Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Rowan Atkinson
Writers: Roald Dahl(Book) Alan Scott(Screenplay)
Director: Nicholas Roeg.
On the As You Watch podcast. My cohost Nick of The Cinematic Katzenjammer mentioned that this was one of the movies that scared him the most when he was younger. So when I saw this movie at my local library, I had to check it out. I’m a big fan of darker kids flicks and am a bit disappointed that they don’t make them to this level much anymore. “ParaNorman” and “Frankenweenie“(click on each name to read my reviews) are a few recent examples, but those are a little bit more tame because they are animated and this one is live action.
We first meet our main character Luke(Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother Helga(Mai Zetterling) who is telling him various stories about witches that she has come across throughout the years. After his parents are killed in a car crash, Luke goes to live with Helga in England and it’s here where he will have one of many encounters with a witch. The first one comes when a woman wants to give the boy many trinkets, and bars of chocolate. She also thought of a poisonous snake would also be a good gift. So, she isn’t the brightest and her plan easily back fires. After Helga suffers a severe heart attack. It is suggested that she stay in a place with a better atmosphere. They both head off to the Exselsior Hotel and it is here where Lucas will have his biggest confrontation with The Grand High Witch(Anjelica Huston)
One of the things that I could see scaring kids is the witches plan to kill all the children by turning them into mice. It’s not really explained why they want the children dead . Expect that to them children smell like shit, and if there were no children around. The world would smell a lot better. The moment when all the witches remove all of their wigs and faces at the convention center was also pretty damn freaky. If I were younger I would be a little scared, but I wouldn’t be running for my bedroom. When Luke gets turned into a mouse, I found the puppet work done by Jim Henson studios to be very good and it showed just how innovated that man was in creating realistic beings more so then just The Muppets(which I love). I’m a big fan of practical effects and whenever I see a movie that uses it effectively. I haft to give it some praise. If this were made today. It would have relied solely on computer animation for the mouse effects and it would look good. But it wouldn’t feel as real.
Anjelica Huston is perfect as the main villain in this and knows just the right moments to overplay her performance in this. If “Maleficent” was made in the 90’s instead of today. There would be no doubt that Miss Huston would have gotten that role. During this time, she already had great characters with movies like “The Grifters“, “Crimes and Misdemeanors“(read this great review by our friend David of That Moment In) and “The Adams Family” Her performance as the Grand High Witch also adds to that list of great characters as well. Although there were a few moments that it was hard to understand her with the makeup on. Jasen Fisher also does a good job as our main hero and after seeing him in this and “Parenthood“(he played Steve Martin’s kid Kevin) I almost expected him to be another great child star, but he never made another movie after that one and “Hook“.
Now I have only seen one other movie by director Nicholas Roeg and that was “Don’t Look Now” and I wasn’t a huge fan of that flick, but I did like the style of it. I still need to check out “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and I liked very much that Jim Henson asked for him to direct this movie. I wish more directors who are not known for directing family movies would do so. Wouldn’t it be great to see Lars Von Trier, Harmony Korine, or Gaspar Noe direct a children’s flick. I have complete faith that they could pull it off and still not lose any of their visual flair.
The only downside of this whole movie is that it does take a good 15 minutes before we even see a witch. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it does give us some time to understand our main characters a little bit better. Yet they could have sped up that section a little bit. I also thought that the ending was a bit abrupt and that everything was resolved a little bit too quickly. This could have easily gone on for another feature. Plus it never made sense that a certain character was bad the whole time and at the last minute decided to change things for the better.
“The Witches” is a solid fairy tale with good performances and one to watch with the family, but it does take time to get the plot moving.