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The Witches of Eastwick (1987) is a comic horror fantasy film based on John Updike's novel of the same name. It was directed by George Miller, and starred Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, alongside Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as the eponymous witches.

Plot

Alexandra Medford (Cher), Jane Spofford (Susan Sarandon) and Sukie Ridgemont (Michelle Pfeiffer) are three dissatisfied women living in the small town of Eastwick, Rhode Islandmarker. Alexandra is a sculptress and single mother, music teacher Jane is newly divorced and childless, and journalist Sukie is an extraordinarily fertile woman with numerous small children. Having left or been abandoned by men, they unwittingly form a coven of sorts, which consists of weekly meetings during which they drink, play cards and share their fantasies about ideal men.

The day after one such coven meeting, an enigmatic man arrives in Eastwick and buys the Lennox mansion, a sprawling estate that was previously uninhabited. The riveting and charismatic stranger causes fascination among the townfolk, but angers local townswoman Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright), a conservative busybody who is married to newspaper editor Clyde Alden (Richard Jenkins). The stranger eventually makes his introduction to the whole town at a music recital; making a rather eccentric spectacle of himself, he is revealed to be Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). At the moment of Sukie remembering his name from her research, her beaded necklace inexplicably breaks and falls to the floor, causing Felicia to trip and fall down a large staircase, breaking her leg in the process.

Daryl sets about seducing the women one by one, beginning with self-assured Alexandra, who is at first appalled by his arrogance and bravado, before moving on to shy and reserved Jane, whom he encourages to be passionate and reckless. Inviting all three women over to the mansion, he turns his attentions finally to Sukie, creating a network of jealous rivalry between the women that leads to a supernatural game of tennis and reveals the first signs of their witchcraft abilities. They are later seen levitating above Daryl's swimming pool, enjoying their newfound powers.

As time goes on, the witches' continued presence at Daryl's mansion leads to gossip and consternation from the local townswomen who publicly snub Jane in a supermarket. Felicia in particular is incensed at the perceived immorality of their behaviour, but is dispatched in a particularly graphic scene by Daryl's casting of a spell that causes her to vomit the witches' discarded cherry stones; seeing her possessed, her husband kills her with a poker.

Suddenly horrified by the dangerous effects of their relationship with Daryl, the witches attempt to break all ties, but end up facing the horrific consequences of Daryl's hurt pride. Having previously recorded a conversation in which the three women confessed to their innermost fears, Daryl sets about making them come true supernaturally: Alexandra wakes up to find her bed full of snakes, Jane looks in a mirror and sees herself horrifically aged, and Sukie is subjected to unbearable pain that leaves her hospitalised. While recovering, it becomes clear that all three of the women are pregnant with Daryl's children.

Realising that the only way to get rid of Daryl is to use against him the powers he taught them, the witches cast a final spell that involves the manipulation of a Daryl-shaped voodoo doll, and the very trick that he used, through them, on Felicia, involving cherry stones. Having damaged the doll beyond repair, they break it and throw it into fire, and Daryl is depicted as disintegrating into flame.

An epilogue scene shows Alexandra, Jane, Sukie and their families all living in Daryl's mansion with the newborn male children fathered by Daryl. While the witches are otherwise occupied, Daryl appears on a television screen and tries to communicate with the three babies, but before he can accomplish anything, he is interrupted by the three women who point the remote control at him and switch him off.

Cast



Production

The Witches of Eastwick was filmed on location in Massachusettsmarker, USAmarker.

Critical reception

The Witches of Eastwick currently holds a rating of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Washington Post wrote that "Hollywood pulls out all the stops here, including a reordering of John Updike's original book to give you one flashy and chock-full-o'-surprises witches' tale." Janet Maslin in the New York Times commended the "bright, flashy, exclamatory style." Variety described it as a "very funny and irresistible set-up."

Some critics thought that the last part of the film spiralled into ridiculousness. The Washington Post wrote that the second half "lost its magic and degenerated into bunk." According to the New York Times, "beneath the surface charm there is too much confusion, and the charm itself is gone long before the film is over." Time Out wrote that "the last 20 minutes dive straight to the bottom of the proverbial barrel with a final crass orgy of special effects." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times acknowledged that "the movie's climax is overdone."

The majority of critics saw the film as a showcase for the comic talents of Jack Nicholson. The Chicago Sun-Times thought it "a role he was born to fill... There is a scene where he dresses in satin pajamas and sprawls full length on a bed, twisting and stretching sinuously in full enjoyment of his sensuality. It is one of the funniest moments of physical humor he has ever committed." The New York Times wrote that although "the performers are eminently watchable... none of them seem a match for Mr. Nicholson's self-proclaimed 'horny little devil'." Variety called it a "no-holds-barred performance," and wrote that the "spectacle of the film is really Nicholson." The Washington Post wrote that Nicholson was "undisputably the star of The Witches of Eastwick, despite formidable competition from his coven played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon," although even more praise was reserved for Veronica Cartwright in a scene-stealing supporting role.

Awards

The Witches of Eastwick was nominated for two Academy Awards in the categories of Best Original Score (for John Williams's music) and Best Sound, winning neither. The film won a BAFTA Award, however, in the category of Best Special Effects, and received a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. John Williams was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television, and won a BMI Film Music Award.

Jack Nicholson won a Saturn Award for Best Actor, and the film received nominations in a further six categories: Best Fantasy Film, Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Supporting Actress (Veronica Cartwright), Best Writing (Michael Cristofer), Best Music (John Williams), and Best Special Effects.

Jack Nicholson also won Best Actor awards from the New York Film Critics Circle (for his work in Witches, Ironweed and Broadcast News) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (for Witches and Ironweed), the latter shared with Steve Martin for Roxanne (1987).


Awarding Body Award Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Original Score John Williams nomination
Best Sound Wayne Artman
Tom Beckert
Tom E.



Dahl
Art Rochester


nomination
BAFTA Awards Best Special Visual Effects Michael Lantieri
Michael Owens
Ed Jones
Bruce Walters


winner
Grammy Awards Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television John Williams nomination
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation nomination
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor Jack Nicholson winner
(tied with Steve Martin)
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Jack Nicholson winner
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film nomination
Best Actor Jack Nicholson winner
Best Actress Susan Sarandon nomination
Best Supporting Actress Veronica Cartwright nomination
Best Writing Michael Cristofer nomination
Best Music John Williams nomination
Best Special Effects Michael Lantieri nomination


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