The Witches (1990)

The Witches (1990)

A twisted kids’ movie of uncommon maturity that will disturb even grown-up viewers

7.8

Movie

UK, United Kingdom
English
Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror
1990
NICOLAS ROEG
Anjelica Huston, Annabel Brooks, Anne Lambton
91 min

TLDR

How this qualified as a PG movie, we’ll never know.

What it's about

While vacationing at a seaside hotel, a young orphan and his grandmother stumble upon a secret society of witches who are plotting to turn the world’s children into mice.

The take

That one of 1990’s scariest movies is a kids’ movie makes sense when you know it’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story (and directed by horror legend Nicolas Roeg, no less). The Witches dispenses with most of the trappings of kids’ films, swapping bright bubbliness and cute animal CGI for macabre thrills and uncanny valley puppetry courtesy of Jim Henson. It’s astonishingly scary, given its PG certification — not just for its intended audience but for adults, too. Death, grief, and evildoers who prey on children all make an early appearance and never leave the film’s frame, stalking young Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) across countries as they try to make a new start in England following a family tragedy in Norway. In typical Dahl style though, The Witches — with its creepy premise and high camp touches — finds a clever balance between being nightmare-inducing and deliciously fun, a tonal blend that harks back to the twisted appeal of traditional fairy tales.

What stands out

The standout scene is, by far, the first meeting of the witches. In a seaside hotel’s meeting room, well-coiffed women gather for what is apparently the annual convention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children — although they seem to have forgotten the “Prevention” part. In the safety of the locked room, the witches can reveal their true selves, a transformation that reaches a borderline-traumatizing climax when the Grand High Witch (a very game Anjelica Huston) peels off her face. Anyone who saw The Witches as a kid can vouch that what’s underneath isn’t an image you forget quickly.

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