The Witches (1990)

PG | 91 mins | Children's works, Fantasy, Horror | 16 February 1990

Director:

Nicolas Roeg

Writer:

Allan Scott

Producer:

Mark Shivas

Cinematographer:

Harvey Harrison

Editor:

Tony Lawson

Production Designer:

Andrew Sanders
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HISTORY

End credits contain the following information: “Filmed in Bergen, Norway; The Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall; and Bray Studios, England.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the filmmakers found a section of old Bergen, Norway, that looked as if little had changed over the previous century. In Newquay, Cornwall, they used the exterior of a “grandiose, decaying Edwardian seaside hotel,” but production designer Andre Sanders built the interiors on a soundstage at Bray Studios in Berkshire, England. For the sequences in which children were turned into mice, sections of the hotel’s interior and furniture were built to a larger scale. Principal photography began in Norway on 11 Apr 1988, that day’s issue of DV noted, and lasted sixteen weeks.
       The $11-million film was executive producer Jim Henson’s last project, the 23 Aug 1990 DV noted. Henson’s Creature Shop designed and built the prosthetics for the witches and animatronic rats and mice that were used interchangeably with real mice. The 29 Jul 1990 LAT mentioned that Anjelica Huston required two hours of prosthetics and makeup each morning when she portrayed the “Grand High Witch.” There were three different sizes of mice: life-sized, three times larger, and a “hand puppet” nine times bigger than life-sized. Henson died 15 May 1990, three months after The Witches played in two regional markets, but four days before it debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival, the 19 May 1990 Seattle Times noted. The 16 Feb 1990 Orlando Sentinel and 3 Sep 1990 Var reported that the film was given “minimal exposure at nine theaters” in Orlando, FL, and Sacramento, ... More Less

