The Witches (1990)

In Film on August 23, 2004 at 10:39 am


My goodness this is one nasty movie: so grotesque and scary for a children’s film…so good! It’s just surprisingly well done all around: excellent dark British humor, amazingly real makeup and special effects, and it featured Rowan Atkinson ;). It is based on a book by the wonderfully twisted Roald Dahl, directed by Nicolas Roeg, special effects by Jim Hensen. Story is simple: an orphan boy and his grandmother stayed at a hotel where a convention for ‘Women Against Cruelty For Children’ organization is held. But it was actually a disguise for a witch convention where witches from all over England met with their leader, the Grant High Witch (played brilliantly by Anjelica Huston). These witches are very normal looking except for these traits: there are errie purple glow in the eyes, square feet, and constantly scratching their head because they wear wigs to cover their hairless head. They schemed a grand plan of putting this new drug at candies that can turn children into mice.

All the women in the film are portrayed so freakish and grotesque. If I were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to see this movie when I was little, I’ll be so scared of English ladies ever since. The boy-turn-to-mouse transformation scenes are so realistic and horrifying. But the absolute most horrifying effects is Anjelica Huston (click here to see some screen grabs), who’s a monstrous looking thousand year old witch who wore a human skin-suit to coverup her decaying face and body. Watching special effects heavy movies from pre-CGI days (especially those from my golden childhood 80s) still amazed me how puppets/models are so much more superior on visual and viseral impact. The talking puppet mouse is amazingly real (and cute).

The most frightening part is actually in the beginning when the grandmother recount the story of her childhood friend who had fallen a victim of the witches. The girl was abducted and never found. Later family and friends was shocked to found a image of her inside a landscape painting hanging at her home, looking mournfully as a painting form stuck inside the painting forever. She would appear once awhile, and aged up as times go by…until one day she didn’t appear anymore. This sequence has the dreamy nightmarish quality as in Don’t Look Now, both frightening and beautiful.

The part where the boy is up playing on a tree when a hawkish lady walked up and tried to lure him down with chocolate was quite scary as well. The boy kept screaming for his grandma but met with no answer.

I was expecting a not-so-happy ending (which could be cute but still very sad for the grandma) until the very last minute a twist came around. It is touching and satisfying. Highly Recommend!

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