Throwback Thursdays: Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost

(via allocine)

When deciding what to write about this week, I was torn between a comic and this movie… and then the universe sent me a sign: a gif of one of the Hex Girls, free of context or even any tags, on my Tumblr dash. I’m not one to turn down the universe, so here we are. This is one of the few Scooby-Doo movies close to my heart that I haven’t reviewed for this column yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable watch.

Spoilers for the story below the jump!

This movie holds a special place in my heart because the main non-Scooby-gang character is a Stephen King send-up of a New England horror novelist, played by none other than Tim Curry. (Although sadly, it seems, a Tim Curry attempting to do a slightly less chewy accent than normal.) He invites the Scooby gang back to his sleepy hometown, only to discover on arriving that it’s not so sleepy anymore. There’s a new fall festival in town, complete with a goth-y girl group playing a concert and a new rumor of a witch’s ghost tormenting the citizens. The ghost is apparently none other than the ancestor of Ben Ravencroft (fake Stephen King), and Ravencroft insists said ancestor was not so much a devil-worshipping witch as a misunderstood herbalist—a Wiccan, even, persecuted for the efficacy of her cures. Ben’s been searching for her journal for years, ostensibly to clear her name.

The gang wanders around the town, seeing the old-timey Puritan village sights, stumbling onto a dress rehearsal of the Hex Girls’ show (the aforementioned goth-rock girl group), and finally encounters the eponymous witch’s ghost—although after it disappears, Velma finds residues of special-effects chemicals. After some sleuthing and a few red herrings, they quickly discover that the witch’s ghost who attacked them was (shocker) a guy in a mask, a spectacle put together by the mayor and some locals to keep drawing crowds to the town.

However, in discovering this, they finally put together the location of Sarah’s grave, and thus, her journal. Which turns out to be, not a journal, but a proper spellbook, because Sarah was not a Wiccan, but a proper witch. This means Ben’s got magical powers too, and he casts some nasty spells (while making some truly terrible puns) imprisoning people and summoning fireballs and evil spirits. He frees Sarah, and tries to bind her to his will, but she’s not into that and starts to destroy everything. Ben realizes the error of his ways, but only a Wiccan’s good-magic powers could possibly bind her. It works out, then, that one of the Hex Girls is 1/16th Wiccan (because apparently that’s an… ethnicity now?). Sarah is successfully banished and drags Ben down with her. The Hex Girls conclude the story with another bop, and no one seems remotely concerned that they just saw a bunch of magic shit and a guy getting pulled into Hell.

Welp. (via scoobydoodaily)

This movie is… a wild ride. To some extent, the big reveal is a bit of a let-down; the gang wraps up the fake witch mystery so quickly that there has to be something else going on. Not to mention that Ben, a famous and reclusive novelist, is way too friendly and familiar with the gang from the get-go. When it’s revealed that he tricked Mystery, Inc into coming to the town in the first place in hopes that they’d be able to sleuth up the location of Sarah’s spellbook, it’s kind of like, “Oh. Yup. That tracks.” rather than a big, gasp-inducing shock. And when ol’ Ben “wealthy white male novelist with a ponytail” Ravencroft tries to bend Sarah, a clearly powerful witch, to his own will, it’s more of a vindication of his nastiness than a surprise. After all, he has just spent the entire movie playing on Velma’s love of his books in order to manipulate her.

Pictured: A Wiccan(???) in action. (via scoobydoodaily)

Probably the weirdest part of the story is the inclusion of Wicca. Like, it very much reads as if the writers knew that Wiccans were practitioners of magic who ascribe to a “harm none” philosophy, but not that Wiccan and witch are mostly synonymous terms, and that either way Wicca is a religion (a fairly recently founded one) and not a …blood type? It’s not inherited like Jewishness, and anyway, having Jewish heritage doesn’t give you magical powers. (Or, well, not that I know of. My roommate was cagey about it when I asked.) Given that Wicca was introduced to the world around the 1950s, it’s almost biologically impossible for this girl to have had a great-great grandparent who practiced Wicca specifically as opposed to one of the specific, older Pagan traditions it’s based on.

That said, I don’t know if the Scooby-Doo creators were aware of quite what they were creating in the Hex Girls, who are, among other things, #goals. In fact, they were so popular that they appeared again in a later movie, Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire (having apparently hit it bigtime, as in this movie they’re playing a fall fair in their hometown and in their next appearance they’re playing an international music festival in Australia). The Hex Girls were cool, they were hot, they were self-identified eco-goths, which the movie never defines but which sounds awesome, and when this came out in 1999, I wanted nothing more than to be part of the Hex Girls. Also, their introductory song is a banger and no one can tell me otherwise.

Also, unlike original female characters in some of the other movies in the Scooby-Doo ouevre, the Hex Girls are not introduced as romantic interests for any of the male characters, nor do their feminine wiles play into the story at all. After all, they are teenagers. There is a bit of the usual “Daphne being jealous that Freddy clearly thinks they’re good-looking, but they’re not dating so she can’t really say anything” schtick, but even that is less pointed than usual, and we almost get a doki-doki love confession moment when Velma teases Freddy about the way he always splits the team up. Once they’re alone, Daphne pursues the point, and Freddy is about to come clean when they’re distracted again by the investigation.

The story is still a big hot failure at racial representation, of course. While it feels slightly less egregious when the setting is rural New England versus New Orleans, it’s still pretty unforgivable. The only potential character of color is the Hex Girls’ keyboardist Luna, whose skin is a bit darker and hair is a bit more voluminous than the other girls’, but judging from a Google search of all her appearances, she’s been everything from palest white to definitely brown over the course of the Hex Girls’ existence. I did notice one genuinely Black background character in the Puritan village, and despite the deep understanding I have that there was only one Black person because of the creators’ subconscious racial biases, another part of me wants to say that it’s because the white guy she was with brought her, and Black people have better sense and better things to do than to watch white people in costume relive the 1600s in an apparently haunted town.

All in all, though, this is an enjoyable watch. I love these cheesy old movies to death and despite their sometimes major flaws, I still have a good time when I sit down with one. If you’re in the mood for some Rooby-rooby-roo, this is a solid choice.

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