THE WITCHES

30 YEARS ON, IT'S STILL AS DELIGHTFULLY FRIGHTENING AS EVER

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
By Chris dos Santos
18th August 2020

Roald Dahl, unlike other authors, has had a pretty decent track record when it comes to his works being adapted for film. Even the Tim Burton adaption of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', for all its tone issues, still has memorable characters and a musical soundtrack that honestly slaps. The original Gene Wilder 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' has been filling children with joy for decades (we won't talk about the stage musical, which is easily one of worst Dahl adaptations). In 1996, we saw two Dahl works venture onto the big screen with 'James and the Giant Peach' and 'Matilda' (whose musical absolutely kills), both again doing justice to the books - especially with the latter being up there with the Disney classics as something that all kids of all generations watch. Wes Anderson whimsically adapted 'Fantastic Mr Fox' to universal acclaim, while possibly the worst Dahl cinematic adaption was with 2016's 'The BFG'. But for all of these films, they often tone down his darker elements - the only one that balls-to-the-wall went there, a film that still scares me to this day, is 1990's 'The Witches'.

'THE WITCHES' TRAILER

On vacation with his grandmother, Luke (Jasen Fisher) accidentally stumbles across a witch convention. These witches, lead by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston), spot Luke and turn him into a mouse - and now he has to use his new form to stop them from killing children.

Anjelica Huston was made for this role. In every scene, you can see the fun she is having oozing out of her. She is delightfully menacing, and rivals the likes of Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' as best witch (honestly, can we build up the cult status of 'The Witches' because it deserves a 'Hocus Pocus' level of love).

'The Witches' often appears on scariest kids' movie lists, and for good reason - both seeing a boy turn into a mouse and the reveal of what the witches look like scared me shitless as a kid (and honestly, still now). The makeup work Jim Henson Productions did still holds up, and is scarer than most horror film monsters. The fear the movie gives as a child really sticks with you.

Ironically, even though it was scary for kids around the world, Roald Dahl himself was unhappy that the film went with a happier ending than the book, so director Nicolas Roeg filmed two versions - the one we see in the film and one that stays true to the book, were Luke doesn't turn back into a boy and remains a mouse forever... terrifying. Reports say Dahl was brought to tears when he saw his original ending on film, but Roeg decided against for the final cut, going with a more family friendly ending. This angered Dahl so much that he threated to have his named removed from the film, but Jim Henson sent him a letter apologising and that calmed him down, even though he was still disappointed.

Anjelica Huston was made for this role. In every scene, you can see the fun she is having oozing out of her. She is delightfully menacing, and rivals the likes of Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' as best witch.

While Anjelica Huston was a shoe-in for the role as Dahl's favourite, freaking Cher was considered for the role - that would have been a very different take that I need to see (I'll just have to watch 'The Witches of Eastwick' again for now). During production, Huston was dating Jack Nicholson, and he would send her flowers to the set, which is super adorable.

A remake is on the way with Anne Hathaway in the lead. While not my first choice, she could bring some delightful witchiness to the role, but I don't think she will be as haunting as Huston. They have come out and said the film is closer to book that the 1990 version, not stating if they are using the book's ending, but I'm sure it will be somewhat more sensitised.

Kids love to be scared, and 'The Witches' is the perfect scary children's film; it has everything you could want, and has been a stable in kids' horror for 30 years now.

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