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The Witches

Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Produced by Jim Henson,
Mark Shivas,
Dusty Symonds
Written by Novel:
Roald Dahl
Allan Scott
Starring Jasen Fisher
Anjelica Huston
Mai Zetterling
Rowan Atkinson
Music by Stanley Myers
Cinematography Harvey Harrison
Editing by Tony Lawson
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) United Kingdom
May 25, 1990
United States
August 24, 1990
September 20, 1990
Running time 92 minutes
Country Norway
Language English
Gross revenue $10,360,553

The Witches is a 1990 film adaptation of the book of the same name by British author Roald Dahl. It was produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and Warner Bros.. As well as being the final movie Henson personally worked on, this was also the final theatrical movie produced by Lorimar.



The story begins with an old Norwegian woman, Helga, telling her grandson, Luke (though they are unnamed in the novel), that witches make up a well-connected organization whose goal is to wipe out every child. Motive is given, children smell of dog droppings, the witches also have an abhorrence of children. Helga also explains how to recognize a witch, which is described as a difficult feat, and tells Luke a story about her childhood friend, Erica (Solveg), a girl who fell victim to a witch and trapped inside a painting.

According to Helga's description, witches are bald and wear wigs to hide their baldness and they also conceal their deformed hands (which have claws instead of nails) with gloves, and have feet with square ends and "revolting stumps where their toes should be". Witches also have a highly developed sense of smell. According to Helga, a clean child smells like 'dog droppings' to a witch. Helga warns Luke to remember these things or else he will not survive. She also tells of the Grand High Witch, the most evil, repulsive and frightful witch of all, and the dreaded leader of all the witches on the planet - and who has never been identified despite the attempts of witchophiles all over the world to track her down.

Shortly after the death of Luke's parents in a car crash, Luke and Helga move to England. There, Luke encounters a woman dressed in funeral attire, and is horrified to notice she has purple eyes, a trait that witches possess. The witch tries to coax Luke from his treehouse with a snake, which she hopes will fascinate him; but when Helga arrives, the witch flees and the snake vanishes only to reappear with her moments later.

On Luke's birthday, Helga collapses and, after she is diagnosed with diabetes, the doctor recommends a holiday by the seaside to recover. They visit a luxurious hotel in Cornwall where an alleged "children's charity" is having their annual meeting. An aristocratic, but aloof, woman named Evangeline Ernst also books into the hotel, and her suspicious character appears to ring some distant bells in Helga's memory. Luke grows bored and wanders around the hotel with his pet mice, William and Mary. He ends up in a wide, deserted ballroom and hides behind a screen to train his mice.

Suddenly the supposed charity arrives and Luke is trapped in the ballroom with them, although they cannot see him behind the screen. When one of them scratches underneath her wig (with a gloved hand), he realizes that the members are the witches of England who have come for their annual conference. After the doors are securely locked, the witches unveil their true repulsive selves: removing wigs to reveal bald scalps; their gloves to reveal long, sharp claws; and shoes to reveal toeless feet. The woman aliased Miss Evangeline Ernst removes her beautiful human face to reveal a hideous and hunchbacked body beneath her glamorous exterior. It becomes obvious that she is the Grand High Witch.

The Grand High Witch is furious with the Witches of England for failing in their duties to annihilate the children, feeling that "one child a week" is no good. She demands that all the children of England must be eliminated before she returns within a year. One witch (Beatrice) remarks that wiping out every child within a year is impossible, and the enraged Grand High Witch destroys her by zapping her into a pile of ashes with a purple energy from her eyes. The Grand High Witch reveals she is fed up with her underlings' dithering, and that she has come up with a master plan to rid the world of the children the witches loathe. The Grand High Witch orders all her servants to resign from their present jobs and buy sweet shops with money she will give them. She then tells them to lace their confectionery with a magic formula she will give them, called 'Formula 86', which turns whoever ingests it into a mouse.

