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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Witches (1990)

How odd it is that Nicolas Roeg, who directed some of the most insane, daring, and sexual charged films of his generation, like Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed a whimsical if macabre children's film. The Witches, based on the book by Roald Dahl and released in 1990, is really a trifle, but the kind of trifle enjoyed by kids who identify with Wednesday Addams.

The film follows pretty closely the book, although in the film, naturally, the Norwegian little boy becomes an American. He is still orphaned in the care of his grandmother, and they move to England. She knows all about witches--they are bald, they have no toes, and they can smell children.

When the two share a seaside holiday, they have the misfortune of attending the same time as the coven of English witches having their annual meeting. The High Grand Witch, played imperiously by Anjelica Huston, shows off a formula that will turn children into mice.

Our hero, Luke, gets captured and turned, but with the help of his grandmother (Mai Zetterling, a famed Swedish movie star) get their revenge. It's all pretty silly with lots of slapstick, including a turn by Rowan Atkinson as the Basil Fawlty-ish hotel owner. The one major difference in the film is that the boy is returned to his human form, which seemed like a big cop-out.

The Witches in engaging enough but is caught in a place between fare for young children and a horror comedy for older children, and both might be disappointed. I will say that the makeup used on Huston is top-notch--she's really grotesque.

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