The Witches (1990)
The Witches (1990)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: August 24th, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Nicolas Roeg Actors: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Jane Horrocks, Anne Lambton, Jenny Runacre

 


 

J

im Henson produces this Nicolas Roeg-directed film of “The Witches,” a live action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s famous, morbid children’s story – visualized through the use of animatronics, puppets, and outlandish makeup. Although not especially scary, the signature creepiness and dark humor works its way into this generally fun film, perfectly aligning itself with the concepts of “just silly enough for kids” and “just mature enough for adults.” The premise is clever, the casting is superb, and the look is impressive, so even if the dialogue is occasionally drab and the acting is over-the-top, the ideas succeed more often than they fizzle.

In Norway, Grandmother Eveshim (Mai Zetterling) tells young Luke (Jasen Fisher) about the existence of real witches, whose activities are not to be taken lightly. They are ordinary people, living ordinary lives at ordinary jobs, making them incredibly difficult to distinguish from regular folk. But they hate children, wear wigs, have a considerable sense of smell, have square-shaped feet with plain shoes, cast malicious spells, and never, ever get caught.

When tragedy strikes Luke’s parents, he’s forced to journey to a hotel in England with his grandmother. It is there that he stumbles upon a secretive witch convention, disguised by the front “The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children,” masterminded by the notoriously evil leader, the Grand High Witch (Angelica Huston). Her plot is to use the newly brewed Formula 86 to transform every child in England into a mouse. Although Luke is eventually transmogrified into a rodent himself, it’s up to the Eveshim’s to foil the witches plot, prevent them from further wickedness, and convince the hotel’s other patrons to watch out. “Are you crackers? You need a funny farm, you do.”

Like those seen in “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth,” Henson’s various puppet creations are delightfully macabre yet deviously inventive, invitingly combining the whimsical with the horrifying. While sometimes ghastly, they’re always awe-inspiring, denoting the practical effects as the certain high point of the production – most notably in Huston’s abominable, rat-like, monstrous witch getup. The talking mice alternated with real animals are rarely convincing, but other makeup and prosthetics techniques are quite suitable, as are the complex kitchen mishaps and humorous missions for Luke when he’s in mouse form. The attention to the visuals allows the film to entertain even when the hokier characters eat up screen time or the plot points cater too much to juvenile fascinations. Also, look for a witty bit part by “Mr. Bean’s” Rowan Atkinson.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10