Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is probably not what fans were expecting in a return to the world of Sabrina Spellman.
Inspired by the zany comic and later fantasy sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Archie Comics’ Chilling Adventures – which launched in 2014 – offered a much darker take on the Sabrina story.
Where Teenage Witch was a light-hearted look at the life of a teenage half-mortal, half-witch girl, Chilling Adventures would be downright spooky.
This Sabrina-by-way-of-the-horror-genre approach is exactly what Netflix wanted when they commissioned the show for what has proven to be a popular and critically well-received run.
With the next batch of episodes of the show available to stream now, we run down 20 things you didn’t know about the making of, origins and influences of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
20. It exists in the same universe as Riverdale
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale are both comic book adaptations with a way darker tone than their source material, but it turns out that’s not the only thing they have in common. The two shows actually take place in the same universe and just towns apart, with several references being thrown into both shows as Easter Eggs for fans!
Not only do several characters in season one reference the town of Riverdale by name, but there’s an even subtler nod laid out for eagle-eyed fans. On one of the bookshelves of Baxter High, there’s a carving of a very familiar crown, as well as a message confirming that “Jughead was here”.
19. In fact, there’s even a crossover character
As if the dozens of tiny references weren’t convincing enough, the creators of both Sabrina and Riverdale went out of their way to tease fans longing for a crossover. Though no witches stormed the banks of Sweetwater River, and no cheerleaders showed up at the gates of the Academy of Unseen Arts, season 3 of Riverdale included a pretty blatant tie-in.
Remember Ben Button, the Riverdale character who died tragically after jumping out of his hospital window? Well, either he survived or the Archie Comics multiverse has been confirmed. That’s because he showed up in the seventh episode of Sabrina season one just a week later, delivering a pizza to Mrs Wardwell… which of course doomed him all over again.
18. The show was sued by the actual Satanic Church
Lawsuits have pretty much been accepted as a part of the entertainment industry, however inconvenient they might sometimes be. However, I doubt anyone at Netflix expected their Sabrina reboot to cause so much trouble, especially with the real-life Satanic Temple.
That’s right, the first season of Chilling Aventures caused a serious stir among Satanists, who were concerned that the statue of Baphomet in the Academy of Unseen Arts too closely resembled the one in their own headquarters. Not only that, but they were worried the dark acts depicted in the show (such as necromancy and even cannibalism) might reflect badly on real life Satanists and their teachings!
17. It was originally way less dark
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is hardly afraid of dark subject matter, with the first season alone including multiple scenes of sisters killing each other and then resurrecting them in the backyard. This is in line with the horror comic it is based on of course, but if it wasn’t for Netflix swooping in to snatch up the show, it could have had a very different tone.
This is because the show was supposed to run on CW, who have in the past hosted shows like Charmed, Supernatural and The Originals. Despite Sabrina fitting perfectly into this roster theme-wise, the creators were determined to push the envelope with dark humour and even straight up horror imagery, which the network execs of the channel weren’t too keen on them doing.
16. Other comic books inspired the show
Though the show has its own plot beats and character arcs, it’s pretty straightforwardly adapted from The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, a comic book series that was the first to put a darker spin on the classic Archie comic. However, there are references and allusions to other characters throughout, such as Benjamin Button and even Dorian Grey.
If you caught those Easter Eggs then well done, but there’s an even deeper allusion in the lore. Hilde and Zelda’s relationship echoes another famous comics duo, that of Cain and Abel in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, who also have a tendency to murder each other over and over again. Just a coincidence? Well maybe, but the patch of ground Zelda buries Hilde in is called the Cain Pit after-all…
15. It has real witches working on the production staff… kind of
We’ve already seen that Sabrina came under fire from the Satanic Temple, and it turns out they’re not the only religion to be wary of the show. Pagans, Wiccans and secular witches of all kinds were nervous when news of the reboot reached them, since it portrays witches and magic not just as dangerous, but as downright evil.
However, some pagans were excited about the show’s potential, some even enough so to get involved themselves! One production designer in particular said that as a practising pagan she understood the concerns, but that the show “wasn’t made to offend”. Talking about the satanic influences in the show, she even went so far as to say “It’s the same thing to me as when you watch The Spirit of Christmas and Santa comes down the chimney. Santa’s not real, and we understand that”.
14. At it’s heart it’s a coming of age story
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina might have all manner of ghosts and ghouls involved in it, but at its heart it’s a simple coming of age story. It’s no accident that Sabrina is days from turning sixteen when season one opens, and that she spends much of the first season trying to figure out her place in the world, as well as where her mortal friends and boyfriend fit in.
The creators have also said that the Church of Night represents the patriarchy and that, by rebelling against their teachings and traditions, Sabrina is actually finding her autonomy and value as a woman in a male-dominated space.
13. There are horror references everywhere!
There’s no denying that The Chilling Adventures is steeped in horror images in general: what with every episode centring around witches, demons, ghosts and satan. However, there’s also some pretty specific horror movie references too, ones that any fan of the genre should be able to pick out of a scene.
For example, pay close attention to the ceiling in the Spellman’s parlour, and you should recognise the iconic window from underground horror classic Suspiria. Not only that, but in one early episode Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey is cosplaying as Johnny Depp’s character in The Nightmare On Elm Street, wearing the same shirt he dons in his iconic death scene.
12. Salem can’t talk for a reason
The original Sabrina The Teenage Witch show is beloved for a whole host of reasons, but maybe the most iconic of all is Salem. Even now, gifs of his sassy facial expressions and hilarious one-liners are all over the internet, and when the reboot was announced fans were eagerly awaiting his return.
