Something Wicked This Way Comes...
By Pamela Mayar
I must admit, when I first heard of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I was a bit skeptical as to why everyone was raving about it. Having grown up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I remember it being a fun coming-of-age show about a teen witch juggling her half-mortal/half-witch life with the help of her 500 year-old aunts, Hilda and Zelda Spellman, as well as their sassy, megalomaniac cat, Salem. As a young novice witch whose spells would often go awry, she depends on her aunts’ guidance to help solve the dilemmas that teenagers face as they figure out their place in the world.
The show enjoyed a successful 7 season run from 1996 to 2003, mainly due to its family-friendly programming on ABC and later on the WB. But it’s because of its family-friendly beginnings in the Archie comics and the family-oriented channels it premiered in that I did not think a revival of the character and its storyline would appeal to the current generation of comic-book readers. This is mainly due to the current popularity of non-super hero comics featuring dystopian future storylines, nihilistic themes, or offbeat characters such as Shirtless Bear Fighter.
Oh, how wrong I was.
In contrast to the original TV show, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a darker take on the teenage witch’s adventures released under the new Archie Horror imprint. Set in the fictional town of Greendale in the 1960s, the half-witch/half-mortal Sabrina Spellman lives with her aunts, Salem, and her British warlock cousin, Ambrose. As her sixteenth birthday draws near, she must choose between becoming a full-fledged witch and offering her soul to Satan or live life as a mortal with her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle. Meanwhile in Riverdale, Madame Satan, an old flame of Sabrina’s estranged father has returned from the depths of Hell seeking revenge on the Spellman family. Without giving much away, Aguirre-Sacasa’s take on Sabrina reads like it was inspired by classic horror and written in the vein of classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and Poltergeist. It was refreshing, intriguing, and most importantly, feminist.
Even though the comic book’s storyline partially revolves around Sabrina deciding to become a full-blown witch or remain mortal in order to experience real love with her high school sweetheart, Harvey (in a flashback, Hilda implies that real love cannot be experience as a witch), there is innate feminism that comes when exploring the life of a witch. The identity of the witch has always been one of self-sovereignty; someone in control of their feminine power who exercises their free will regardless of pushback from their oppressor. While the original TV show would have Sabrina learn a valuable lesson after using her powers for selfish gain, Aguirre-Sacasa’s Sabrina has yet to have a moral-filled neatly-wrapped issue. That’s not to say she’s evil and selfish, but this new depiction feels less restricted by standards and guidelines pushed by a family-friendly corporation.
I now have no doubt in my mind that Netflix’s adaptation of the comic will appeal strongly to lovers of classic horror who appreciate it when the subject matter isn’t ruined with fluff. If the show turns out to be anything like the comics, there will be less glitter and wand waving, more necromancy and ceremonial goat sacrifices.
In short, this show is going to be dope.