literally, the Devil in disguise.
The paunchy Van Horne sets up residence in a local mansion with a history of witchcraft, then seduces each of the three, and shortly thereafter, bizarre events begin to occur in the gossipy, puritanical town they reside in. Trouble begins to brew when the townsfolk begin to think something immoral is going on in the Van Horne residence, while the three 'witches' begin to think their male cohort has begun to take too much advantage of them, leaving them in a dangerous situation.
The themes of sexual liberation and the battle of the sexes are the thematic highlights, though these aspects fall by the wayside far too often for the film to rise above its unevenness. The mix of fantasy and horror, in addition to the romance and comedy, increases the film's appeal to a quite a few genre fanatics, though it is the horror elements in particular that erodes much of the good cheer served by the ribald comedy. The scoring by John Williams (Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi) is robust, and does maintain the light tone even when the subject matter turns dark, but at the same time, it's not among his most memorable works.
Fans of the actors may be more forgiving of this rather anemic story, as they each have their moments to shine, including a sizable role for a terrific Veronica Cartwright (Flight of the Navigator, Nightmares) as the ultra-conservative busybody neighbor and domineering wife, Felicia. As the film nears the end, Aussie director George Miller (The Road Warrior, Happy Feet) cranks up the lunacy quotient and whatever tenuous storyline he had been trying to maintain becomes unhinged as he reaches for comedic heights that the script by Michael Cristofer (Mr. Jones, The Bonfire of the Vanities) can't support. If you enjoy seeing Nicholson go way over the top in any movie, there is plenty here to keeps you satisfied, even if such delights come at the expense of a furthering of interesting plot developments.
-- Remade as a TV movie in 1992 and in 2002.
©2011 Vince Leo