The Witches (1990 film)

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Not to be confused with The Witches (1966 film).
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
Edited by Tony Lawson
Distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment
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 $10,360,553[1]

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

As in the novel, the plot takes place in an alternate reality where the world is plagued by infanticidal witches who masquerade as ordinary women, and the efforts of a boy and his grandmother to destroy them after the boy is turned into a mouse by their newest weapon against human children.


During a holiday with his grandmother Helga in Norway, nine-year-old American boy Luke Eveshim is told stories about "real" witches, who are demonic females with a genocidal hatred for children due to emitting a foul odor that only they can smell. Helga tells him of a story where her childhood friend was taken and cursed to spend the rest of her life trapped inside a painting. After Luke's parents are killed in a car crash, Helga becomes Luke's legal guardian and they move to England. While building a treehouse, Luke is accosted by a witch, though he sees through her ruse and avoids his potential death. On Luke's birthday, Helga falls ill and is diagnosed with diabetes. Her doctor advises them to spend the weekend by the sea so Helga can recover.

They stay at a seaside resort, where Luke meets 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. However, also staying at the hotel are all of England's witches, masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, with the Grand High Witch, the leader of all the world's witches, attending their conference. Luke inadvertently discovers the witches while playing with his pet mice inside the ballroom, where the witches hold their meeting. The Grand High Witch unveils her latest weapon: a formula to turn children in mice, which they will use on their products when they all open sweet shops and candy stores with the Grand High Witch's counterfeit money. The Grand High Witch lures Bruno into the room, having previously given him chocolate laced with the formula, and he turns into a mouse and flees. Luke attempts to escape, but is also captured and turned into a mouse, though he manages to escape, find Bruno and reunite with Helga.

Luke devises a plan to kill the witches by sneaking into the Grand High Witch's room to steal a bottle of the formula. He succeeds while evading the Grand High Witch's cat. Helga attempts to return Bruno to his parents, but they refuse to believe her story, especially due to Mrs. Jenkins' fear of mice. At the witches' dinner, Luke manages to drop the bottle into a pot of watercress soup, which all the witches had ordered. Mr. Jenkins also orders the soup, though Helga stops him at the last minute. The formula turns all of the witches into mice, proving Helga's story about Bruno. As the kitchen staff intervene and start killing the mice, Helga returns Bruno to his parents, while the Grand High Witch is killed by Mr. Stringer after Helga points her out to him.

Luke and Helga return to their home, where they are delivered a trunk full of the Grand High Witch's real money and an address book with all the world's witches. Luke, who had secretly arranged for them to receive the money, suggests that they use it to eradicate the world's witches once and for all. That night, the Grand High Witch's assistant Miss Irvine, who had quit her job and escaped the massacre, pays a visit to the house and uses her power to return Luke to human form before leaving to repeat the process with Bruno.



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


The Witches based on the book of the same name by 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, and the last film made based on Dahl's material before his death (both Henson and Dahl died that year).

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. Roald Dahl originally wanted Cher to play the role of the Grand High Witch, but she was unavailable at the time because the actress was filming Mermaids. Eartha Kitt, Fiona Fullerton, Geneviève Bujold, Starr Andreeff, Olivia Hussey, Sigourney Weaver, Frances Conroy, and Liza Minnelli were all at some point considered for the part of The Grand High Witch prior to Anjelica Huston’s casting. Huston’s casting later satisfied Dahl.


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.[4] The movie premiered on 25 May 1990, in London and was scheduled to open the same day in the United States,[4] but following Florida test screenings earlier that year Warner Bros. delayed the American release until August.[4] 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.[5] The film holds a rare 100% in the film critics site Rotten Tomatoes, out of 32 reviews, citing universal critical acclaim. The general consensus is: "With a deliciously wicked performance from Anjelica 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."[6] 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."[7] Roald Dahl regarded the film as "utterly appalling" because of the ending that contrasted with the book.[8]


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. ^ a b c "The Witches: Warner Bros takes Jim Henson's puppet film swan song off the shelf". Cinefantastique 21: 22. September 1990. 
  5. ^ "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Darkman' Shines Among New Releases". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Witches in Rotten Tomatoes". 
  7. ^ Doan, Brian. "Roger Ebert The Witches review". 
  8. ^ Bishop, Tom (11 July 2005). "Entertainment | Willy Wonka's everlasting film plot". BBC News. 

External links[edit]