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Mike's Strange Cinema Cavalcade - THE WITCHES (1990)

the witches 1990 review
Britain's witches hold their annual convention.


Review by Mike Vaughn

Directed by: Nicolas Roeg

Starring: Anjelica Huston, Mia Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, Rowan Atkinson, Charlie Potter

the witches 1990 bluray

There were a handful of films I watched as a kid that I think pretty much shaped my love for the weird. Beetlejuice, Frankenstein (1931), Little Shop of Horrors (the original), Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie and of course the movie I will be reviewing today, Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches.

the witches 1990 review
Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl ('Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', 'James and the Giant Peach') the plot centres around a young boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) who is taken in by his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) after his parents are killed in a tragic car accident. Helga, it turns out, is a former witch hunter and free spirit who must now raise her grandson. After some health issues she decides that herself and Luke need a real holiday and so they stay at a seaside resort. It just so happens a group of witches hell bent on ridding the world of children are gathered there as well.

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As a kid, this movie both scared and delighted me, and as an adult it actually holds up for the most part. The film does take some liberties with the book and it's widely known that Dahl himself hated the film, however I think it does the source justice. Thankfully the film doesn’t shy away from the more frightening, surreal and darkly cynical aspects of the book and HOLY SHIT are those witch practical FX makeup nightmare inducing. A lot of money was put into this and the Jim Henson studio brings a glossy macabre and even acid trippy look to the villains.

the witches 1990 review
The fantastical plot is anchored by a top notch cast. Anjelica Huston sinks her teeth into an iconic and deliciously wicked performance. You can tell she is enjoying every second of it and she still talks fondly about being apart of it. Character actor Rowan Atkinson (better known as Mr. Bean) gives a great performance that is no doubt a homage to John Cleese’s in Fawlty Towers.

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My one complaint is that the studio played it safe and went with a warmer and fuzzy ending that is a lot darker in the book, but otherwise this is on par with Caroline and ParaNorman as a delightful horror fantasy film that is fun for kids and adults.

the witches 1990 review
Thanks to the good folks at Warner Archives you can now chuck out that old snap-case DVD in favor of their brand new 2K Blu-Ray, just in time for spooky fall time viewing! Seeing how the film was directed by Nicolas Roeg, you know you are in for a visual treat and Warners takes full advantage giving us a clean, crisp restoration that frankly is stunning. You can tell a lot of clean up went into this as the colours really pop and you never get any fade or the 'so bright it’s washed out' look, as with some “restorations”. The balance in colour is on point and skin tones are handled really well and look natural.  I compared it to the previous release and it's like night and day. The sound is great as well, sporting a new 2.0 track. I wont lie and say I’m not a bit disappointed in the lack of features, however it's leaps and bounds better in terms of picture and audio.

I plan on making this movie part of my Halloween season viewing and you should too! Needs to be in every film fan's collection.

The Witches is on blu-ray now from Warner Archive.



Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”


His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @castle_anger.




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