Nicolas Roeg directs Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling and Jasen Fisher in this Roald Dahl adaptation where a boy and his grandmother find themselves trapped in a hotel full of child murdering witches.
The strange and playful works of Dahl were my gateway into proper reading… I graduated from the speech bubbles of Beanos and Dandys to 100 page plus tales of thieving foxes, marvellous medicine and warring grotesques. The Witches was the closest his children’s books got to full blown horror. A primer for little minds before they stepped up to Stephen King and Dean R Koontz. The most chilling moments of Dahl’s novel are perfectly realised here. An ageing child caged within the painting above her distraught parents’ mantelpiece. A ‘never talk to strangers’ masterclass of unease as our protagonist refuses to be enticed down from his treehouse by a persistent witch. The later FX work where kids are turned into mice and witches reveal their true visages have nothing on these earlier understated vignettes. In fact some of the Jim Henson FX work is poorly edited, no doubt by studio execs and censors trying to keep this as family friendly as possible rather than the caring hands of a professional. This The Witches feels like the last hurrah of risky nightmare freak outs mass marketed as kids movies. Return to Oz. Flight of the Navigator. Young Sherlock Holmes. After 1990 the poppets themselves became the horrors unleashing violence on burglars and foster families alike. The Witches under Roeg’s slightly subdued direction and Huston’s commanding unhinged villainy is the last time it wasn’t guaranteed safe to watch a PG film. The tone is however lightened somewhat by the presence of British alternative comedy stalwarts Rowan Atkinson and Jane Horrocks.
Check out my wife Natalie’s Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/