The very tone of the movie is established through Fairuza Balk’s performance. There is nothing subtle about it. In a full-fledged horror movie, or a run-of-the-mill teen flick, it would have been considered overacting. She chews the scenery like a wild animal. She shrieks, growls, and laughs maniacally, she purrs and hisses every line, and her physicality veers between shifty/slinky and completely deranged. One of the many memorable images occurs when Nancy is shoved into the floor by the school’s unscrupulous jock. She collapses into a dejected heap, then grabs the sides of her head and glances up at him with a look encompassing both deep hurt and deadly rage. This is right before she strikes at him in a truly disturbing manner.
Every time I watch this movie, visually I cannot help but think of Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter as a teenage girl. Balk embodies a similar sexual campiness, the same sinister demeanor, and the same wicked glee. I have no clue how common that comparison is, and it might have something to do with the fact that Curry was The Grand Wizard in Balk’s childhood film The Worst Witch, but I think it is accurate nonetheless.
By Karlene Catastrophe
Balk has always been sort of a B-lister, which is a little unfortunate. She is lovely in a creepy sort of way, and she has never shied away from the latter. The dark-haired beauty went from being a fairly busy child actor playing sweet roles (most notably Dorothy Gale in the dark-tinged Return to Oz) to a typecast femme fatale/ wicked woman. Her cute, childish voice with just a hint of raspiness oddly makes the roles she plays all the more sinister and adds to her sensual presence. She is named after her enchanting blue eyes (“Fairuza” means “turquoise” in Farsi). Balk has worked steadily for the past two decades, but she appeared the most in the late-90’s/early 2000s.
In The Craft, Balk is perfectly cast as Nancy Downs, the ringleader of an outcast coven of teen witches. Though each of the girls has qualities that make her the target of bullies, Nancy’s main social flaw, aside from rumors of promiscuity, seems to be her fascination with darkness. She dresses in head-to-toe black, wears dark makeup on her pale skin, piles on the spiky jewelry, and is basically the walking poster child for Hot Topic. The girls are witches in name and hobby only until Sarah, a girl with natural powers, comes along as their “fourth,” enabling them to strengthen their powers and cast actual spells.
The Craft has become an October staple for many, self-included. While the movie itself is entertaining, it’s Fairuza Balk who is the main attraction. She creates such frightening, yet pretty, images, and the earnestness of her performance really makes you buy the premise. You don’t doubt for a second that she is completely unhinged, and that she will use her perceived powers to destroy things. You also believe wholeheartedly that she is reveling in every second of it.
The Craft was sort of a gateway into the horror genre for teen girls. It was just edgy enough to entice wannabe goth girls (and gain the acceptance of real goth girls), spooky enough to bring the boys onboard, and silly enough to be mainstream. It was tongue-in-cheek but also completely earnest. It seamlessly intertwined teen angst with the dark arts. And, at the center of it all, was Fairuza Balk.