Jim Henson’s last project before he died involved some incredible puppet and makeup effects in this incredible film, based on a Roald Dahl novel. It turned out to be much scarier than we remembered, making it a perfect selection to continue our month of family-friendly horror films. And the remake is on the way, so we’ll see how it measures up to the original.
The Witches (1990)
Episode 206, 2 Guys and a Chainsaw
Todd: Hello and welcome to another episode of Two Guys and a Chainsaw. I’m Todd
Craig: and I’m Craig.
Todd: Well, we continue our month of family-friendly horror films with the movie that I remember so much from my childhood. This is 1990’s The Witches based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. And as a kid, I was very familiar with this book from Roald Dahl.
Uh, this was one of those books that our teachers read to us in class, and I have very fond memories of just like a lot of other. Books. I think Matilda, we, I think we got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in there as well. Um, I hope that’s still a habit for teachers to read to their kids because it was really nice to have read the book, the heard the book, have it be read to me in class, and then see this movie in 1990 when I was a little bit older, but still enjoyed it tremendously.
I remember when it came out, I think we saw it in the theaters, and I have to say. I feel like it terrified me a little bit more as an adult than it did as a kid. I didn’t remember this movie being as scary as it was. I mean, you know, it’s not scary for an adult, but I think as I was watching it, I was just putting myself in a kid’s shoes and I thought, wow.
This movie really is pretty, pretty scary. So, uh, it was fun for me to watch it. I think it was a very appropriate selection for us for this month. One of those movies that strikes a good balance, I think, between being good for families, but still having that edge to it. That makes it a horror movie.
Craig: Yeah. I was watching it last night and I watched it with my partner because he enjoyed it when he was younger too.
And I said pretty much the same thing you did. I’m so glad that we chose this one because it’s not even listed like the description on IMDV lists. It is like family adventure, comedy. This is a straight, this is a straight up war movie. He’s a nightmare.
Todd: It is
Craig: so scary. And I didn’t remember it being that scary either. But then watching it last night, you know, in the mindset that I was watching a horror movie, I’m like, this movie is terrifying.
Todd: And you know, sometimes it’s like, uh, I say that, well, now that I have a son, I see things a little differently. And I have to say that. Pretty on point with this movie too. Now that I have a son, I’m watching what the boy in this movie goes through and I’m getting pissed off. I’m getting angry at these witches for doing these horrible things to these poor little boys, and it’s just brutal and it’s awful.
And. As a horror movie. It’s just delicious. I just loved it.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really good. I’m really excited to Zog about it.
Todd: Well, like I said, this is based on the role doll book of the same name, and if you’ve never read Roald Dahl, I don’t know, you must’ve been hiding under a rock or something, or you just had a horrible childhood, or maybe you just didn’t read so much growing up or, or have things read to you.
He’s a pretty celebrated British. A children’s book author, and he’s responsible for a lot of these films and, and books that we celebrated, Charlie and the chocolate factory, which was made into Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. Uh, there’s a movie called Matilda, which is about a girl who gets kind of psychic powers,
Todd: telekinetic powers.
It’s almost like a kid’s version of Carrie in a way. Isn’t it? But with not so not quite as dark as Carrie. But one thing that really is interesting about his books, and I think why he has such appeal is even though he’s writing for children, and I feel like this is the key in making a good children’s book, even though he’s writing for children, he doesn’t talk down to children.
He doesn’t dumb thing down, write things down to a kid’s level. Things are dangerous. Things are dark. Things are scary in his books. Just like. You know, I think what makes the Harry Potter series so successful is that this is real peril. Even though these books are generally speaking aimed at kids, or at least they deal with kids as the main protagonist, we can all enjoy them.
I guess they just have more appeal because kids can see through that too. Right? Yeah. As kids, we know that the world is dangerous and we know that stories are, have scary protagonists, and they have more of an impact when the danger is real and you’re really not sure if people are gonna make it outta here.
Okay. And in fact, people don’t always make it out. Okay. In his books and in some of the fairy tales. You know, that we, that we read as kids and we listened to his kids. And that’s what I think makes this movie. One of the things that makes us movie so appealing as it is so dark. Uh, and then it has an ending that’s a little different from his book.
And I’m sure we’ll talk about that when we get there as well.
Craig: Right? I mean, that’s the thing, like, if you think about it analytically, this movie is all about stranger danger. Like. Just because people might look nice and seem nice, doesn’t mean that they are. And, and you could be in big trouble if you fall for that ruse.
And, you know, thinking about the other books that he wrote and the movies. That have been made from his source material, like the original and only in my book, Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. We’ll just ignore that abomination. That was that Johnny Depp movie,
Todd: but Oh God,
Craig: the gene Wilder movie. There are legitimately horrifying scenes in that movie, and like even just the premise, like all those kids die except for Charlie.
Contest, but then it just, uh, you know, exposes their gluttony and their horrible flaws and they die. Charlie’s the only one who comes out alive and wins the chocolate factory. It’s crazy. Uh, and he’s, he’s a really good author. I mean, he wrote, he wrote, he’s most famous for these. Children’s books, but he wrote other short stories, and I believe I could be making this up, but I think novels for adults too.
We teach one in our high school curriculum called lamb to the slaughter about a housewife who gets so put out by her misogynistic husband that she beats him to death. With the frozen lamb shank, and then she cooks the lamb shake and shank and serves it to the investigators who come to investigate his death.
Oh my gosh,
Todd: that’s surely Jackson material there.
Craig: Right? Uh, and this, this movie is no, or this story is no exception. I didn’t read the book until really probably a few years ago. Um, I was very familiar with the movie, but I only read the book a few years ago and it’s just as dark, if not more dark than this film, which makes it even more interesting that when Roald Dahl saw the finished cut of this movie, he didn’t like it at all.
