The Witches is 1990 British/American dark fantasy horror film based on the children's novel of the same title by Roald Dahl. It was directed by Nichoas Roeg and produced by The Jim Henson Company for for Lorimar Film Entertainment and Warner Bros, starring Anjelica Hutson, Mai Zetterling, Rowan Atkinson, and Jasen Fisher. It is the last theatrical to be produced by Lorimar before the company shut down three years later in 1993.
During a holiday with his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) in Norway, Luke Eveshim (Jasen Fisher) is told stories about real witches, female demons with a genocidal hatred for children, all of whom emit an odor obnoxious to witches. Helga tells him that her childhood friend was taken and cursed to spend the rest of her life in the painting. After Luke's parents are accidentally killed, Helga becomes Luke's legal guardian and they move to England. While building a treehouse, Luke is accosted by a witch, though he sees through her ruse and avoids his potential death, hiding at the top of the tree. On Luke's 9th birthday, Helga falls ill her diabetes. Her doctor advises them to spend the summer by the sea.
They stay at a seaside resort, where Luke befriends a gluttonous but friendly boy, Bruno Jenkins (Charlie Potter), while getting on the bad side of the hotel manager, Mr. Stringer (Rowan Atkinson), after his pet mice frighten a maid who is having an affair with the manager. Also staying at the hotel are a convention load of witches, masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, with the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Hutson), the leader of the world's witches, attending their annual meeting.
Luke inadvertently discovers the witches while playing with his pet mice inside the ballroom, where the witches hold a meeting. The Grand High Witch unveils her latest weapon a formula to turn children into mice, which they will use a confectionary products in sweet shops and candy stores to be opened by using money provided by the Grand High Witch. Bruno is lured into the room, having already been given chocolate laced with a formula a couple of hours earlier. He turns into a mouse and flees. Luke attempts to escape but is also captured and turned into a mouse, though he avoids being squashed. He finds Bruno and reunites with Helga who recovered while Luke was adventuring.
Luke devises a plan to kill the witches by sneaking into the Grand High Witch's room to steal a bottle of formula. Luke manages to drop the bottle into a pot of cress soup destined for the witches dinner tables. Mr. Jenkins (Bill Patterson) also orders soup, though Helga stops him from consuming it at the last minute. The formula turns all the witches into mice, just after Bruno speaks up to tell his father that he is really a mouse. The staff and hotel guests join in killing the mice, unknowingly ridding England of it's witches, as Helga returns Bruno to his parents. The Grand High Witch is spotted by Helga, who traps her under a water jug, enabling Mr. Stringer to dispatch her with a meat cleaver.
Luke and Helga return to their home, where they are delivered the Grand High Witch's trunk full of money and a address book of all witches in the USA. Luke suggests that they might use it to eradicate the word's witches once and for all. That night, the Grand High Witch's assistant Miss Irvine (Jane Horrocks), who has quit her job and escaped the massacre, repented and reformed herself to be a good witch. She pays a visit to the house and uses her power to return Luke to his human body and return his pet mice before leaving to repeat the process with Bruno.
- Anjelica Hutson as Miss Ernst/Grand High Witch
- Jasen Fisher as Luke Eveshim
- Mai Zetterling as Helga Eveshim
- Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Stringer
- Jane Horrocks as Miss Susan Irvine
- Charlie Potter as Bruno Jenkins
- Anne Lambton as Pamela (The Woman in Black)
- Anabel Brooks as Nicola Cuttle
- Sukie Smith as Marlene
- Bill Patterson as Herbert Jenkins
- Brenda Blethyn as Rebecca Jenkins
- Jenny Runacre as Elizabeth "Elise"
- Emma Relph as Mildred "Millie"
- Rose English as Doreen "Dora"
- Nora Connolly as Beatrice
- Rosamund Greenwood as Janice
- Darcy Flynn as Luke's mother
- Vincent Marzello as Luke's father
- Ola Otnes as Erica's father
- Jim Carter as Andre the chef
- Roberta Taylor as Jacqueline (Chef witch)
- Angelique Rockas as Henrietta
- Stella Tanner as Loisette "Lois" Leffour
- Barbara Hicks as Regina
The Witches is based on the book of the same name 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 Loriormar Productions, and the last film made based on Dahl's material before his death (Both Henson and Dahl died that year)
The movie was slated to distributed by Lorimar but when the company dissolved their theatrical distributation operation, it wound up sitting up on the shelf for more than a year after filming was completed. The movie was completed on May 25, 1990, in London and scheduled to open the same day in the United States. but following Flordia test screenings earlier that year Warner Bros. delayed the American release until August.
Warner Home Video released the film in 1991. The second release and first re-release was on VHS and for the first time on DVD in 1999. Both versions and TV screenings use the original open matte negative of the film. The film was released in the Netherlands in 2009, with the DVD shown in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
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 Symphony Fantastique Mvt. V, "The Witches Sabbath."
The Witches was well received by critics and audiences alike, but performed poorly at the box office. The film holds a rare 100% in the film critics site Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews from 32 critics. The site's consensus states: "With a deliciously wicked performance from Anjelica 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 3 out of 4 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." Roald Dahl himself regarded the film as "utterly appalling" because of the ending that contrasted with the 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)
Differences from the novel