Even in the wild filmography of Australian director George Miller (helmsman of the Mad Max, Babe and Happy Feet franchises), his 1987 comedy The Witches of Eastwick is something of an outlier, featuring zero car chases or talking animals; just the plain old story of three bored women (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon) inadvertently summoning the devil (Jack Nicholson).
In a piece of casting so natural it is practically inevitable, Nicholson’s Satan is all snarl and smut, arriving in Eastwick like a tornado to seduce the titular trio. The accidental coven are a bubbling cauldron of chemistry who put the hair in harem, at first liberated by “Daryl Van Horne” before he becomes another raving misogynist, ranting and railing against the evils of female independence. More feminist than The Witches or The Craft, John Updike’s story positions the women as the true power-bearers, on which Daryl’s extreme masculinity leeches and feeds.
For his Hollywood debut, Miller rises to the occasion with great gags and special effects (including an explosive cherry pit vomiting scene) that serve rather than interrupt the plot, conjuring a camp horror tone not unlike Death Becomes Her and Addams Family Values. It even shares the latter’s 7-foot actor Carel Struycken (of TNG fame) and emphasis on “family values”, that pillar of Reaganite America espoused in the film by philandering men, and ultimately used by Van Horne to guilt-trip his consorts after they leave him: “I want my family back together.”
This bewitching tale of sisterhood and sexism sports an ace tennis sequence, the steamiest cello recital since Jazz on a Summer’s Day and a John Williams score that proves the devil has all the best tunes. Consistently hilarious, it belongs to the Ghostbusters school of 1980s comedy, where the supernatural premise is treated with just enough sincerity to keep us on the right side of reality. Nicholson is the cherry on top, beating Al Pacino and Gabriel Byrne to claim the title of Hollywood’s horniest devil, at least of those operating largely within the confines of the law.