We’re living in an era where film and TV is saturated by remakes and it feels like no one’s childhood is safe. I’m not always a fan of remakes but I was intrigued by the trailer for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and now, having seen the entire thing, I am fully here to endorse it. The 90s Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a lighthearted family comedy. Sabrina discovers she is half-witch, through the course of the show learns to use her magic and along the way hijinks ensue. It was 7 seasons long, they did everything they could with that show – so was there really space for a remake? The short answer is yes.
Why does the new Sabrina remake work? A huge part of it is that it’s doing something completely different from the 90s show. In 2014 Archie comics reimagined Sabrina in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It explored the dark avenue the story could have naturally taken rather than making it dark for the sake of it. As the title suggests, this show works in a completely different genre – horror. It leans heavily into the idea that witches are devil worshippers and leans into it hard. And it does it brilliantly.
The religious aspect is woven throughout the show from the opening episode where Sabrina is worried about going through a Dark Baptism on her sixteenth birthday and pledging herself to the Dark Lord Satan. The central conflict of the season is whether Sabrina pledges herself and in doing so gives up her freedom of choice but gains power or whether she can stay mortal but still gain power. Chilling Adventures updates Sabrina to not only make it darker but makes it a feminist story too.
Throughout the season the witch realm is contrasted heavily with the mortal one. In the former, witches are traditional, ritualistic, taking part in cannibalistic feasts and worshipping the horned goat-headed beast that is the devil. Sabrina’s main anchor to the mortal world is the antithesis of this. Sensitive and artistic, Harvey Kinkle wants to escape the toxic masculine mould that is reflected in his peers and father. In the mythology of the show however Greendale has a history of witches. The Greendale Thirteen – a group of witches who were hanged decades earlier – bleeds through the cracks between Sabrina’s two worlds and a conflict is inevitable.
This series is aesthetically gorgeous. Greendale has the atmospheric delight of a town that seems to exist in shades of Autumn. The Spellman mansion and funeral home is the Gothic house of your dreams. Faces are filmed in sharp focus against a blurred background giving a sense of unease and that there is something hidden just out of sight. Where the comics are set in the 60s, the show feels timeless in its fashion and set pieces with the odd mobile phone being one of the few examples of technology. This however doesn’t take away from the modern and relevant storylines that are explored. Sabrina’s circle of friends deal with misogyny, gender identity and intersectional feminism.
Every character functions well in this story from the human characters to their witchy counterparts. Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda, a devout Satan worshipper contrasts well with Aunt Hilda’s softer approach. Sabrina has a friend and confidant in her charming cousin Ambrose. I adored Prudence too – the witch that deems Sabrina as impure. These characters initially appear to be stereotypes but are shown to be multi-dimensional. Saving the best for last Michelle Gomez as Mrs Wardwell is absolutely fantastic. Initially playing a mild, kind mortal, she’s killed within minutes of being on screen and is possessed. She steals every scene she’s in from her gorgeous outfits to her stellar acting.
I have very few issues with the show. In my cynical old twenties I wonder whether your boyfriend at fifteen years old is worth staking your entire future on. This is a show that does not care about accents and that’s something that bothers me, especially as Sabrina’s ancient aunts who live together and share a bedroom have different accents. (But, as with Once Upon a Time, I’m sure can learn to ignore it). Prudence is one of three Weird Sisters, however the other two don’t get much individual characterisation and I’m not sure how intentional it is. And I can’t sign off without saying that Salem is not a big enough character in this version – no, I didn’t think we could get the sass of writer/voice actor Nick Bakey to quite fit but it would have been glorious to try!
Overall, I think this version of Sabrina is an imaginative retelling that works so well in the dark and spooky horror genre.
Tell me your thoughts! Have you seen the original Sabrina? How do you feel about a spooky remake? Let’s chat!