Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018), developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
Adapted from the 2014 comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, published by Archie Comics.
Starring Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch and Lucy Davis.
Growing up in the 90s I watched a lot of Nickelodeon and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, so when it was announced that Netflix were rebooting it but with a horror focus I was sceptic.
There’s been a lot of cash in remakes/sequels lately that haven’t worked well, like The Mummy (2017) and The Predator (2018). The 90s Sabrina show was quite simplistic and comedic as well, so how would that work as horror? Will it be monster of the week or something deeper…
This Netflix series is based on the new comic book series of the same name, so that allayed my fears as I’m a massive fan of Boom! Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic book series. They updated and added depth to the Power Rangers so I hoped the Sabrina Netflix series would be similar. I wasn’t disappointed.
[Editor’s note: Boom! Studios released a Power Rangers artist tribute comic book earlier this year; including artwork from Robert Hack, who worked on the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic book series.]
There’s a strong gothic feel with the Spellman family now owning a mortuary, and the witches’ powers requiring a devotion to Satan and dark rituals involving cannibalism, amongst other things. There are some creatures in the series and the effects are good, but their origins and powers are more interesting. The real horror here is with the other witches, their rivalries, power struggles, traditions, and dislike of Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) because she wants to have a mortal life.
In the original series you could really root for Sabrina as she learns witchcraft and all the negative aspects that came with it – like the evil twin – but here the stakes are much higher, not just regarding whether she will be a mortal or witch, but to be a witch she has to sign her name in Satan’s book and he could call on her at any time.
There’s a stronger sense of Sabrina’s desperation to learn about her family history and what had happened to her parents, along with the struggles of being a half witch – or “chosen one” – giving the series a bit of a Harry Potter feel, even though the original Sabrina comics and 90s series predate it. The big difference here is that you can see how Sabrina’s life as a witch is affecting her mortal life as she attempts to keep secrets and unexplainable events from happening – including ones she naively causes when trying to use witchcraft to fix big problems.
The most notable difference from the original TV series is Salem no longer talking now but has powers, so Sabrina speaks to her well-meaning cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) – who is under house arrest – to find out more about witchcraft and how to get around all the rules. The character of aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is a lot stricter than in the 90s show and is concerned with her family’s status above all else for most of the series, which makes the show more interesting as you are never sure whose side she is on, particularly with how she treats her sister Hilda (Lucy Davis). Hilda though is how I remember her – bubbly, idiotic, kind, although she now has lower self-esteem than she did in the 90s series, but that’s worked well into the plot.
The characters here are a lot more rounded than they were in the 90s, whether they are classic characters like Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) who has daddy issues, or Sabrina’s friends who are all dealing with problems, some possibly of supernatural origin. The acting is superb, and Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina doesn’t just look the part – she has a range of emotions which make you feel sympathetic to her, and want to scream at her for being naive. You can really root for the character.
There is no shortage of sinister characters here with Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) – High Priest of the Church of Night – and Lilith (Michelle Gomez) inspiring fear and hatred throughout most of their screen time. I would even go as far to say that Michelle Gomez’s devious, insane portrayal of Lilith – who has taken over Sabrina’s teacher Mary Wardwell – is the standout performance of the show. Ross Lynch’s portrayal as Harvey I’m not as sure about – not helped at all by his previous roles on kids TV shows. He’s got the bumbling, sweet appeal that Nate Richert had in the 90s and displays more vulnerability as the character, due to his father’s obsession with his business and being macho. However, he also seems wooden, his dialogue is jaded, and he’s outacted by the others surrounding him.
Overall, this is one of the best TV series I’ve seen in a long time. It expands on what we liked about the 90s series, but at the same time the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is very different. It’s very well-acted for the most part, there’s a lot of tension, and you can root for Sabrina like never before.