Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Witches, The [1989]

US movie (1989). Warner Bros/Lorimar/Henson. Pr Mark Shivas. Exec pr Jim Henson. Dir Nicolas Roeg. Animatronics Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Screenplay Allan Scott. Based on The Witches (1983) by Roald Dahl. Starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr Stringer), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs Jenkins), Jasen Fisher (Luke), Jane Horrocks (Irvine), Anjelica Huston (Eva Ernst), Bill Paterson (Herbert Jenkins), Charlie Potter (Bruno Jenkins), Mai Zetterling (Grandma/Helga). 91 mins. Colour.

There are child-hating Witches everywhere – Luke's Norwegian Grandma tells him – detectable only by the purplish tinge in their eyes; in fact they are bald and hideous, but wear wigs and masks to hide this, and have no toes so always wear plain, sensible shoes. Grandma's childhood friend Erika was seized by a witch and only later discovered locked into a painting, where she stayed trapped as she grew old and died; Grandma herself, in her youth, searched the world for the Grand High Witch, but never found her.

When Luke's parents are killed in an accident, he goes to live with Grandma in England, and eventually, to holiday at the Hotel Excelsior. Here they find a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children convention. As Luke discovers, hiding in the conference room, this is a front for a witches' convention, and the Grand High Witch herself is present in the guise of Eva Ernst. Her plan is that the witches should open hundreds of sweetshops, doctoring the sweets with her magic Potion, Formula 86, which turns people into mice; she demonstrates on Luke's new friend, glutton Bruno. Then Luke is caught and likewise turned into a mouse. With the help of Bruno and Grandma he succeeds in lacing the soup at the convention banquet with purloined Formula 86, and as mice the witches meet their nemesis. Ernst's much-abused secretary, Miss Irvine, turns Luke back into a boy. He and Grandma, with Ernst's US address book, plan to continue the hunt . . .

Although modest, TW is surprisingly enjoyable. However, the portrayal of witches as looking just like plainly dressed women, living alone or together, as propounded in both the movie and, even more so, Dahl's book, has led to some examples of reclusive women being tormented by vindictive children.

TW has no connection with The Witches (1966), which is rather good Hammer fare about a new schoolmistress in an English village discovering that the locals are dabbling in ritual Magic and Devil-worship. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.