Saturday, October 27, 2012

Horror Thoughts ‘12—The Witches (1990) **

PG, 91 min.
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writers: Allan Scott, Roald Dahl (book)
Starring: Jasen Fisher, Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Patterson, Brenda Blethyn, Charlie Potter, Jane Horrocks, Anne Lambton

“The Witches” is a strange little family horror flick from a man who directed perhaps the strangest and one of the greatest adult horror flicks, “Don’t Look Now”. Nicholas Roeg is not an incredibly prolific director, although he began his directing career with great promise, directing three classics right from the start, the Mick Jagger starring gangster flick “Performance”, the Australian Outback set “Walkabout” and the aforementioned “Don’t Look Now” with its incredibly shocking ending. Since those three there have been a few good moments, like David Bowie’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, but not as much greatness.

I’m sure if I’d been aware of Roeg’s early reputation in 1990 when “The Witches” was released I would’ve sought it out in hopes of seeing another glimpse of greatness in an unexpected place. I would’ve been disappointed with the overall film, although the glimpse is there.

My son suggested the film for a family Horrorfest entry, and on that level it is better than many. It’s an awkward film. There really isn’t much to it. It starts out with what seems like endless exposition as we meet a boy and his grandmother, who tells him all about witches and how they work. She tells him their only goal is to kill children. She goes through numerous rules about them so when he and we see them later in the movie it will take no effort to identify them. It’s not like the plot and the title really make it a secret, however, just who is holding a convention at the British resort the two travel to one weekend. The rest of the movie is merely about how the witches try to kill him and after they turn him into a mouse, he stops them.

Sorry to spoil the suspense, but it is a family film. You really can’t expect a bloody child massacre. I liked Roeg’s dry take on the material, but I imagine that makes it difficult for Americans trained to expect more mystery to everything. It doesn’t affect children’s enjoyment of the material. It is a little difficult as an adult to find much fright in a movie involving talking mice, however. The witches are also too broadly portrayed to be really scary or convincing in any way. Huston’s witch make up is so far over the top it seems like a trick rather than a treat. Again, the kids won’t mind.

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