The Witches of Eastwick is a dark comedy-horror about a trio of women who fall for the same man – only this ‘man’ turns out to be The Devil himself, and he decides to turn the three women into his witches.
Let’s take a look back at The Witches of Eastwick with some facts about the film you probably never knew…
10. Producer Jon Peters wanted to make the movie about aliens
The Witches of Eastwick follows three women who don’t realise that their words are imbued with magical powers, and who come into contact with a handsome, dark-haired stranger who doesn’t have their best interests at heart. If there’s one thing you wouldn’t expect from the movie given that description, it’s probably aliens, but that didn’t stop one enthusiastic producer from trying to include them.
As weird as it sounds, producer Jon Peters was apparently a total alien fanatic, and was convinced that aliens were what was needed to take The Witches of Eastwick over the top. According to director George Miller, Peters had apparently just seen the movie Aliens, and was obsessed with its box office numbers. Peters even went so far as to show up to the set with a stuntman dressed as an alien, and request that Miller put him in any scene. Miller and Jack Nicholson had to leave the set in protest until Peters agreed to drop the idea.
9. A life-size animatronic was made of Veronica Cartwright
One of the spookiest scenes in The Witches of Eastwick finds the central trio finally tiring of their long-time rival, the devoutly religious Felicia (Veronica Cartwright). Unwittingly manipulated by Daryl into casting a spell, they inadvertently cause Felicia to begin uncontrollably vomiting cherry pits, which leads her terrified husband to murder her with a fire poker.
The actual vomiting sequence doesn’t last very long, but not because there wasn’t a lot of footage to use. The visual effects team built a full-sized animatronic puppet of Cartwright, one capable of realistically thrashing around and vomiting huge quantities of goop. Unfortunately, the original scene was so realistic that it grossed audiences out, resulting in the sequence being majorly cut down for theatrical release.
8. George Miller was nearly fired due to an ongoing feud with the producers
Mad Max director George Miller was relatively inexperienced when he found himself at the helm of The Witches of Eastwick, with his only real Hollywood experience up to that point being his directing a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie. This greenness caused problems during production, as Miller found it difficult to communicate with the producers and studio representatives, and even gained a reputation for being a pushover after volunteering to get rid of his trailer to save the studio money.
Once the producers realised that Miller was easy to manipulate, they allegedly started to constantly interfere with the movie, refusing to buy props Miller needed or hire enough cameras to get coverage during crucial scenes. In retaliation, Miller began refusing to begin each shoot day until all his demands were met, which infuriated the producers so much that they began looking for a new director. It was only Nicholson’s insistence that Miller keep working, and the vague implication that Nicholson might walk if not, that saved Miller’s job.
7. It was originally supposed to star Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston
Jack Nicholson was one of the first actors to be cast in The Witches of Eastwick, and he was greatly admired by director George Miller, which gave Nicholson a fair amount of power when it came to casting. In particular, he was able to leverage his own star power to get his longtime, on-and-off girlfriend Anjelica Huston an audition to play Alex.
Unfortunately, Huston had a disaster of an audition, saying later that she knew immediately that she had bombed because she struggled with the “tough” dialogue. The role of Alex went to another dark-haired lady with an elegant but spooky vibe, Cher, whilst Huston had to wait another three years to play a witch. Her opportunity finally came in 1990, when Huston was cast to play the Grand High Witch in Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
6. Cher made Susan Sarandon swap roles
It really does feel as though each actress is perfect for the character they play in The Witches of Eastwick. That’s why it’s so surprising that, even up until the first day of shooting, the character each woman was set to bring to life was still being swapped around. Why? Well, that was mostly because of Cher.
Before Cher came into the picture, Susan Sarandon was all set to play Alex. However, Cher was unsatisfied when she was offered the part of Jane, as it was Alex who really spoke to her. The producers were immensely eager to capitalise on Cher’s massive fame by including her in the movie, and so they agreed to let her swap roles immediately. As for Sarandon, she only found out that she was now playing Jane when she showed up on set for the first time, and thankfully was pretty magnanimous about it.
5. Industrial Light & Magic’s work was doubled because the stars were so bad at tennis
One of the most memorable scenes in The Witches of Eastwick comes when Daryl invites all three ladies to play tennis with him, leading to each woman becoming more and more competitive as they try to win the game and thus his affection. The high emotional stakes culminate with the tennis ball going haywire, as the three inadvertently cast a spell with the strength of their feelings.
The tennis ball defying the laws of physics was obviously achieved with special effects, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic, but they ended up having to do more work than originally anticipated. The film’s three female stars were unfortunately so bad at tennis that even the normal volleys had to be added in in post, so the tennis scene ended up costing double the initial estimate.
4. George Miller called Cher “old and not sexy”
The producers may have clashed with George Miller during the making of The Witches of Eastwick, but they weren’t the only ones to have trouble getting along with the filmmaker. Miller also seemed to have a problem with Cher right from the beginning, even before she was cast. On her 40th birthday, just a few days before she received an offer to play Alex, Miller rang Cher with the worst birthday message of all time.
When Cher picked up the phone, Miller said: “I just wanted to call and tell you that I don’t want you in my movie and Jack Nicholson and I think you’re too old and you’re not sexy. I hate the way you walk, I hate the way you talk, I don’t like the colour of your hair, I don’t like your eyes.'” Most actors would have been too shocked to speak, but Cher hit back: “You didn’t find me under a rock. I was nominated for an Academy Award for Silkwood. And I got the Cannes Film Festival award for best actress for Mask. So, goodbye!”
3. Cher’s hatred of Johnny Carson made it into the script
In one of the earliest scenes in the movie, where the three women discover they have telepathy, Cher’s character Alex flippantly says: “Big deal, it’s not like it’s gonna get us on David Letterman.” The line was actually supposed to reference Johnny Carson instead, but Cher insisted on the change, due to her personal hatred of Carson.
Apparently, Cher had once been at a presidential election party with Jack Benny, when Johnny Carson had reprimanded her for making rude jokes about Richard Nixon. After that, she refused to ever appear on Carson’s The Tonight Show unless someone else was hosting, and wouldn’t even mention his name in The Witches of Eastwick. That’s true commitment to a grudge.
2. The special effects team spent weeks building a robot seagull
The opening scene of The Witches of Eastwick isn’t super memorable, featuring as it does a camera zooming into the town of Eastwick in an establishing shot. Originally, the opening shot was supposed to be more elaborate, featuring a seagull flying down into town, but it turned out to be logistically impossible to pull off. The movie was shot in California, which has very strict rules about owning taxidermied birds, and so the Eastwick production team could neither make nor borrow a real stuffed seagull.
When the team finally found a legal taxidermied bird to non-invasively turn into a rod puppet, the final result took weeks of working with a whole team of puppeteers – only for it to turn out to be way too distracting to be on screen for very long. The seagull’s work went unused and uncredited, and the opening credits were added to the seagull shots instead.
1. George Miller thought Cher was going to ruin his movie
George Miller’s feud with Cher didn’t begin and end with his initial disparaging phone call. Even once she was cast, her relationship with the director did not improve. Miller allegedly used sarcastic finger quotes whenever he used Cher’s name, and constantly remarked to the producers that she would ruin his movie.
In retaliation, Cher shared in an interview that Miller would motivate the cast to nail their scenes in fewer takes by blasting the air conditioner. She did concede in her autobiography that she sympathised with Miller to some degree, though, as she knew she had been shoehorned into the movie by producers due to her name recognition, and not because Miller wanted her there.