The Witches (1990 film)

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The Witches
Witches poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Produced by Jim Henson
Mark Shivas
Dusty Symonds
Screenplay by Allan Scott
Based on The Witches 
by Roald Dahl
Starring Jasen Fisher
Anjelica Huston
Mai Zetterling
Rowan Atkinson
Music by Stanley Myers
Cinematography Harvey Harrison
Editing by Tony Lawson
Studio Jim Henson Productions
Lorimar Film Entertainment
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates United Kingdom
25 May 1990
United States
24 August 1990
30 September 1990
Running time 92 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $15,360,553[1]

The Witches is a 1990 comedy and fantasy film based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl. It was directed by Nicolas Roeg and produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and Warner Bros., starring Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling and Rowan Atkinson.


While visiting his grandmother Helga in Bergen, Norway, the little Luke Eveshim learns about witches: demonic women who destroy children. Helga tells Luke the story of an old friend of hers who was taken by a witch and ended up locked in a painting for the rest of her life, and explains how she lost one of her fingers during her childhood when encountering a witch.

After Luke's parents are killed in a car crash, Helga takes him under her wing and they move to a nice English village in the countryside where Luke goes to school. While playing in his treehouse and gathering his toys, Luke has his first encounter with a witch when he is approached by a woman who offers him a snake and a bar of chocolate. Her purple eyes give her away as a witch and the frightened Luke refuses. He is shocked when she mysteriously knows his name; she aborts her plan to get him when Helga calls out for him and comes to get him.

On Luke's birthday, Helga falls ill due to diabetes and the doctor recommends a trip to the seaside to improve her health. Helga and Luke stay at the Excelsior Hotel by the beach in Cornwall but, unknown to either of them, a convention of English witches is gathering for their annual meeting with their global leader Grand High Witch, going by the name Eva Ernst, Speaking in a German accent, and posing as the chairwoman of a society for the prevention of cruelty to children. At afternoon teatime, Luke meets and befriends a boy named Bruno Jenkins, but immediately gets on the bad side of the hotel manager, Mr. Stringer, when one of the charladies (and Stringer's secret girlfriend) catches Luke with his pet mice. Stringer begrudgingly allows Luke to keep the mice as long as they are kept in their cage. Luke later sneaks into the ballroom which is being used as an assembly hall and hides in a corner to train his mice in secret.

The witches enter the hall and prepare for a meeting, removing their wigs and shoes. The Grand High Witch herself goes on stage and removes her wig and mask, revealing her true, hideous and hunchbacked appearance. After scolding the witches for their lack of progress in eliminating the children of England, the Grand High Witch presents them with her latest creation, a magic potion meant to turn the drinker into a mouse. When a small dose of the formula is ingested by a person it takes two hours for the transformation to happen. However when the person takes a huge drink of the formula, transformation occurs in seconds.

To demonstrate, she lures Bruno into the assembly hall with an earlier promise of chocolate after feeding him a chocolate bar which was laden with a small dose of the formula. To Luke's terror and the audience's delight, Bruno turns into a mouse and flees, leaving behind his clothes. As the Grand High Witch declares the meeting over and the witches prepare to leave, one witch smells Luke's scent and he is found. After a long chase, the witches catch Luke and force him to ingest an entire bottle of the formula, turning him into a mouse instantly. Luke barely manages to escape as the witches stomp on his clothes to kill him, but he evades them and reunites with Bruno. The two make their way to Helga's room and tell her the story. Knowing of the Grand High Witch's plan, Luke devises a plan to get a bottle of the formula and douse the witches' food with it. He manages to retrieve one, barely avoiding the Grand High Witch's pet cat, Liebschen. They then attempt to return Bruno to his parents and get them to flee the hotel in case things go wrong, but they refuse to believe Helga's story about Bruno being turned into a mouse and declare her to be insane.

At dinnertime, Helga sneaks Luke into the kitchen and he overhears that all the witches have ordered cress soup. Despite some great difficulty, Luke manages to drop the bottle with the formula into the soup, but he is discovered by the staff and his tail is almost chopped off. By hiding inside the head chef's trouser leg, Luke escapes when the rest of the staff forcibly pull the head chef's trousers off and search frantically for him. Unfortunately, Mr. Jenkins, unsatisfied with his Cock-a-leekie soup, orders a bowl of cress soup, which is only for the RSPCC group and it was not on the standard menu. Helga is only barely able to stop him from consuming it. She finally manages to convince him of what has happened to Bruno when he sees Bruno greet him and the rest of the witches turn into mice. Mr. Stringer and the kitchen staff enter the chaos-ridden dining room and begin killing the mice, unknowingly destroying England's witches with Mr. Stringer himself slaying the Grand High Witch after being tipped off by Helga. During the scuffle, Helga and Luke return Bruno to his parents, go to bed and pack their bags and leave the next day.

Later on, back in their house in the countryside, Luke and Helga are delivered a trunk full of the Grand High Witch's money and her diary, something Luke had orchestrated earlier on to finance their possible mission to eradicate the evil witches around the world once and for all. During the night, the Grand High Witch's assistant, Miss Irvine (dressed in white and arriving in a white Mercedes), whom the Grand High Witch had mistreated throughout her position, and who escaped being turned into a mouse because she had been forced to stay upstairs during the dinner, arrives at the cottage and uses her powers to turn Luke back into a human, in the process returning his pet mice and glasses to him. Luke and Helga see her out of the window and bid her farewell as she leaves to repeat the process with Bruno. Miss Irvine is apparently a good witch at this point, and is no longer afflicted with ugly looks. As seen when she flips her hand around with painted nails, but no longer wears white gloves.


The following people have done special puppeteer work in this film:


The Witches based on the book of the same name by Norwegian-British author Roald Dahl.[2] It was the final film that Jim Henson personally worked on before his death, the final theatrical film produced by Lorimar Productions, as well as the final film Mai Zetterling worked in and the last film made based on Dahl's material before his death.

The whole section in the start of the film (until they move to the United Kingdom) was shot in Bergen in Norway. Much of the film was shot on location in the Headland Hotel[3] (which was named "Hotel Excelsior" in the film) situated on the coast in Newquay, Cornwall.


The film was premiered on May 25, 1990, in London. The film took in $10,360,553 in the United States and 266,782 in Germany.

Home media[edit]

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. However, 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). More recently, the film was released in the Netherlands in 2009. This DVD is 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 generally well received by critics and audiences alike, but performed poorly at the box office.[4] The film holds a rare 100% in the film critics site Rotten Tomatoes, out of 22 reviews, citing universal critical acclaim. The general consensus is: "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."[5] 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."[6] Roald Dahl regarded the film as "utterly appalling" because of the ending that contrasted with the book.[7]


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[edit]


  1. ^ "The Witches (1990)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "Bewitched, Bothered, Buried Under Latex". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Headland Hotel". The Headland Hotel. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  4. ^ "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Darkman' Shines Among New Releases". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "The Witches in Rotten Tomatoes". 
  6. ^ Doan, Brian. "Roger Ebert The Witches review". 
  7. ^ Bishop, Tom (11 July 2005). "Entertainment | Willy Wonka's everlasting film plot". BBC News. 

External links[edit]