By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Binge watching the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix made the day transition to night quick. On Halloween, it was the perfect show to get into the festive mood. The live-action adaptation of a nearly 50-year-old franchise and the comic book of the same name was perfect. This darker version is a departure of the light-hearted material from years past and has an odd Harry Potter style vibe to it.
The world of the mortals and “immortals” (magic users have longer lives) were once at odds centuries ago. The latter were hunted down and the mythos point to thirteen witches who took the fall so the rest may live.
The occult war is forgotten in the present day, except by those families directly involved. The Witches, according to the creative minds of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack, were hated because they practice Satanism over druidism. A long time ago, the ancient arts were regarded as evil by Christianity. In this religion, free will does not exist and atheist beliefs hardly got a push. Those who follow it obey the dark lord’s grand design. Compare that to the actual practices from the Church of Satan, the differences are many. In fiction, a lot of ideas are taken for granted in a demonized context. It makes for better storytelling than to preach.
Central to this work is in whether Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) can do good. In what world does her heart belong to? Also key is in how she loves Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), a mortal.
Just as important is her struggle to fit in, not only in school but also in the wizarding community much like a certain J.K. Rowling character. Purebloods despite half-breeds. Sabrina has a mortal mother and a magic-using father, who also was the headmaster of the coven. Within this community, the mix supposedly taints ones wizarding potential.
She’s a Hufflepuff being coerced to go to a school taught by many Slytherin. Later in the series, we learn the father promised his daughter would serve the Dark Lord. I kept on smirking. Satan is no Voldemort, and the backstory to why she is important to the devil still needs to be clearly defined. Does he need her to further his grasp to the mortal realm? Just because her soul is promised to evil so Edward (the patriarch of the Spellman family) can wed Diana, the human, is a thin motive.
In the Bewitched (1964) TV Series, Samantha Stephens led a mixed life; she married a mortal. Her mother, Endora, tolerated the relationship and from time to time reminded her the council never liked dual citizenship. This show was more of a sitcom than a serious soap opera about rife in the family ala Dark Shadows. When the happy couple had children, a few episodes looked at taking them away so they can be raised as full of practitioners of the mystic arts. From time to time, cultural and clan tolerance gets explored. This new series gets heavy with it, not only in the magic using community but also with the humans they live alongside within Glendale.
Chilling Tales respects some of its roots. It also pays tribute to other masters of horror. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch House gets a creative reinvention; Stephen King’s Carrie is also alluded to; I can find a touch of Sam Raimi whenever the demon Sakai manifests, and Washington Irving‘s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow gets syncretic with Edgar Allan Poe‘s Masque of the Red Death and the list does not end there. The series is just as much of a love letter to the horror genre as it is a character drama.
Shilpa’s transition to a lovelorn tween to diabolical after she turns sixteen is terrific. She is in control much like how Barnabas Collins realized his vampire potential. Even before becoming a full-on witch, she is a personality not to be reckoned with. She is loyal to her friends and will stop at nothing to help them. When the weight of wanting to fit in the two cultures become a juggling act, her actions will define her.
Lynch’s transition from teenage romance comedies to dramas is not too radically different. His charm works in favour of making the chemistry with any female lead work, but I hope he is not getting typecast. He can stand on his own and I’m waiting for that one serious role to make him complete that transition.
The complex character developments found here is more often about embracing the dark side. Kinkle has to make difficult choices by the season’s end. One concern dealing with his brother (brought back from the dead in “The Returned Man”) and the other about his future with Sabrina (“The Witching Hour.”)
Other characters include Zelda, the elder of Sabrina aunts, she is very full of evil while the younger is for the ride. She’s the moral compass and is perhaps the one who sees hope despite all that’s unholy going on with the remaining Spellman family. These two share a Cain and Abel style relationship ala Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series. This particular family dysfunction gets deeper exploration in the fifth episode.
All these references make this series enjoyable. Add the coming of the Apocalypse in the form of the Dark One, and there’s no need to read the bible. This series is terrific when this evil has no other adversity other than itself. This approach is better than a universal good versus evil conflict. As for who is a greater threat, the tease concerning a biblical evil (before the King James version was written), and a certain idiom about hell hath no fury than a woman scorned, will have me tuning in!
4 Stars out of 5