Like most other people in their mid-twenties, I was brought up watching Sabrina The Teenage Witch. That is, my mother loved it and watched it religiously, and I simply happened to be in the room to watch it with her. Around 6 months ago, I found a DVD of Season 2 of the original Sabrina TV show in my local CEX and rediscovered my love for it, and promptly bought the original Archie comics and then the entire series collection of the TV show from HMV (for about £40). I then spent around 3 months watching about 3 episodes a night, until the DVD player on my laptop broke and I never bothered to get it fixed – but it’s ok, as that time-frame took me up to the final season, where there’s no Hilda/Zelda OR that much fun anymore, as the series starting cranking to a halt of its own volition after seven 24-episode series.
THEN, I heard some wonderful news – there was going to be a re-make of Sabrina later this year and it promised to be much darker than the original – plus it would be streaming on Netflix (as opposed to Sky One or HBO or other such expensive, unattainable outlets).
I’ll admit, I was kind of sceptical about it being a direct cross-over with Riverdale, but Sabrina was originally a character in Archie Comics in the 1960s – a comic that mostly focussed on – you guessed it – mopey musical Archie and his various sidekicks. The new TV show has gone as far as to hire the same director for Sabrina as Riverdale.
All that being said, as SOON as the titles started playing, I was prepared to ADORE this new series. They are proper old-school 1970s cartoon Hammer horror-esque and I am HERE for it. They’re almost two minutes long and feature all sorts of creepy skulls, ghouls and pentagrams.
The entire show is incredibly dark, with most of the main plotlines involving witches selling their souls to the devil and committing various nefarious deeds in his name. There are genuine scary moments, even for a horror fan, and creepy monsters galore. Nevertheless, Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina is instantly recognisable as the same Sabrina from the first TV show – feminist as fuck, always fighting her friends battles for them and just generally questioning everything around her. Gone is the kind of magic where Sabrina can change her outfit with a click of her fingers, but she can fill her headmaster’s house full of spiders to teach him a lesson for being dismissive of bullying happening on school grounds instead, which, in my books, is much better.
It is with great sorrow that I must report the single biggest change to the show – gone is the sarcastic poorly-animated black cat, Salem and all his wonderfully witty and snide remarks. Sabrina still has a black cat familiar named Salem, who occasionally saves the day, but he doesn’t ever utter a word. The role of house-bound witty sidekick is given instead to a new character, Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose who she turns to for help and guidance throughout the show. Like Salem originally was, Ambrose is confined to live inside the Spellman household as a penance. Ambrose works for the family business (a mortuary) and is much more sensitive and soulful than the original Salem ever was, although just as mischievous (he willingly offers his assistance for the horrible spider invasion mentioned above).
The cinematography is bloody GORGEOUS. Every shot is dark and rich and the edges of the shot are hardly ever in focus, lending an extra-spooky feel to the show. Small details like Aunt Zelda’s cigarette holder clutched between her painted black fingernails, or the not-so-subtle Beetlejuice reference in one of the opening scenes (dancing on the stairs, anyone?) are simply sublime. There’s also a super spooky hay-maze with an even spookier evil scare-crow in the first episode, not to mention countless visits to the creepy woods.
As I sit writing this, I’m only two episodes in, but I’m very, very ready to consume the rest of this show over the coming Halloween week, so no spoilers in the comments please! Somehow, the production team have managed to make Sabrina much more modern, whilst still keeping the basic essence of every character and the basic premise very much alive.
And I LOVE IT.