Nearing the end of a career that included such films as Walkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth, English director Nicholas Roeg teamed with Jim Henson Productions for The Witches. The 1990 film is based on the eponymous 1983 children’s novel by Roald Dahl. Wickedly fun, the unabashedly dark tale, may scare some children. Working from a screenplay by Allan Scott, Roeg stays close to Dahl’s story. Nine-year-old Luke Eveshim (Jasen Fisher) lives with his kind but creepy grandmother (Mai Zetterling), after his parents are killed in a car accident. The young boy is enraptured by his granny’s stories of “real witches” who loathe children. They appear normal, wearing normal clothes and living in ordinary homes. It’s only their purple eyes and comfortable shoes, needed to disguise their lack of toes, that distinguishes them from humans.
After Luke’s grandmother falls ill, the two head to an English seaside hotel for her to recuperate. The hotel isn’t very quiet. There under the guise of the so-called “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children,” led by the charming Miss Eva Ernst (Anjelica Houston, Prizzi’s Honor), the group turns out to be real witches. The witches devising a plan to turn all of England’s children into mice! Transformed into a mouse after discovering the plan, Luke must stop Eva and her cohorts before it’s too late.
Produced by Jim Henson and the last film he worked on directly before his death, the puppets from his Creature Shop set just the right mood both childlike and scary. The real stroke of genius was the casting of Anjelica Huston, who makes for a wonderfully vampy witch. When her mask is removed, she’s revealed to be wart faced, with a garden hose nose.
Filled with memorable visuals, a reshot, happier ending which differs greatly from Dahl’s novel reportedly led to a request from the author to have his name completely removed from the project. Thankfully, Dahl reportedly patched up his differences with Jim Henson and screenwriter Allan Scott before Henson died on May 16, 1990, just nine days before the films UK premiere. Roald Dahl died in November of 1990.
Though The Witches was a box office disappointment, it has since become a cult classic, with a remake starring Anne Hathaway scheduled to hit theaters in 2020. Warner Archive has delivered a new 2K remaster for their Blu-ray release. The results are stunning. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (thank you!), Harvey Harrison’s (Still Smokin’) cinematography shines. The extensive cleanup means image detail and textures look great throughout, particularly during close-ups. Colors are bright and bold; skin tones are accurate. Black levels are inky, with no signs of crushing or blooming. This transfer is top level stuff. Fans of the film should be very pleased.
The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix is nothing special, but it serves the film well. Separation is clear and limited ambient noises are handled well. Dialogue and background effects are mixed well, never intruding on each other. The score by frequent Nicholas Roeg collaborator Stanley Myers comes through nicely. The track is free of any distortion.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:26)
The Witches (1990)
Movie title: The Witches
Director(s): Nicholas Roeg
Actor(s): Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn , Rowan Atkinson
Genre: Family, Horror, Fantasy