End credits contain the following information: “Filmed in Bergen, Norway; The Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall; and Bray Studios, England.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the filmmakers found a section of old Bergen, Norway, that looked as if little had changed over the previous century. In Newquay, Cornwall, they used the exterior of a “grandiose, decaying Edwardian seaside hotel,” but production designer Andre Sanders built the interiors on a soundstage at Bray Studios in Berkshire, England. For the sequences in which children were turned into mice, sections of the hotel’s interior and furniture were built to a larger scale. Principal photography began in Norway on 11 Apr 1988, that day’s issue of DV noted, and lasted sixteen weeks.
       The $11-million film was executive producer Jim Henson’s last project, the 23 Aug 1990 DV noted. Henson’s Creature Shop designed and built the prosthetics for the witches and animatronic rats and mice that were used interchangeably with real mice. The 29 Jul 1990 LAT mentioned that Anjelica Huston required two hours of prosthetics and makeup each morning when she portrayed the “Grand High Witch.” There were three different sizes of mice: life-sized, three times larger, and a “hand puppet” nine times bigger than life-sized. Henson died 15 May 1990, three months after The Witches played in two regional markets, but four days before it debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival, the 19 May 1990 Seattle Times noted. The 16 Feb 1990 Orlando Sentinel and 3 Sep 1990 Var reported that the film was given “minimal exposure at nine theaters” in Orlando, FL, and Sacramento, CA, on 16 Feb 1990, to test it on American audiences. The Witches was released nationally six months later, on 24 Aug 1990. Reviews were favorable, although the 15 Mar 1990 DV review stated that the film was “too sophisticated” for children and “not quite right for older audiences.” The 24 Aug 1990 LAT commented that Roald Dahl despised the film, partly because the filmmakers gave it a “questionably ‘upbeat’ ending.” Several reviews, including the 24 Aug 1990 Toronto Star, also felt the ending was unsatisfying. The film grossed $9.1 million in its first 227 days of release.
       End credits contain the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks to Rusty Lemorande & Ileen Maisel" and "Also thanks to Goldcrest Studios Sound Department." More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Boston Globe
20 Jan 1991.
---
Box Office
Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
11 Apr 1988
p. 21.
Daily Variety
13 May 1988
p. 24.
Daily Variety
15 Mar 1990.
---
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1990
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 Aug 1990
p. 4.
Daily Variety
5 Sep 1990
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1990
p. 6, 123.
Long Beach Press-Telegram
7 Nov 1987.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Jul 1990
Calendar, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
24 Aug 1990
Calendar, p. 6.
New York Times
24 Aug 1990
p. 12.
Newsweek
24 Sep 1990.
---
Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
16 Feb 1990
p. 7.
Screen International
9 Apr 1988.
---
Screen International
16 Jul 1988.
---
Screen International
17 Mar 1990.
---
Seattle Times
19 May 1990
Section C, p. 5.
Toronto Star
24 Aug 1990
Section E, p. 12.
Variety
21 Mar 1990
p. 22.
Variety
3 Sep 1990
p. 14.
WSJ
30 Aug 1990.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Lorimar Film Entertainment Presents
From Jim Henson Productions
A Nicolas Roeg Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
1st asst dir
2d unit asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
Prod mgr--Norway
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Line prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Cam op
Dir of photog--model unit
Focus puller
Clapper loader
Stills photog
Cam grip
Gaffer
Cam and elec equip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod des--Concepts
Supv art dir
Art dir
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
1st asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop buyer
Draughtsman
Draughstman
Const mgr
Asst const mgr
Prop master
Chargehand prop
Standby prop
Asst set des--Norway
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Ward mistress
MUSIC
Mus rec by
Mus rec and mixed at
SOUND
Dubbing ed
Dial ed
Eff ed
Asst dubbing ed
Sd mixer
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Sd re-rec at
VISUAL EFFECTS
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Puppeteer
Animatronics des
Animatronics coord
Mice des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Mechanical des
Puppet mice
Foam lab supv
Animatronics by
Travelling matte
Title des and opt eff
MAKEUP
Make-up Grand High Witch
Prosthetic make-up
Chief make-up artist
Asst make-up
Asst make-up
Chief hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coord
Scr supv
Loc mgr--Norway
Loc mgr--England
Casting dir
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Post-prod coord
Prod office secy
Asst to Mr. Roeg
Floor runner
Prod runner
Prod runner
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Witches by Roald Dahl (New York, 1983).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 February 1990
Premiere Information:
Orlando, FL, and Sacramento, CA, opening: 16 February 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 24 August 1990
Production Date:
11 April--mid August 1988
Copyright Claimant:
Lorimar Film Entertainment Company
Copyright Date:
15 October 1990
Copyright Number:
PA487977
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® equipment
Prints
Originated on Eastman colour film from Kodak
Duration(in mins):
91
Length(in feet):
8,233
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29401
SYNOPSIS

In a Norwegian village, Helga Eveshim cautions her nine-year-old American grandson, Luke Eveshim, about witches. Real witches look ordinary and often seem friendly, but they kill children. Every country has its own "high witch," and the ruler of all is the Grand High Witch, creation’s most evil creature. Helga shows Luke the missing little finger on her left hand, a memento of a childhood encounter with a witch. Her neighbor, Erica Larsen, was snatched by a witch and never seen again, except inside a painting on her parents’ wall, where she grew older and eventually faded away. Telltale signs of witches are that they have a purplish tinge to their eyes and boxy feet with no toes. Also, being bald, they must wear wigs that often make them itch. Luke’s parents see him off to bed before they go out. The next morning, police arrive with the news that Luke’s parents were killed in an accident. Helga takes Luke to her other house in England. One day, a lady introduces herself and offers the boy a snake. Noticing her purplish eyes, Luke calls for his grandmother and the woman hurries away. For Luke’s birthday, Helga gives him a cage with two white mice that he names William and Mary. When Helga has fainting spells, a doctor suggests she stop eating sweets and take a vacation. Helga, Luke, and his mice travel to the seaside Excelsior Hotel. Miss Eva Ernst arrives moments behind them, accompanied by her secretary, Miss Irvine, and is greeted as a celebrity because she is the chairman of the fifth national convention of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. While exploring the ... +


