Netflix’s new revival ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ offers suspense and scares

"The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" offers a dark twist on the popular sitcom "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." Photo courtesy of IMDb

On October 29th, Netflix released “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” a darker take on the popular ‘90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and the Archie Comic of the same name.

The first season of the series was ten episodes and is an eerie drama, perfect for the Halloween season — just don’t watch it expecting something similar to “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Both the sitcom and new show tell the story of Sabrina Spellman, a half-witch, half-mortal who navigates living a double life upon the arrival of her 16th birthday—a crucial coming-of-age of the witch community.

Despite the similar story lines, the two series couldn’t be more different. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” succeeds as a light-hearted sitcom focused on the struggles and crazy antics that result from her identity as a half-witch. “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” however, is more heavily based on the 2014 Archie Comic series, and has similarities to the comic-based hit show Riverdale. The two shows even have the same creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The new series is also reminiscent of popular movies like “Halloweentown” and “Hocus Pocus,” as well as “American Horror Story: Coven,” which focuses on a group of modern-day witches. Although it may cause a bit of shock for fans of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and its light-hearted playfulness, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” offers a completely different take on the popular story and succeeds in capturing a darker mood.

“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is located in the fictional location of Greendale, a quaint East Coast town with a mysterious past. Part of the series actually takes place in October, but the town appears to have a permanent Halloween feel, surrounded by a dark forest and underground mines, and containing an old-fashioned movie theater and bookshop. In this version of the series, Sabrina also lives in a mortuary as opposed to a common house like in the sitcom, offering a spookier atmosphere. This switch in details successfully shifted the mood of the show and established it as a series completely independent of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” also adds some new additions to the sitcom’s storyline. While “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” features Sabrina attending a common, mortal high school, the new series follows Sabrina as she studies at both her normal high school and the Academy of the Unseen Arts, a secret school for witches. Sabrina also has a cousin named Ambrose in the revival, as well as two best friends in Rosalind and Susie. A handful of other characters are also introduced at her school for witches.

One of the most notable changes between the sitcom and revival, lies in the role of Salem, Sabrina’s cat and trusty companion. While “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” features Salem speaking aloud as a human and often making witty and sassy remarks, ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” shows a speechless Salem who acts as a guardian and protector. While this may upset fans of the original, I think it was necessary for Salem’s role to shift with the show’s new darker feel. Several characters like Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey Kinkle and Aunts Hilda and Zelda exist in both versions, however.

Another drastic difference between the sitcom and revival is how “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” chooses to take on darker, more intense subject matter. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” often featured Sabrina’s powers leading her to humorous, low-stakes situations and adventures, and Sabrina discovers that she is a witch on her sixteenth birthday. In the revival, Sabrina has always known about her identity and instead prepares for her “dark baptism” where she is expected to fully submit to Satan and his wishes on her 16th birthday. ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” focuses on the witches as devil worshippers committed to a religion of dark magic and contains scenes of graphic violence and demon possession. An episode titled “Feast of Feasts” even features a ritual involving sacrifice and cannibalism. While the subject matter may seem a bit dark, it establishes the perfect Halloween atmosphere and contributes to the show’s more sinister feel.

A definite triumph in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” lies in Kiernan Shipka, who plays a strong and courageous Sabrina, willing to fight for her loved ones and what she believes to be morally right. While Melissa Joan Hart portrays Sabrina as your every-day girl in the sitcom, Shipka’s Sabrina requires greater strength and resilience considering the show’s darker tone. In the revival, Sabrina fights against practices and traditions in the dark church that she deems cruel and unusually harsh, even if that means going against her religion’s leaders and authority. She and her friends are also strong advocates for ending book censorship and promoting women’s rights, even establishing a women’s club at their high school to protect and encourage each other. Shipka’s Sabrina succeeds as being both relatable and a role model.

Despite the completely different moods offered by the sitcom and revival, both prove to be successful in their own ways. “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a triumph, offering scares and the perfect mood for Halloween. Make sure to mentally separate the revival as its own independent series, and you’ll be sure to enjoy the show’s spooky storylines and darker approach.