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The Witches (1990) - 5/31 Days of Halloween 2020

So far, our Halloween flicks have been pretty gruesome and hardly family-appropriate. I like to get a mix of mature and kid-friendly movies in my October lineup this year, so why don't we slow things down and gather the kids around the TV tonight.

Today's movie was recommended by a good friend who's actually been gently poking me to give it a watch for a while. With her not being a fan of the horror genre in general, I knew this movie had to be special if this particular friend was recommending it. The fact that it stars Angelica Huston is just icing on the cake. Who can say no to Morticia Addams!? So set your mousetraps and skip today's shower, kids, because tonight we're going to check in to 1990's The Witches, based on the children's book by Roald Dahl.

As our movie opens, a young boy named Luke is being treated to tales of evil witches by his grandmother Helga who claims to be the survivor of a witch attack that claimed one of her fingers. Luke learns that witches are ugly, wear disguises, and hate the smell of children. After Luke's parents are tragically killed, Helga and the boy move to England. Luke realizes his grandmother is telling the truth when a witch attempts to tempt him with candy. After Helga is diagnosed with diabetes, she and Luke decide to go on holiday and check into a luxurious, seaside hotel.

Unbeknownst to the vacationers, the hotel is also playing host to a convention of England's witches, led by the grand high witch herself. When Luke is accidentally locked inside the ballroom with the witches, he learns of their plot to turn all of England's children into mice with a magic potion called Formula 86. Drawn by his scent, the witches discover Luke and turn him into a mouse. In his new form, Luke must make his way back to his grandmother and warn her of the witches' plot before it's too late.

If I had to sum up this movie in one word, it would be adorable. It manages to be scary without being traumatizing. There's plenty of humor and wholesome moments to balance the creepy bits, but they certainly don't water the creep factor down. Angelica Huston's portrayal of the grand high witch is delightfully wicked.

The effects were done by Jim Henson, and it shows. Sadly, The Witches was Henson's final film before his passing. I feel a bit more attention could have been given to the other witches' makeup, but Huston's steals the spotlight and rightfully so. The transitions between Mouse Luke and real mice are about as seamless as one could hope for in a pre-CGI world, and the closeups are fantastic. Overall, I'd say the effects still hold up rather well after thirty years.

My verdict is... watch this movie. Watch it with your family. I just learned there's a remake starring Anne Hathaway coming to HBO Max this month. Frankly, I don't think we needed one since I feel this movie still holds up well, but I'll admit that I am curious after watching the trailer. Anne Hathaway has some big, sensible shoes to fill.

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