Release Date: February 16th, 1990 (Orlando premiere)
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Allan Scoot
Based on: The Witches by Roald Dahl
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jason Fisher, Rowan Atkinson
Jim Henson Productions, Lorimar Film Entertainment, 91 Minutes
“Real witches are very cruel, and they have a highly developed sense of smell. A real witch could smell you across the street on a pitch-black night.” – Helga
While this film has grown into a cult classic over the last thirty years, I hadn’t seen it since it first appeared on VHS. Back then, no one really knew about it but I wanted to see it because Jim Henson worked on it. Plus, my mum wouldn’t take me to the theater to see it because she had some weird religious reason not to take me to anything “promoting witchcraft or Satanism.” Funny, as she ended up becoming a massive Harry Potter fan a decade later.
What really stands out about this film is how unique it is. Also, for a kid’s movie it’s damn dark. The director actually had to tone it down after he showed it to his own kid in order to get his reaction. As a kid, I wasn’t scared by it but the imagery was so haunting and over the top that it left a mark on my psyche.
My memory of the film was a fond one and I’m glad to say that my youthful opinion on the film still held up, seeing it now.
Anjelica Huston is pretty close to perfection in this and man, her performance is still damn effective. While this is adapted from a Roald Dahl children’s novel, it feels like the role was tailor made for her. It highlighted her strengths, her ability to intimidate and her intensity. She also got to ham it up and act over the top, which only benefited the movie and her role.
The kid actors are okay, nothing special, and the rest of the acting is fairly average but once the kids become mice, the film almost shifts into a state of otherworldly-ness and that’s after the incredible witch convention sequence.
The special effects in this are incredible from Anjelica Huston’s full witch makeup and prosthetics to the boys’ mice forms. Even knowing how talented Jim Henson was and how great his studio is, the effects work and puppetry still blew my mind for what they achieved here, thirty years ago.
I’m glad that this did become a cult classic, it deserves that status because of how good it is, how much craftsmanship went into it and for it’s uniqueness.
Pairs well with: other children’s horror from the ’80s and ’90s.