The Grand High Witch then turns a greedy and obese boy, Bruno Jenkins (lured there by the promise of six chocolate bars), into an anthropomorphic mouse as a demonstration of the method. Luke recognises him as a boy he had met in the hotel dining room earlier in the day, and the witch's suspicious behaviour had been exhibited while she was observing Bruno in the dining room.

One of the witches then sniffs out Luke, who manages to escape to his hotel room, but is captured by the Grand High Witch herself. She then pours an entire bottle of Formula 86 into Luke's throat, creating a second anthropomorphic mouse.

Luke and Bruno reach Helga's room. Later, Luke steals a bottle of Formula 86 from the Grand High Witch's room whilst she is bickering with her assistant and uses it against the witches by adding it to the soup reserved for the witches themselves. One of the hotel cooks is actually a witch, as proven by her purple eyes. She tastes the soup after the soup has been mixed with the formula, and turns into a mouse herself. She tries to warn the other witches of this, but is crushed and killed by the witch who Luke had encountered before he and Helga moved to the hotel. After Helga returns Bruno to his parents, she offers to reveal to them who is responsible for Bruno's alteration. As she is preparing to tell them who did it, chaos breaks out as all the witches start turning into mice.

Initially, panic ensues when the women disfigure and mice suddenly appear in the dining room, but soon both hotel staff and guests are attacking and killing them, unknowingly ridding England of its witches. The Grand High Witch seems to be (but not entirely) immune to the effects of the poison and advances menacingly upon Helga, until Bruno bravely leaps upon her and bites her, causing the potion to work. The Grand High Witch is turned into a repulsive, snarling mouse and Helga insults her, "You're the most evil and appalling woman in the world... a loathsome, hideous disgrace!"

The Grand High Witch is finally destroyed when Mr. Stringer, the hotel's manager, chops her in two with a meat cleaver (this not entirely shown, as the greenish mist comes up and she makes a faint squeak), after Helga had stranded her with a beer glass.

After Luke and Helga have returned home, one witch, Miss Ann Irvine (the Grand High Witch's former put-upon assistant and the youngest of the witches), comes to Luke and Helga's house that night and uses her magic to restore him to human form, as well as returning his glasses and his previously lost white mice. Seeing Miss Irvine outside, Luke shouts his thanks and a reminder to her to also turn Bruno back into a human, to which Miss Irvine gives a reassuring smile before driving away. Her good deed also appears to change her fingers gradually from clawed to human (suggesting it is their evil ways that make them look they way they do). With England's children now safe from the threat of witches, Luke and Helga, with the money the Grand High Witch was going to use to have the other witches open candy stores, begin making plans to travel to the United States to destroy the witches there.




This was the last movie to be personally overseen by Jim Henson, before his death in May 1990.


The whole section in the start of the movie (until they move to the United Kingdom) is shot in Bergen in Norway, and both Erica and Luke's grandmother Helga speak Norwegian in some parts. The street where they live is called Nykirkesmuget. The police officers drive Norwegian police cars with both Norwegian uniforms and license plates. Much of the film was shot on location in Cornwall.


The film contains an orchestral score composed by Stanley Myers. The film's main theme is noted for its quirky sound and colorful instrumentation. To date, a soundtrack CD has not been released, and the entire score remains obscure. Throughout the score, the Dies Irae appears, highly reminiscent of Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique Mvt. V, "The Witches Sabbath."


Since 2006, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón have been in talks of making a new movie based on the book. del Toro says he wishes to stay more loyal to the book than the 1990 film did and plans to do it completely in stop-motion animation.[1]

Felicity Dahl states that Roald Dahl hated the happy ending. (The ending to the book was not so truimphant, with neither child being returned to human form and having to cope with some serious consequences of being a mouse.) He apparently stood outside cinemas with a megaphone, telling people not to watch the film. It was the last of Dahl's books to be developed into a film before his death; he died just months after the film was released.[2]

Witches The Game

There was a popular game that was played by children upon the release of the movie. The game consisted of one child climbing a tree, while the other child acting as the witch tries to lure the child down with a bar of chocolate. If the child acting as the witch was successful, a game of tag would ensue until the child is "tagged" out.


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External links


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