Template:Distinguish Template:EngvarB Template:Use dmy dates Template:Infobox film The Witches is a 1990 British/American dark fantasy horror-comedy film based on the 1983 children's novel of the same title by Roald Dahl, directed by Nicolas Roeg and stars starring Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Rowan Atkinson, and Jasen Fisher. As in the original novel, the story features evil witches who masquerade as ordinary women and kill children, and a boy and his grandmother need to find a way to foil and destroy them.

The Witches was produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. as the last theatrical film to be produced by Lorimar before the company shut down in 1993. The film was very well received by critics, but performed poorly at the box office and was also hated by Dahl because its ending differs from the book.


During a vacation with his grandmother Helga in Norway, nine-year-old American boy Luke Eveshim is warned about the witches, female demons with a boundless hatred for children and various methods of destroying or transforming them. Helga tells him that her childhood friend Erica fell victim to a witch and cursed to spend the rest of her life trapped inside a painting, ageing gradually and changing her position in the canvas until she finally disappeared a few years earlier. After Luke's parents are killed in a car accident, Helga becomes Luke's legal guardian and they move to England. While building a treehouse, Luke is approached by a woman he quickly realises is a witch, though he sees through her ruse and escapes, hiding at the top of the tree until his grandmother comes outside and the witch leaves. On Luke's ninth birthday, Helga falls ill with diabetes. Her doctor advises them to spend the summer by the sea.

They stay at a seaside hotel, where Luke meets and befriends a gluttonous but friendly boy, Bruno Jenkins, while getting on the bad side of the hotel manager, Mr. Stringer, after his pet mice frighten a maid who is having an affair with the manager. Also staying at the hotel are a convention of witches, masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, with the Grand High Witch, the all-powerful German-accented leader of the world's witches, attending their annual meeting under the name Eva Ernst.

Luke inadvertently discovers the witches while training his pet mice behind a screen inside the ballroom, where the witches hold their meeting. Ernst unveils her latest weapon: a magic potion to turn children into mice, which they will use on confectionery products in sweet shops and candy stores to be opened using money provided by Ernst. Having already been given chocolate laced with the formula a few hours earlier, Bruno is lured into the room, turns into a mouse and flees. Luke attempts to escape and runs to Helga in their room, but finds her resting after having a dizzy spell. The Grand High Witch then appears, seizing Luke and taking him back to the ballroom (somehow without being spotted), where he is forced to drink a potion, turning him into a mouse, though he avoids being squashed. He finds Bruno and reunites with Helga, who has since recovered.

Luke devises a plan to kill the witches by sneaking into Ernst's room to steal a bottle of the potion. Luke manages to drop the bottle into a pot of cress soup destined for the witches' dinner tables. Mr. Jenkins also orders the soup, though Helga stops him from consuming it at the last minute. As the witches enter the dining room, Miss Irvine, Ernst's assistant who has become disillusioned by her mistress's harsh treatment of her, quits working with the witches and thus gets spared from the massacre that is about to happen. The formula turns all the witches into mice, and the staff and hotel guests join in killing them, unknowingly ridding England of its witches. Mr. Stringer slays Ernst with a meat cleaver as Helga returns Bruno to his parents.

Luke and Helga return to their home, where they are delivered Ernst's trunk full of money and an address book of all witches in the United States. That night, Miss Irvine pays a visit to the house and uses her power to return Luke to his human body and return his pet mice, along with his glasses, before leaving to repeat the process with Bruno.


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The Witches was adapted from the children's book of the same title by British author Roald Dahl.[1] It was the final film that Jim Henson personally worked on before his death, the final theatrical film produced by Lorimar Productions, and the last film made based on Dahl's material before his death (both Henson and Dahl died that year). The following people did special puppeteer work in this film: Anthony Asbury, Don Austen (Luke and Bruno's mouse forms), Sue Dacre, David Greenaway, Brian Henson, Robert Tygner, and Steven Whitmire.

The early portion of the film was shot in Bergen in Norway. Much of the rest was shot on location in the Headland Hotel[2] situated on the coast in Newquay, Cornwall. During the shoot, Rowan Atkinson caused a Mr. Bean style calamity when he left the bath taps running in his room (the frantically knocking porter was told “go away, I’m asleep”). The flood wrote off much of the production team’s electrical equipment on the floor below.[3] At the time, Huston was dating Jack Nicholson, who would frequently phone the hotel and send huge flower bouquets, much to the excitement of the staff.[3] Director Nicholas Roeg later edited out scenes he thought he would be too scary for children after seeing his young son's reaction to the original cut.[4]


The movie was slated to be distributed by Lorimar but when the company dissolved their theatrical distribution operation, it wound up sitting on the shelf for more than a year after filming was completed.[5] The movie premiered on 25 May 1990, in London and was scheduled to open the same day in the United States,[5] but following Florida test screenings earlier that year Warner Bros. delayed the American release until August.[5] The film took in $10,360,553 in the United States and 266,782 in Germany.

Home media

Warner Home Video first released the film on VHS in 1991. The second release (and first re-release) was on VHS and for the first time on DVD in 1999. Both versions (and any TV screenings) use the original open matte negative of the film, instead of matting it down to 1.85:1 (or 1.66:1). It was finally released on the Blu-ray format in Spain only in 2017


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 Symphonie fantastique Mvt. V, "The Witches Sabbath".


The Witches was well received by critics and audiences alike, but performed poorly at the box office.[6] The film holds a rare 100% in the film critics site Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews from 33 critics with an average rating of 7.7/10. Its consensus reads: "With a deliciously wicked performance from Angelica 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."[7] 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."[8] However, Roald Dahl himself regarded the film as "utterly appalling" because of the ending that contrasted with his book.[9]


Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (1991)
BAFTA Awards (1991)
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1991)
Fantasporto (1991)
  • Nominated – International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film (Nicolas Roeg)
Hugo Awards (1991)
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1990)
National Society of Film Critics Awards (1990)

See also


External links

Template:Nicolas Roeg Template:Roald Dahl Template:The Jim Henson Company

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