In a Norwegian village, Helga Eveshim cautions her nine-year-old American grandson, Luke Eveshim, about witches. Real witches look ordinary and often seem friendly, but they kill children. Every country has its own "high witch," and the ruler of all is the Grand High Witch, creation’s most evil creature. Helga shows Luke the missing little finger on her left hand, a memento of a childhood encounter with a witch. Her neighbor, Erica Larsen, was snatched by a witch and never seen again, except inside a painting on her parents’ wall, where she grew older and eventually faded away. Telltale signs of witches are that they have a purplish tinge to their eyes and boxy feet with no toes. Also, being bald, they must wear wigs that often make them itch. Luke’s parents see him off to bed before they go out. The next morning, police arrive with the news that Luke’s parents were killed in an accident. Helga takes Luke to her other house in England. One day, a lady introduces herself and offers the boy a snake. Noticing her purplish eyes, Luke calls for his grandmother and the woman hurries away. For Luke’s birthday, Helga gives him a cage with two white mice that he names William and Mary. When Helga has fainting spells, a doctor suggests she stop eating sweets and take a vacation. Helga, Luke, and his mice travel to the seaside Excelsior Hotel. Miss Eva Ernst arrives moments behind them, accompanied by her secretary, Miss Irvine, and is greeted as a celebrity because she is the chairman of the fifth national convention of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. While exploring the hotel, Luke meets a heavyset boy named Bruno Jenkins, who nibbles on cakes in the lounge. The manager, Mr. Stringer, learns about Luke’s mice and confronts him, but Helga counters that she saw a rat in the corridor, and Luke adds that he saw a rat nibbling on cakes in the lounge. Mr. Stringer allows Luke’s mice to stay as long as they remain caged. In the lounge, Helga sees Miss Ernst and recognizes her from somewhere. Noticing that her tea and sandwich taste funny, she suspects something odd is happening and catches Miss Ernst watching her. Nearby, Bruno Jenkins sits with his parents, eating cakes, and Miss Ernst takes note of him, also. When Mr. Stringer finds signs of Bruno’s nibbling on several cakes, he orders his staff to place mousetraps around the hotel. Putting William and Mary in his pocket, Luke ventures into the convention hall where the Society is meeting. Hiding behind a screen near the stage, he sets up a tightrope for his mice. The door suddenly opens and Mr. Stringer leads Miss Ernst and over a hundred women into the room. As they sit down, Luke notices one woman’s purplish eyes. Another digs a scratching finger under her wig. Mr. Stringer is hustled out of the hall, and a woman locks the doors. As Miss Ernst takes the stage, women remove their shoes, revealing stubbed feet, and take off their wigs. Miss Ernst peels off her “face,” revealing the hideous features of the Grand High Witch. Decreeing that every English child must be “eliminated,” she orders the witches to return home, quit their jobs, and open chocolate shops with the money she will give them. On a prearranged day, they will offer free sweets for every child. The candy will be treated with her secret Formula 86, which will turn the children into mice two hours after they eat it. The Grand High Witch explains that she earlier put her formula on a bar of chocolate, gave it to a “repulsive” boy in the lobby, and promised him more if he came to the meeting hall at a designated time, two minutes from now. The witches hurriedly put on their shoes, wigs, and faces. Bruno Jenkins knocks and is ushered into the hall. Reaching the stage, he becomes sick and turns into a mouse. Luke runs for his life and is chased outside. Seeing a baby in a carriage, Miss Ernst pushes it down a hillside, but Luke stops it from going over a cliff. Going to his grandmother’s room, he finds her unconscious and Miss Ernst standing next to the bed. She informs Luke that Helga is an old adversary. Knocking the boy unconscious, she carries him back to the meeting hall, where the other witches await. She pours Formula 86 down Luke’s throat. Minutes later, he turns into a mouse. As the witches stomp, Luke scampers away through an airshaft. Still capable