In 1996, The Craft proved a huge hit with teens, Instant Witches, and Dirty Old Men. The movie features a foursome of young witch wannabes who discover real power, and reap the consequences of abusing their abilities. Eventually, the plot leads to a showdown between dark witch Fairuza Balk and light witch Robin Tunney.

Later that same year, Little Witches made its direct-to-video appearance. It did stunningly well for a short time, before disappearing to the "previously viewed" bin and the dustier shelves of the horror section. It still manages some airplay and rental, mostly around Halloween. Little Witches features a substandard script, uneven acting, and passable special effects. It adds a little more forced "edge" to The Craft's premise, ratchets up the violence a little, and adds, of course, nudity. Naturally, it received no Oscars, but one might argue it deserves a few awards.

1. Most Blatant Rip-off of an Existing Film. Did somebody say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Studios live by the dictum, and entertainment industry executives more frequently ask "does this film proposal fit a trend?" than consider, "is it any damn good?" That said, even the most cynical and money-oriented executive might balk at the Ferengi ethics that went into this flick. The story involves a group of teenage girls practising real witchcraft at a Catholic High School where the students wear those kilted fetish outfits. Special effects and teen sexuality vie for equal screen time while the girls polarize between the fair good witch and the dark naughty witch. We have six instead of four enchantresses here, but otherwise, the ripping-off of The Craft is complete. In case anyone misses the resemblance, the video cover has naughty witch Sheeri Rappaport looking far more like The Craft's Fairuza Balk than she ever does in the film itself.

2. Most Gratuitous use of the Term, "Illuminati" in a Motion Picture. At one time, a person might have been considered alternative-hip 'cause they'd read Robert Anton Wilson or "got" The KLF's "Justified and Ancient." Not anymore: cultic jokes about the Illuminated Seers of Bavaria have gone quasi-mainstream. There's an Illuminati card game. Trendier "alternative" and "magick" bookshops generally devote a section to Wilson's work. I've been told that even an episode of the 1990s Gargoyles cartoon has a reference to every paranoiac's favourite mystic conspirators. I'm surprised Jay Leno made it to the twenty-first century without dropping them into a Tonight Show monologue.

But "Little Witches" takes the Devil's Food Cake, calling the teen coven "Illuminati" for absolutely no internally meaningful reason.1

3. Another 15 Minutes of Fame in the Horror Genre, Please Award. This goes to Zelda Rubinstien, best known as the quirky dwarvish psychic in Poltergeist films, the 1980s movies about a family who keeps moving into houses possessed by a Hollywood Special Effects Crew. Unable to get a mall opening, she appears in Little Witches as a similarly quirky dwarvish nun character.

4. Skeletons in the Closet Award. When I watched this back in '96, I thought the big award might be waiting for director Jane Simpson. Her direction occasionally rises above the "point-and-shoot," and suggests that better things might await her. And she seemed to know how to get ahead in the movie business; she directed a blatant copy of a financially successful film, added some nudity, and eliminated the cost of excessive extras by setting the film during a break in the school year. This was only her second movie, and yet it found its way, for a time, to the "Top Rental" shelves of videostores across North America. If I were an entertainment industry executive, I'd have taken notice. Like David Cronenberg, whose early, shlocky and exploitively disturbing early films made his later well-made and exploitively disturbing films possible, Simpson might have had a career ahead of her.

She still may. However, Little Witches appears to have been her last film of any note.2

Director: Jane Simpson
Writers: Brian DiMuccio, Dino Vindeni

Mimi Rose...Faith
Sheeri Rappaport...Jamie
Jennifer Rubin...Sister Sherilyn
Jack Nance...Father Michael
Zelda Rubinstein...Mother Clodah
Eric Pierpoint...Sheriff Gordon
Clea DuVall...Kelsey
Zoe Alexander...Nicole
Lalaneya Hamilton...Gina
Melissa Taub...Erica
Tommy Stork...Daniel
Sister Napolitano...Herself

1. *sigh* Unfortunately, since writing this review, the belief in an extant, world-dominating Illuminati (who seem, according to believers, inordinately obsessed with killing pop musicians for no really good reason and dropping obscure clues as to their own nefarious doings) has gone ridiculously mainstream.

2. Since this review was posted, Simpson has produced episodes of Biography for A&E.

This review is based on one I wrote years ago for Bad Movie Night.