One can see why this adaptation of John Updike’s novel was developed for Bill Murray; post Ghostbusters, the supernatural comedy genre was booming, even if the notoriously reluctant Murray was reluctant to play his part. Instead, Jack Nicholson steps up to play Daryl, the horny devil who arrives at a small New England township and tangles with three witches, played by Susan Sarandon, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a remarkable cast, top-drawer Hollywood, yet The Witches of Eastwick feels like its reputation has been tarnished by the years, no sequels, no revamps, and a product too riddled with sexual talk and nasty effects to gain traction with a tv audience.
Back in 1987, I hated this movie. For all the big production values of George Miller’s film, I simply didn’t get what it was about. If Daryl is the Devil, then he’s got a limited scope for his black arts; moving to a new house and seducing the locals seems to be all that’s on his mind. The witches fight back with supernatural powers, but what are the stakes here? And if this is a comedy, and it’s very broadly played, where are the laughs?
Returning to Miller’s film on Amazon Prime, The Witches of Eastwick has more to commend it, notably a Harry Potter-lite score from John Williams, an impressive stunt sequence in which the witches use voodoo-pins to tear Daryl through the roof of his speeding Mercedes, and a satirical feel for the mores of small-town life. Of course, it’s far broader than the novel, and excludes the darker elements in favour of a Death Becomes Her special-effects romp, but for all the childish energy, there’s an adult text trying to burst through the vomit.
But what does it mean? Rather than horror, this seems to be a dispatch from a war between men and women, accentuating the chauvinism of masculinity and banishing it via the home-spun witchery of the women. That message doesn’t quite sit right with Updike’s intent, but if you can take pleasure from watching the four mega-stars play an outlandish tennis match, there’s more here to enjoy for adults than thrill-seeking teens like myself circa 1987.