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Culture > Entertainment

How ‘Practical Magic’ Became a Halloween Cult Classic

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northeastern chapter.

Practical Magic has an intriguing and promising plot. Set in a small New England town, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian Owens (Nicole Kidman), two sisters from a family of witches, have a crash course on dark magic to overcome a familial curse: the man they fall in love with will suffer from a terrifying death.

It’s difficult to overstate how much the film critics brutally slammed Practical Magic when it came out 21 years ago. Rita Kempley from The Washington Post called it a “less-than-beguiling brew” with the power of “making audiences disappear.” Roger Elbert, whose verdicts could make or break a film at that time, deemed it an absolute overkill, “too scary for children and too childish for adults.” No doubt Practical Magic tanked with moviegoers that fall, earning approximately $68 million worldwide on a sizeable $60 million budget despite Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock’s star power. However, the movie has managed to gain a cult following since then; and it isn’t hard to pinpoint the ingredients that turned a flop into a classic.  

It’s a mix of rom com, drama, and horror.

Practical Magic is a diamond in multiples facets. Many of its scenes are winsome and fluffy like a twentysomethings’ version of Teen Witch, but with a stronger feminist theme achieved by adopting the dramatic elements of Thelma & Louise, before venturing into the supernatural territory established by The Exorcist. Watching the movie is the same as taking an adventure through a small town, a deserted island, and a really really dark alley. 

It’s about family, sisterhood, and community.

Practical Magic remains relevant as it centers on the tragicomedy and rejection of the traditional family unit and further explores their impact on the community’s perception of the Owens’ sisters. The film raises the question of how independent women embark on journeys of self-actualization to find and make their voices heard. The movie also acknowledges that abuse and trauma are things that happen too often and that women need to support each other to get out of the darkness.    

Its visual language is strong.

Practical Magic is set in a seemingly peaceful town in Massachusetts with absolutely beautiful scenery. The cinematography alone will make the audience want to crawl through and live in each and every scene. Plus, the big, white, Victorian house where the sisters live exudes a versatile ambiance that adds depth to very different types of scenes, from cute to heart-breaking and comedic to gloomy.         

The undeniable allure of the 90s fashion trends.

The sisters also wear the very best of the 90s — from the rich-patterned maxi dresses to the “it” chokers adding edgy elements to the outfits. And what goes around comes around, fashion and beauty once considered cool in the 90s is now cool again. Practical Magic can be your guide to the 90s fashion trends and how to rock most of them today, and maybe a few for Halloween.  

So what are you waiting for? Time to binge Practical Magic all over again!

Amelia Tran

Northeastern '22

I am a student in Finance and Accounting who loves writing, reading, and traveling to explore new cultures.