THE WITCHES (1989) Reviews and overview

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With a 2020 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel in development, the Warner Archive Collection has just announced that they are releasing Nicolas Roeg‘s 1990 version (details below) on Blu-ray, transferred from a new HD master. A release date will be confirmed soon.

The Witches is a 1989 [released 1990] comedy horror feature film based on the book of the same name by Norwegian-British author Roald Dahl (The Night Digger). It was directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now) and produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and Warner Bros. The movie stars Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling and Rowan Atkinson.

The soundtrack score was provided by Stanley Myers (Paperhouse; Incubus; Schizo).

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The Witches is about a young boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) whose parents have died in a tragic accident, and whose grandmother (Mai Zetterling) takes him to a posh hotel in England, where a secret coven of witches is holding its annual convention. The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston, in a scene-stealing performance) has decreed that all children in England be turned into mice, and Luke and his pal Bruno (Charles Potter) are the first victims on the list…


When Dahl saw the final cut, he sent an angry letter to Henson, decrying the “vulgarity, the bad taste and the actual terror displayed” onscreen and threatened a boycott.”I hope you will forgive us for falling short of your expectations,” Henson responded diplomatically but declined to change the movie.

As well as being the last film that Jim Henson personally worked on before his death, this was also the final theatrical film produced by Lorimar Productions (who went bankrupt, hence its delated release in 1990 by Warner Bros.) and the last film made based on Dahl’s material before his death in 1990. Henson never saw the film released: He died aged fifty-four on May 16th of bacterial pneumonia; Dahl, seventy-four, died six months later of blood cancer.

The Witches


“I love Henson’s look and it works well with Dahl’s storytelling. The movie is surreal and terrifying (the witches transformation at the end is pretty horrific at points). The filmmakers also did a great job combining the animatronic mice with real mice. The Witches is a fun movie that kids and adults will enjoy.” JP Roscoe, Basement Rejects

“This mostly terrific Roald Dahl adaptation is down to the fact that left-leaning British master Nicholas Roeg, the man responsible for Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth, is very much in tune with the devilish cunning of this black hued novel. Hence, its one of the best, and most unnoticed, of recent kid-scaring (and therefore kid pleasing) movies.” Ian Nathan, Empire

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The Witches is a film that genuinely takes one aback with its gleeful malice, especially so when placed in comparison to the blandly G-rated inoffensiveness of other children’s films. Nicolas Roeg serves up some marvellously horrid images of decapitated fingers and witches malevolently pushing baby carriages from cliffs. There is a tour-de-force of makeup grotesquerie…” Richard Scheib, Moria

“The visual creations from Jim Henson Productions are great, the look of Eva when she removes her hair and mask is stunning but it is too scary for children. Yet the comedy of Luke spying on the witches, scampering through the kitchen as a mouse is the stuff which young children will enjoy. Throw in a whole 70s vibe and “The Witches” ends up being a mismatch and one which doesn’t work.” Andy Webb, The Movie Scene


Buy The Witches by Roald Dahl from

” …the movie is often downright scary, which makes the experience feel surprisingly potent and engaging. There’s a real sense of poignancy and danger that accompanies the entire movie, and the whole thing is a tense, funny, grotesque and delightful way to spend ninety minutes.” Julien Houle, Pop Culture Thoughts

“The transformation scenes where the grand high witch takes off her human face and becomes her true self are beautifully executed. It really looks as though Anjelica Huston’s face is a mask. There are nearly no cuts in the scene, which makes it even more impressive. The Witches is a great family friendly horror film that delivers the scares without being too graphic.” Tyler Doupé, Wicked Horror


Cast and characters:

  • Anjelica Huston … Miss Ernst / Grand High Witch – The Watcher in the Woods; The Cleanse
  • Mai Zetterling … Helga
  • Jasen Fisher … Luke
  • Rowan Atkinson … Mr. Stringer – Scooby-Doo
  • Bill Paterson … Mr. Jenkins
  • Brenda Blethyn … Mrs. Jenkins
  • Charlie Potter … Bruno Jenkins
  • Anne Lambton … Woman in Black
  • Jane Horrocks … Miss Irvine
  • Sukie Smith … Marlene
  • Rose English … Dora
  • Jenny Runacre … Elsie – Son of Dracula; The Creeping Flesh
  • Annabel Brooks … Nicola
  • Emma Relph … Millie
  • Nora Connolly … Beatrice

Filming locations:

Bigfrith Lane, Cookham, Berkshire, England
Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall, England
Old Bergen Museum – Nyhavnsveien 4, Sandviken, Bergen, Hordaland, Norway

Film Facts:

Michael Palin (Ripping Yarns; Monty Python) played one of the witches incognito.

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