Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Pleasing Rendition of The Occult Through Design
By: Domonique Salberg
Based on the “Archie” comic book series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a breath of fresh air for people that love the occult, witches, and a dash of horror and teenage angst. The performances, set designs, costumes, campy humor, and music are some of its best qualities; even if some things do not work (and there are a few), the show is certainly more good than bad.
Though, what inspired this article is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s creation of Chilling Adventures‘ matchless witchy content in TV and film. It dares to test the limits of its genre amid its features of extensive occult history, satanic worship, imagery, quality, and a much darker take on the decades-old celebrated witch, Sabrina.
Production Design of Chilling Adventures
Even with today’s overly saturated market of comic book fare turned into television shows, the decades-old Sabrina character was revamped a fifth time as a Netflix series, and with noticeably higher production value. The dark iteration follows a 16-year-old half-witch half-mortal who must balance two distinct natures of her secret magic life with the everyday challenges of being a teenage girl. Its source material calls for equal parts horror and humor, creating an engaging and perfectly deviant tone to the show’s set design. The Spellman’s home, in particular, is a high light of the show’s production—it sincerely is a dream house for fans of all things witches and Halloween. The titular character Sabrina even informs the audience in the first moments of the series, “it always feels like Halloween,” referring to her fictional Boston-esque town, Greendale.
World-Building: The Spellman House
Led by production designer Lisa Soper, the inspiration for Chilling Adventures is taken from such horror classics as Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” The Spellman family’s living room ceiling is a nod to the Italian filmmaker’s work, where bright colors were notoriously used instead of the dark palette stereotypical of horror stories. Soper’s sentiments are represented here:
“But I didn’t want this world where fall is just browns and grays and blues and the dark of night. It was about grabbing on to the reds and yellows and the golds and the last little bit of green — that green that’s like a really strong emerald because it’s wet and hanging on to dear life.”
She knew it would only be natural to lean towards the dark browns, blues, and blacks since, in Greendale, it is always Fall. Wisely, the opposite was chosen, and touches of bright tones were embraced, which made the designs more enchanting and palatial. Details are what can make or break a depicted world’s authenticity. Knowing this, the spirit of the satanic coming-of-age story’s design, especially the Spellman house, uses touches of Gothic style—what would a work based on witches do without it?
Moreover, “House of Seven Gables” novel by Nathanial Hawthorne served as the inspiration for the atmosphere of the famous witch families house, while the actual House of Seven Gablesstanding in Salem, Mass., influenced the look of it. The Spellman’s front door is modeled after the door from Hawthorne’s novel— complete with the signature iron spikes, but updated and painted in Sabrina’s signature (red) color.
However, when the audience ventures into the Spellman home is where the character’s quirks shine most. The doors open to reveal an interior built in a spiral-shaped pattern, evoking the growing suspense and horror. With a divided stately staircase, the creators wanted it to mirror the two paths for Sabrina—the mortal and witch worlds.
When she ascends down the left side, she is in a witchy mood; down the right side, she is in a mortal state of mind. On top of the metaphorical architectural choices, the house and The Academy of Unseen Arts were built to be slightly off-kilter—from the walls to the staircase to evoke the show’s mystic nature further.
For the houses surrounding colors, much of the character’s time is spent in the kitchen, where the cabinets are a faded, tattered turquoise with brown wood tops, and a bright red vintage loveseat couch tucked in the middle of two kitchen chairs. Add in the wallpaper, the designs item trees of different shades of green and deer nibbling on the grass to make for a granny “Chic-Gone-Spooky style” to the house.
Sabrina’s Whimsical Room
Though, the most gratifyingly wicked shots die-hard fans of the occult will love are of Sabrina’s bedroom. Here vintage bed frame rest under an oculus (circular) window to add a touch of classical architecture since the 16th century. Overlooking her quilted bed hangs a dramatic chandelier with drippy bits and bobs to give a macabre sense of elegance. Her lampshades are equally ornate next to a rabbit statue on the nightstand, adding to the lore of witchcraft. Rabbits, in particular, are symbolic animals who can represent cunning and mischief.
Many of these same features introduced in Sabrina’s room are all around the Spellman home. Most notably, every room’s wallpaper is distinct and possesses a stylistic mix of femininity and the uncanny. Their living room’s wallpaper is of the Gibson Girl, Charles Dana Gibson’s feminine ideal from the 1800s. Additionally, we have the foyer wallpaper covered in blue chinoiseries (art reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs) type paper and the living room covered in human faces creating a chilling, centuries-old ambiance.
The spooky finishing touches include ominous artworks lining the Spellman walls, moody lighting, Victorian fringe lampshades, spider-like plants, and numerous iconographies of rabbits fixed throughout the house. On the bed linens, in sculptures, and on plates, while Zelda’s victims hexed shoes are placed on the hallway shelves. How incredibly thoughtful the details are. It may not be a perfect show about the trials and tribulations of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but its wonderfully bewitched and engrossing production design cannot be denied.
A must-see for dedicated fans of the occult and witches. What are your thoughts on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s design?