Formula 86

There’s little doubt that after watching The Witches, young viewers spent hours wondering which of their neighbors were likeliest to eat them. Or, which wanted to turn all children into mice. The English charm pouring from The Witches doesn’t squelch the lurid fantasy aimed direct at kids.

It’s a clever (if manipulative) way to teach the young not to talk to strangers. Early on, a witch tries luring Luke (Jasen Fisher) down from his treehouse with candy. The fear is undeniable on Luke’s face, bitterness on the witch’s. Later, a spoiled kid raids the buffet, gorging on food that eventually costs him; witches aim to use their potion in candy stores – e.g., too many sweets is dangerous, and even grandma suffers from diabetes as a result. The Witches is utterly genuine in its cause, and grim enough in concept to add a chill.

Author Roald Dahl despised this adaptation of his work, the ending especially. The Witches lacks his work’s grimmer tone, overly bright considering the inherent ugliness. That said, The Witches involves a suggestive romance between Rowan Atkinson and hotel housekeeper Sukie Smith, definitely crude for the intended demographic. Plus the make-up work from Jim Henson that turns Angelica Huston (who is a delight in this role) into a ghastly-looking thing creates a stellar interpretation of her moral-less character, the Grand High Witch.

The Witches lacks [Roald Dahl’s] grimmer tone, overly bright considering the inherent ugliness

And truly, this is a world – or rather, a locked down, claustrophobic hotel – with a mere two good people. Pulling a Disney in the opening act, Luke’s parents die (off-screen) in a car accident, leaving him and grandma Helga (Mai Zetterling) to undercut the entirety of England’s witch population. Other people staying on vacation prove insufferable, including a rich snob utterly disinterested in his wife, eyeing Huston instead. His boring adult conversation speaks of meetings and clubs, the type of numbing topics that to a child, likely induces more real world fear than the suggestion of witches.

The Witches takes around an hour to begin spiraling out of control, hampered by that pace. Creative fish-eye lens work gives things an uncomfortable vibe, that when paired with Henson’s attractive puppetry, proves surreal enough to work in context. Adorable mice run counter to the storybook-like witches, and miniaturization creates some enjoyable adventure.

Considering Henson’s other offerings, The Witches doesn’t match the beauty of a Dark Crystal, yet the simpler, pared down storytelling demands subtler touches; his team adapted for such. At times, The Witches looks akin to a TV movie, lacking gloss and sporting lower production values expected of theatrical releases, but this isn’t a movie looking for dazzling output. Rather, the smaller scale imbues The Witches with a certain discomfort – even a warped reality – that’s often lost when under a studio banner.


From Warner Archive, The Witches debuts to Blu-ray with what looks to be a recent scan. A mild level of grain naturally sits over the image, resolved well, holding together a splendid level of definition. All make-up effects excel, with higher resolution drawing out the intricacies of paint and application work. Even the puppets look sublime, in particular the fur. Humans look stellar too with organic facial detail.

Color becomes the stand-out quality, emboldened with bright primaries. Nothing looks tweaked by modern digital tools. Flesh tones carry natural hues, with the scenery saturated. Getting into the green smoke emitted by soon-to-be mice or the purple permanently stuck to Huston in some form, The Witches Blu-ray transfer truly takes off.

The whiff comes by way of depth, weakening in terms of black levels with an overall contrast a point or two too high. Flatness continues for the full runtime, never reaching the shadow density needed to reach a pleasing dimensionality. Consider this however: The Witches never recedes into the ugliest elements of Dahl’s work, and it’s likely the intent was to keep things out of darkness visually.


In DTS-HD, this simple stereo track – minus any notable channel separation – is a fine example of ‘80s era audio. Dialog sounds crisp, and the score hits some lows with rare fidelity for something of this age lacking an upscale to 5.1.

Likewise, highs never sour, with stellar balance when in scenes of panic. Hundreds of people shouting and screaming at once, but The Witches never loses core dialog or the score.


A trailer. That’s all.

The Witches
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


A suitably spooky fairy tale for kids, The Witches will help kids swear off strangers forever and tell a fun story in the process.

User Review
4.5 (2 votes)

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