of speech, he greets Bruno behind the wall, along with William and Mary, but the real mice cannot talk. Luke and Bruno creep back into the meeting hall through the ventilation and find it empty. Seeing his father, Bruno wants to enlist his help, but Luke warns that his dad will stomp on him. To lure Bruno upstairs, Luke promises that his grandmother has peanuts for him. They ride the elevator and sneak along the sideboards, avoiding mousetraps. They slip into the maid's service wagon, but when she reaches for the towels, she pulls them out and screams. Another woman comes to the maid’s rescue, and as Helga opens the door to see what happened, she notices the helpful woman has purplish eyes. She shuts her door, but not before Luke and Bruno run into the room. When Luke speaks to his grandmother, she recognizes his voice. He introduces her to Bruno, declares that the Grand High Witch is in the hotel, and explains her evil plan. Luke hatches a scheme to steal the Grand High Witch’s formula from her room, located just below them, and sneak it into the witches’ food at the evening banquet. Helga lowers him to Miss Ernst’s balcony in a sock, and distracts the witch’s black cat with the dangling sock, while Luke slips inside. Exploring the room, he accidentally opens a book with little vials inside marked Formula 86. When Miss Ernst and Miss Irvine return, Luke wraps his tail around a bottle and drags it into hiding. Miss Ernst finds the cat on the balcony and looks up to see Helga dangling the sock. Helga apologizes for dropping her knitting on the balcony. Luke works his way upstairs and delivers the formula to Helga. It contains 500 doses. Helga puts Luke, Bruno, and the bottle in her handbag and goes downstairs. In the lounge she sits down with Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins and tries to explain that their son was turned into a mouse, but when she opens the handbag, Bruno’s mother becomes hysterical. In Miss Ernst’s room, the maid finds the open book with formula bottles inside, and dabs the liquid on her neck as if it were perfume. Downstairs, Mrs. Ernst berates Miss Irvine and orders her to go to her room and stay there. Angry over missing such an important event, the secretary quits and hurries away. Helga slips into the kitchen, drops Luke, and is ushered out by the kitchen staff. Hiding among potatoes, Luke avoids first a slicer and then a dip in boiling oil. He notices that one of the chefs has purplish eyes. Seeing that cress soup is on the menu, he climbs on a shelf and drops the opened bottle of Formula 86 into the soup. Meanwhile, the maid meets secretly with Mr. Stringer, but as he sniffs her neck, he recoils and hurries away. Looking in a mirror, the maid sees fur growing on her neck. When the cress soup is wheeled out as an appetizer for the banquet, Mr. Jenkins demands to be served some of it. The witch chef turns into a mouse in the kitchen and runs into the banquet room to warn Miss Ernst, but the witch stomps on her. As planned, Helga fakes a spill at her table, and Luke hides in the cleanup pan in the kitchen. Mr. Stringer carries the pan to Helga’s table, and as he stoops to clean the mess, she drops Luke into her purse. Noticing that Mr. Jenkins is about to eat the cress soup, Helga pushes the dish into his lap. When she opens her purse, Bruno says hello to his parents and Mrs. Jenkins passes out. Suddenly, the witches turn into mice, and the staff chases them around the room. Helga traps Miss Ernst by dropping a large glass over her. She alerts Mr. Stringer, who lifts the glass and chops little Miss Ernest in half with a cleaver. Helga hands Bruno to his parents. Luke and Bruno say farewell, and Bruno tries to cheer his parents as Helga and Luke leave. From her window, Miss Irvine watches Helga leave the hotel. Later, Miss Ernst’s trunk of money, Formula 86, and a list of all the witches in America arrives at Helga’s house. Helga is sad about Luke’s condition, but he assures her that he is happy to be a mouse. That night, Miss Irvine comes to the house and shoots a ray into Luke’s window, turning him back into a boy. His eyeglasses and the two white mice reappear. As Miss Irvine gets into her car, Luke yells to her to visit Bruno.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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