The Witches (1990 film)
The Witches is a 1990 dark fantasy comedy film directed by Nicolas Roeg, produced by Jim Henson and starring Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Rowan Atkinson, and Jasen Fisher, based on the 1983 children's novel of the same title by Roald Dahl. As in the original novel, the story features evil witches who masquerade as ordinary women and kill children, and a boy and his grandmother need to find a way to foil and destroy them.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicolas Roeg|
|Screenplay by||Allan Scott|
|Based on||The Witches|
by Roald Dahl
|Music by||Stanley Myers|
|Edited by||Tony Lawson|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$15.3 million|
The film was produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. as the last theatrical film to be produced by Lorimar, before the company shut down in 1993. The film was very well received by critics, but performed poorly at the box office. The film has retained a cult following over the years.
During a vacation with his grandmother Helga in Norway, eight-year-old American boy Luke Eveshim is warned about witches, female demons with a boundless hatred for children and who use various methods of destroying or transforming them. Helga tells Luke how to tell a witch from an ordinary woman: real witches have claws instead of fingernails which they hide by wearing gloves, are bald which they hide by wearing wigs that give them rashes, have square feet with no toes which they hide by wearing plain shoes, have blue spit which they use for ink, have a purple tinge in their pupils and have large nostrils which they use to sniff out children; to a witch, children stink of dog's droppings. Helga says her childhood friend Erica fell victim to a witch and was cursed to spend the rest of her life trapped inside a painting, aging gradually until finally disappearing a few years earlier.
After Luke's parents are killed in a car accident, Helga becomes Luke's legal guardian and they move to England. While outside, Luke is approached by a woman he quickly realizes is a witch and he escapes. On Luke's ninth birthday, Helga falls ill with diabetes. Her doctor advises they spend the summer by the sea.
At their seaside hotel, Luke meets and befriends a gluttonous but friendly boy, Bruno Jenkins. Luke gets on the bad side of the hotel manager, Mr. Stringer, after his pet mice frighten a maid. Also at the hotel is a convention of witches, masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The Grand High Witch, who is the all-powerful leader of the world's witches, is attending under the name Eva Ernst.
Luke hides inside the ballroom and spies on the witches' meeting. Eva unveils her latest creation: a magic potion to turn children into mice. They will be used on confectionery products in sweet shops and candy stores to be opened using money provided by Eva. Bruno, who was given the potion earlier, is brought into the room, turns into a mouse and flees.
Luke is discovered and runs to Helga in their room but finds her resting after having a dizzy spell. Eva seizes Luke and takes him back to the ballroom where is forced to drink the potion and turned into a mouse before escaping. He finds Bruno and reunites with Helga, who has since recovered.
Luke devises a plan to defeat the witches by sneaking into Eva's room to steal a bottle of the potion, then sneaking into the kitchen and put it into the soup for the special RSPCC party. Luke and Helga try to get Bruno to his parents, but they do not believe her story and are frightened by the mouse.
Mr. Jenkins orders the soup, though Helga stops him from consuming it. The Jenkins' finally realise Bruno is a mouse when he speaks up. As the witches enter the dining room, Miss Irvine, Eva's mistreated assistant, quits upon being banned from the celebration.
The formula turns all the witches into mice, and the staff and hotel guests join in killing them, unknowingly ridding England of its witches. There, Eva is killed at the hands of Mr. Stringer, and Helga returns Bruno to his bewildered parents. Luke and Helga return home to where Eva's trunk full of money and an address book of all witches in the United States is delivered.
That night, Miss Irvine – now a good witch – appears and transforms Luke back to human form, and returns his pet mice and glasses. She leaves to pay a visit to Bruno as Helga and Luke wave goodbye.
- Anjelica Huston as Miss Ernst / Grand High Witch
- Jasen Fisher as Luke
- Mai Zetterling as Helga
- Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Stringer
- Bill Paterson as Mr. Jenkins
- Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Jenkins
- Charlie Potter as Bruno Jenkins
- Anne Lambton as Woman in Black
- Jane Horrocks as Miss Irvine
- Sukie Smith as Marlene
- Rose English as Dora
- Jenny Runacre as Elsie
- Annabel Brooks as Nicola
- Emma Relph as Millie
- Nora Connolly as Beatrice
- Rosamund Greenwood as Janice
- Anjelique Rockas as Henrietta
- Ann Tirard as Lady 1
- Leila Hofman as Lady 2
- Jim Carter as Head Chef
- Roberta Taylor as Witch Chef
- Debra Gillett as Waitress
- Darcy Flynn as Luke's Mother
- Vincent Marzello as Luke's Father
- Serena Harragin as Doctor
- Grete Nordrå as Norwegian Witch
- Kristen Steinsland as Child Helga
- Elsie Eide as Erica
- Merete Armand as Erica's Mother
- Ola Otnes as Erica's Father
- Johan Sverre as Policeman
- Arvid Ones as Policeman
- Sverre Rossummoen as Policeman
The Witches was adapted from the children's book of the same title by British author Roald Dahl. It was the final film that Jim Henson personally worked on before his death, the final theatrical film produced by Lorimar Productions, and the last film made based on Dahl's material before his death (both Henson and Dahl died that year).
