THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK—‘Daryl Van Horne’, eccentric newcomer to the sleepy hamlet of Eastwick, Rhode Island, has described himself as “Just your average, horny little devil.” After demonstrating his woo technique on local single ‘Alexandra’ she volleys back: “I think… no, I am positive… that you are the most unattractive man I have ever met in my entire life. You know, in the short time we’ve been together, you have demonstrated EVERY loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones. You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you’re morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humor and you smell. You’re not even interesting enough to make me sick.”
Naturally, she then has wild sex with him.
Since devilish Daryl is Jack Nicholson and Alexandra is Cher, we know not to take his sexist smirks and her involuntary volunteering the wrong way: it’s a comedy, Karen. Directed by Mad Max conjurer George Miller, the script by Michael Cristopher was loosely adapted from John Updike’s satiric yet considerably darker novel. The 11th most-seen movie of 1987 co-stars Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as ‘Jane’ and ‘Sukie’, Alexandra’s manless, carnally frustrated girlfriends who also fall under the spell of the mystifying, wish-fulfilling new guy in town. Before they wise up, the burg’s uptight religion-clinger ‘Felicia’ smells a sulfurous rat beneath Daryl’s designs. All Hell will break loose, and we know that often first involves projectile barfing. It’s the pits that get you.
Funny movie goes chaotic in the last quarter, with unexpected special effects spiraling it toward a “what was this all for?’ conclusion. It was not an easy shoot, starting with Miller being forced to take Cher, who he adamantly didn’t want. She promptly used her clout to swap roles with Sarandon, who didn’t find out that deal was done until she showed up to start work. As it was the switch worked, the effervescent Sarandon’s much better in the role she got (and drop dead gorgeous) and Cher’s sarcasm works well in the one she stole. Producer Jon Peters was a nightmare for all concerned.
Nicholson gets to play it as big as possible and has some great meltdowns, Jack-style. Sweetly beauteous Pfeiffer is charming; the character and her casting drew a choice observation from Ruth M. Crawford: “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.”
While Nicholson goes Jack wild, and the three sexy leading ladies romp with gleeful abandon, a real tour de force comes from Veronica Cartwright, going above & beyond as the crazed Felicia. John Williams exuberant score was Oscar nominated as was the Sound. They didn’t win but the real loser was Cartwright, not getting nominated for her maniacally untethered performance, a highlight in a career peppered with explosive displays of raw emotion.
Made for $22,000,000, shot in small towns in Massachusetts. Critics applauded the acting, complained about the tonal shifts. Patrons plunked down $63,767,000.
With Richard Jenkins, Keith Jochim and Carel Struycken. 118 minutes.