Unfortunately, it was decided early on that a talking cat didn’t exactly mesh with the horror tone the creators were going for, and besides, the original Salem was just too perfect to mess with. However, Salem almost wasn’t in the show at all, since Kiernan Shipka – the actress that plays Sabrina – is severely allergic to cats, and can’t cuddle, pet or even be around them for long!
11. Season three is already on the horizon
Season two of The Chilling Adventures has literally only just hit Netflix, but it’s all too easy for the whole thing to fly by in just one spooky binge session. If that’s exactly what happened to you, don’t worry though, as I have good news that should hold you over until the next chapter of Sabrina & Co’s misadventures.
Back in December, Sabrina was swiftly renewed for a third season, but Netflix also signed them on to do a fourth as well! Not only did that surprise and delight fans, but the team behind the show were pretty happy too, with the creator’s statement beginning “Praise Satan!”
10. Hellraiser and Candyman’s Clive Barker provides the show’s artwork
Clive Barker isn’t just a novelist, director and writer known for his work on novels including the Hellraiser series and films including Hellraiser, Candyman and Nightbreed. The Brit polymath is also a painter, whose artwork can be seen all over Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
The show’s production designer, Lisa Soper, recently revealed that the artwork in the Academy of Unseen Arts is done by horror legend Barker. Barker has contributed more than 150 paintings to the show.
9. Pay attention to Zelda’s newspapers…
Clearly, a lot of effort goes into the design of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and not just in the stuff that’s front and centre of the frame – there are also throwaway background details aplenty. Take Zelda’s morning reading as an example.
In each episode, Aunt Zelda is seen reading a different newspaper at the breakfast table, always in a different language. The visual gag suggests that Zelda is fluent in multiple languages, including French, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Spanish and German.
8. Kiernan Shipka got the part because of her hair
It couldn’t have hurt that Kiernan Shipka auditioned to play Sabrina Spellman while still an actual teenager, something that made her more appropriate for the role than Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s Melissa Joan Hart ever was.
Shipka’s age wasn’t the most important reason behind her being hired, however; her hair was. Though Shipka had auditioned with long brown hair, she was asked to come back and audition again with short blonde hair. She did and won the part.
7. Roz and Harvey are (apparently) dating IRL
In season two of Chilling Adventures, fans were treated to a bombshell romance between two characters who probably should have thought twice: Roz, Sabrina’s best friend, and Harvey, Sabrina’s ex-boyfriend.
It’s been rumoured that the on-screen chemistry comes from somewhere deeper than words on the page because, in real life, Roz and Harvey actors Jaz Sinclair and Ross Lynch are reportedly dating for real.
6. The show was inspired by Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina most definitely isn’t one for family audiences as Sabrina the Teenage Witch was. In fact, the Netflix show was inspired by some of the scariest movies ever made.
Last year, showrunner Aguirre-Sacasa told Entertainment Weekly: “The idea was to do a dark horror version of Sabrina, something that was more of a slow-burn horror, like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and all those great satanic horror movies from the 1960s and 1970s.”
5. Seasons 1 and 2 were filmed back to back
Technically, the first two ‘seasons’ of Chilling Adventures were supposed to be two parts of one inaugural season – not that that hasn’t stopped anyone from referring to chapters 12 to 20 as the show’s second season.
Whatever you want to call the two blocks of episodes released respectively in 2018 and 2019, all material from both was shot back to back. The cast and crew filmed continuously from March 2018 until December 2018.
4. There’s probably going to be a Riverdale crossover
Not only does Chilling Adventures take place in the same universe as Riverdale, but showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa already has a plan to bring the two shows together. Having already told press he was “hopeful” for a Chilling Adventures-Riverdale special, Aguirre-Sacasa elaborated in conversation with Entertainment Weekly in October last year.
“I would hate if there was no way possible for there ever to be a crossover. I think there’d be a great episode where the Riverdale kids hear about a haunted house in Greendale and try to break in and it’s Sabrina’s house…now that we’ve got Sabrina and Riverdale, maybe there’s a standalone Afterlife movie or something that we can do combining both casts.”
3. Richard Coyle took his inspiration for Father Blackwood from Hitler
To play Father Blackwood, Academy of the Unseen Arts’ Dean and Chilling Adventures’ Voldemort figure, Richard Coyle rather ambitiously looked to one of the most evil men who has ever lived: none other than Adolf Hitler.
Hitler’s Last Secretary: A Firsthand Account of Life with Hitler, a memoir by the Nazi leader’s former secretary Traudl Junge, was Coyle’s source of inspiration. The actor told Thrillist: “To his inner circle, [Hitler] could be very charming, so long as everything was the way he liked it. As soon as something wasn’t, he would just blow up.”
2. The Salem Witch Trials inspired several character names
It’s not just Sabrina’s familiar that takes his name from the Salem Witch Trials. Whole families on Chilling Adventures are named after the real people involved in the 17th century Massachusetts witch hysteria.
The Putnam family are named after the Puritan Putnams who lived in Salem in the late 1600s and whose family members were accused of witchcraft. Principal Hawthorne meanwhile is named after John Hawthorne, who was Chief Examiner during the trials.
1. The school choir sings Charles Manson songs
In episode four of the first season/first part of the first season of the show, when Sabrina is first introduced to the school choir, the choir can be heard singing a lovely if strangely haunting song called I’ll Never Say Never to Always.
The song was actually one of infamous cult leader Charles Manson’s, written before he and his ‘Family’ went on a murderous rampage at the tail-end of the 1960s. Evidently, Chilling Adventures is even darker than we first thought.