The following people did special puppeteer work in this film: Anthony Asbury, Don Austen (Bruno's mouse form), Sue Dacre, David Greenaway, Brian Henson, Robert Tygner, and Steven Whitmire (Luke's mouse form). The early portion of the film was shot in Bergen in Norway. Much of the rest was shot on location in the Headland Hotel situated on the coast in Newquay, Cornwall.
During the shoot, Rowan Atkinson caused a Mr. Bean style calamity when he left the bath taps running in his room (the frantically knocking porter was told “go away, I’m asleep”). The flood wrote off much of the production team's electrical equipment on the floor below. At the time, Huston was dating Jack Nicholson, who would frequently phone the hotel and send huge flower bouquets, much to the excitement of the staff.
The elaborate makeup effects for Huston's Grand High Witch took six hours to apply, and another six to remove. The prosthetics included a full face mask, hump, mechanized claws, and a withered collarbone. Huston described a monologue scene she had to do where "I was so uncomfortable and tired of being encased in rubber under hot lights for hours that the lines had ceased to make sense to me and all I wanted to do was cry."
The green vapour used extensively at the end of the film was oil based, and would obscure the contacts in Huston's eyes, which had to be regularly flushed out with water by an expert. Roeg chose a sexy costume for the character to wear and emphasized to Huston that the Grand High Witch should have sex appeal at all times, despite her grotesque appearance in certain scenes of the film.
Roald Dahl was incensed that Roeg had changed his original ending in the script. As a gesture of conciliation, Roeg offered to film two versions before he made his final choice: the book version where Luke remains a mouse, and the happier version where he is transformed back into a human. Upon watching the scene loyal to his book, Dahl was so moved that he was brought to tears.
However, Roeg decided to go with the changed ending, which led Dahl to demand that his name be removed entirely from the credits, and to threaten a publicity campaign against the film. He was only dissuaded from this on the urging of Jim Henson.
The film was slated to be distributed by Lorimar, but when the company dissolved their theatrical distribution operation, it wound up sitting on the shelf for more than a year after filming was completed. The film premiered on 25 May 1990, in London and was scheduled to open the same day in the United States, but following Florida test screenings earlier that year Warner Bros. delayed the American release until August. The film took in $10,360,553 in the United States, and 266,782 in Germany.
Warner Home Video first released the film on VHS and LaserDisc in 1991. The second release (and first re release) was on VHS and for the first time on DVD in 1999. Both versions (and any television screenings) use the original open matte negative of the film, instead of matting it down to 1.85:1 (or 1.66:1). It was released on the Blu-ray format in Spain only in 2017. In July 2019, a Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection was announced, and was released on 20 August 2019.
The film contains an orchestral score composed by Stanley Myers. To date, a soundtrack CD has not been released, and the entire score remains obscure. Throughout the score, the Dies irae appears, highly reminiscent of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique Mvt. V, "The Witches Sabbath".
The Witches received critical acclaim. The film holds a 93% on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 41 critics, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The consensus reads: "With a deliciously wicked performance from Angelica Huston and imaginative puppetry by Jim Henson's creature shop, Nicolas Roeg's dark and witty movie captures the spirit of Roald Dahl's writing like few other adaptations."
Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, calling the film "an intriguing movie, ambitious and inventive, and almost worth seeing just for Anjelica Huston's obvious delight in playing a completely uncompromised villainess." However, Roald Dahl himself regarded the film as "utterly appalling" because of the ending that contrasted with his book.
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (1991)
- Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Actress (Anjelica Huston)
- Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Make-up (John Stephenson)
- Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Music (Stanley Myers)
- Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Jasen Fisher)
- Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress (Mai Zetterling)
- BAFTA Awards (1991)
- Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Makeup and Hair (Christine Beveridge)
- Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1991)
- Won – Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress (Anjelica Huston)
- Fantasporto (1991)
- Nominated – International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film (Nicolas Roeg)
- Hugo Awards (1991)
- Nominated – Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1990)
- Won – Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress (Anjelica Huston)
- National Society of Film Critics Awards (1990)
- Won – National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress (Anjelica Huston)
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- "The Witches (1990)". The Numbers. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
- "Bewitched, Bothered, Buried Under Latex". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
- "The Headland Hotel". The Headland Hotel. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
- "History of the Headland Hotel | The Witches Film Location". www.headlandhotel.co.uk. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- Anjelica Huston (2014). Watch Me. Scribner. p. 198.
- Anjelica Huston (2014). Watch Me. Scribner. p. 199.
- Louis Jordan (20 August 2015). "Summer of '90: The Witches". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
- "The Witches: Warner Bros takes Jim Henson's puppet film swan song off the shelf". Cinefantastique. 21: 22. September 1990.
- "May 25th, 1990 - May 27th, 1990". www.25thframe.co.uk. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
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