Movie #272 2020: The Witches (1990)

What a sight to behold. I’ve always said Anjelica Huston is attractive…

Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, The Witches is quite the original piece of storytelling. Young Bruno lives with his Norwegian grandmother, and as the film gets going, they decide to go to England for a while. Being the fountain of knowledge that she is, Bruno’s grandma tells him the truth about witches, their existence, and the fact that he’s probably seen one at some point without even realising it. In the hotel in which they are staying, a ‘parents’ conference’ in being held, and it becomes clear very quickly that the leader of the conference is none other than the Grand High Witch herself. Terrifyingly, her quest involves turning all of the world’s children into mice.

Wow, kid’s movies really were more sinister back then, weren’t they? And Roald Dahl? Absolute fucking nut case. Obviously I never watched this as a child, but one can only imagine how truly petrifying this would be for a pre-teen. I mean, that make up is straight up horrifying no matter what age you are, so imagine living in fear that you’d be turned into a mouse by that thing. Yikes.

Dated in aesthetic and low in budget, this isn’t quite the masterpiece that Matilda is. However, Jim Henson’s puppets continue to be brilliant, especially for 1990. And again, the Grand High Witch’s make up – though unrealistic – is still truly terrifying. Unlike Matilda, The Witches almost seems like a little bit of a forgotten gem that definitely deserves more attention than it gets.

Barring one or two overly long sequences, there’s no messing about with the narrative here. Everything belongs, everything advances the plot, and nothing seems superfluous. The horror scary, and the comedy truly funny, this is a film that comes with a biting script and some brilliant performances. Of course, this is all down to a bloody brilliant cast.

Queen of everything Anjelica Huston is spot on (what do you expect?!), and Jane Horrocks is comedy gold as always. Props to Grandma for being an absolute hero too. Brenda Blethyn also makes a pre-Oscar nomination appearance, and despite having a relatively small role, she acts her tits off here, stealing every scene she makes an appearance in.

Technically, this is not the best film in the world. It’s definitely dated, but for entertainment value, this is a movie that stands up still thirty years on.

The Witches is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

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