August 16, 2019

THE WITCHES and a Tale of Two Endings
Starring Anjelica Huston, Jasen Fisher, Mai Zetterling, Charlie Potter, Rowan Atkinson, Jane Horrocks. Directed by Nicholas Roeg. (92 min)

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😸

This is based on a children’s novel by Roald Dahl, who apparently hated the changes made to his story, especially the ending. However, Dahl also hated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so there you go. While The Witches never became a beloved classic like Wonka, it’s definitely cut from the same cloth: a semi-whimsical family film with sinister undertones. I’m not sure what Dahl’s issue was because – narrative changes notwithstanding - it retains the spirit of his work.

But as cantankerous as he appeared to be about adaptations of his books, I’d have to agree on one point: retaining the story’s original ending certainly would have been interesting. Without getting into specifics that would spoil the party for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, that ending was apparently filmed but never used. No way would a major studio let such a resolution fly, even with an eccentric like Nicholas Roeg directing. But man, it would have been an awesome bonus feature to include on this disc.

As it is, The Witches harkens back to the days when fantasy films didn’t rely exclusively on CGI for its visual effects. Being a Jim Henson production, the film makes ample use of puppetry, animatronics and highly-imaginative make-up to convey its story. However, the movie’s true MVP is Angelica Huston as Eva, England’s Grand High Witch who gathers her loyal disciples at a hotel with a plan to turn all the country’s children into mice. From her quasi-dominatrix appearance to her over-the-top scenery-chewing, she injects a considerable amount of wicked fun into the film (at-least for the grown-ups in the audience).

The kid gets an eyeful.
For the little ones, the film’s hero is Luke (Jasen Fisher), an American boy vacationing at the hotel with his grandmother (Mai Zetterling), who regales him with terrifying tales of witches’ hatred for children and once narrowly escaped Eva herself. After discovering Eva’s plan while eavesdropping on the witches’ convention, Luke and another boy are turned into mice. Still, he tries to stop them from carrying-out their scheme with help from his grandmother.

The Witches is fun and fast-moving, simply presented and featuring fine performances. Sure, the special effects look a bit quaint, but they serve the story well and reflect a considerable amount of handcrafted effort. And like Willy Wonka, it has a subtle, amusing mean-streak. While definitely family-friendly, this isn’t strictly a kiddie film.

I suppose I can understand Dahl’s misgivings about the chosen ending, which admittedly negates the underlying tone of the rest of the film. It's unfortunate the darker one isn't included on this disc - either as a bonus feature or alternate ending option - so viewers could decide for themselves. Still, The Witches remains quirky, charming and certainly deserving of the same cult status Hocus Pocus inexplicably enjoys. 


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