1990 • UK • 91 min.
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenwriter: Allan Scott
Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher
March 29, 2020 @ 12:00 pm
An international meeting of evil witches convenes at a seaside hotel to discuss plans to rid the world of all children while a little boy and his grandmother seek to thwart them. A formative viewing experience for many of today’s horror fans (and potentially tomorrow’s) on 35mm.
Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his parents go to Norway to visit grandma Helga (Mai Zetterling, best known from Ingmar Bergman’s Music in Darkness and as the titular character from Basil Dearden’s Frieda). With old-world warmth and mirth, she regales him with stories about child-snatching witches who roam the streets like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Claws hidden by gloves, purple eyes, and bald heads covered by wigs, the witches in this universe delight in destroying unsuspecting children through strange, supernatural means and Helga wastes no time in educating the boy on how to spot them (read: a metaphor for stranger danger).
Soon, his world is upended: his parents die in a car crash and he must move to England with Helga. There, he has his first run-in with a witch and lives to tell the tale (foreshadowing!). Grandma and grandson take a convalescent seaside holiday and suddenly find themselves in the midst of an international conference of witches posing as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Presiding over the meeting is The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston in one of her most glorious roles), who reveals a plan to turn all children into mice through a candy store scheme involving a magic potion. Young Luke accidentally spies on the proceedings and is subsequently transformed into a tiny brown mouse who enlists the help of his grandma and the hotel manager (played by the one and only Rowan Atkinson) to stop them.
The Witches brought together a powerhouse of talent—the likes of which has been rarely seen since—to adapt Roald Dahl’s dark children’s story for the silver screen. World-renowned puppeteer Jim Henson executive produced and his creature shop provided puppetry and makeup; this would be the last film he personally worked on before his death in 1990. This would be one of the last projects Roald Dahl was involved with before his death the same year. Nicolas Roeg (too many incredible films to name) brought his unique blend of darkness, irony, and wit to this fearsome children’s flick. And Anjelica Huston established herself as the OG Witch, the golden standard by which all witches since have been measured.
BUFF has long been plotting to expand its family-friendly fare, but in a way that’s still true to our subversive inclinations. As our staff and audience are growing older and building families, it seems only logical to pass the baton on to padawan cinephiles, giving our kiddos space and opportunity to experience the films that shaped us in a theatrical setting. Enjoy this inaugural installment of what we hope becomes an annual tradition alongside our Saturday Morning Cartoons program.
With a 1990s PG rating, some first-time young viewers will delight in this dark fantastical tale while others may not yet be ready; guardians, it’s up to you to gauge.