And he said that it was too scary Fulger and in bad taste and there was too much actual terror. Welser her book was really dark and, and upsetting. But regardless, I mean, like you said, the ending is different. In fact, his ending is much darker, and again, we’ll save it for later, but his ending is much darker than the.
Ending of the movie, and he didn’t like the way that it was changed and he threatened to have his name and the title removed from the film, and he threatened to campaign against the movie until producer Steven Spielberg wrote him a very. Flattering and apologetic letter, and so he relented. But he also never allowed another adaptation of any of his work and other film adaptation until his death and in his will, he left very soon.
Specific instructions for requirements for any future adaptations. So this movie maybe kind of shaped the way that doll’s material will be adapted in the future. I dunno, but nonetheless. It’s really good.
Todd: Well, and you said, I think it was a slip of the tongue. You said Steven Spielberg, but I think you meant to say Jim Henson.
Craig: That’s what I meant. Yeah. I’m sorry.
Todd: No, that’s fine. Another interesting thing about this movie making it another last, unfortunately, is that this was the last production Jim Henson was involved in, uh, before his very untimely death for. Really, really stupid reasons. Uh, just like pneumonia, I think he got, he was a hardworking guy and he had got a sickness that most of us recover from, but, uh, didn’t really get to it in time and didn’t really take it seriously enough and, uh, ended up dying from it.
So this is kind of his Swan song as well. Not that his company hasn’t continued to do great things in his wake, but we always. He’s a guy that we have really missed, uh, who contributed so much to film, uh, and to our childhoods. And it would be, it’s kind of a shame really, to see that, uh, that he’s gone. But that was something that I didn’t remember about this movie either.
And now this movie was released in 1990 and it’s going to be remade. Uh, a remake was already announced.
Craig: It’s been remade, I think.
Todd: Oh yeah.
Craig: Oh, okay. Well, I mean, I think it’s done. I think it’s in post production.
Todd: Oh yeah, you’re right. You’re right. Anne Hathaway, I believe is going to be playing the hit the main witch in it, but you know, in this remake, guarantee you, it’s going to be CGI.
Spoiler alert. In the movie, the, the boys get turned into mice and so half of the movie is these mice running around trying to foil the witches. And nowadays, all this stuff has done in CGI back in 1990 we didn’t really have that. Or we didn’t have that at the level where it could have been done for a film like this.
So this is a Jim Henson production, and all of the mice in the movie are either live mice or puppet mice, and they talk and their mouse move and they have expressions. And it is really. Impressive. I think
Craig: it is. It’s good.
Todd: I was kind of shocked, and I, again, I remember this as a kid and I didn’t really pay attention to this stuff too much as a kid, but the movie does a great job with these little mouse puppets.
It’s extremely convincing. The ma mice are done. Realistically, these little boys run around and talk and everything, and the puppet work is just fantastic
Craig: and it’s pretty seamless. I mean, you can tell when it’s live. Mice. And as opposed to when it’s puppet mice, but it cuts back and forth between the two and it seems pretty seamless.
I was really impressed with that too. Plus the little mice puppets, the ones that talked, are super cute. This also is very reminiscent of some of Jim Henson’s other stuff, and later in his career and in his life. Jim Henson was not afraid to go a little bit darker with some of his stuff. Like there’s some stuff in here that’s very reminiscent of like labyrinth.
And did hints do the dark crystal? I think he did, didn’t he?
Todd: Yeah, he did. Absolutely.
Craig: And so these puppet effects and makeup costume affects scream. Jim Henson studios, but it’s the darker side and it just, it looks fantastic. I mean, you mentioned the main, which the grand high, which is her name in this movie, she’s played by Angelica Houston, who I think.
Is phenomenal. Okay. In this movie,
Todd: she loves playing this role. Clearly, you could see it in her face.
Craig: Well, she, yeah, I mean she did, but when she’s transformed into the grand high, which she is in heavy, heavy costume makeup, and I’ve read different things. I read on one website that it took eight hours to get her into the makeup, and I was just thinking, I can’t begin to imagine.
What that would be like to have to sit for eight hour work day. I know. I would lose my mind and my partner was like, well, I guess you could try to sleep,
Craig: I don’t know. And that, but I read another. that said that it actually took six hours to apply, but then also six hours to remove. I mean, that is insane.
Todd: It’s six hours to remove.
Craig: That’s what Wikipedia said. Oh, so there’s, there’s really one primary scene where she’s in this full makeup and she has to deliver this big monologue. She said that after being in, you know, getting it put on for however long it took, six or eight hours. And then being honest set in this full rubber latex suit.
She said that she was so exhausted and just in such a state of physical exhaustion that the lines didn’t even make any sense to her and she just wanted to cry.
Craig: imagine I wouldn’t do, but she pulled it off. Brilliantly, and it looks fantastic and it is scary as hell.
Todd: Oh, it is. You know, this scene where they have the main meeting is just, it’s the most iconic scene, I think, from the movie.
It’s clearly, I think one of the most terrifying parts of the movie. It’s the part I remember, and that makeup on her is. A big part of it, actually. The little things, you know the witches. Okay, so the movie starts out in a really nice way, almost like a fairy tale with this sweet little grandmother talking to her grandson, and she is telling him about witches and she basically sounds like.
Although she never says it outright that she’s had some encounters with witches in the past, and that’s why she’s telling him all this stuff. In fact, there’s a pinky finger missing on one of her hands and a, it gets kind of highlighted at certain points in the story, or he kind of notices it. And again, it’s never called attention to, I don’t think she ever even says.
How she lost that finger. But visually and thematically, it’s implied that some, she had some encounter with the witch that caused that to happen. And I think,
Craig: well, right, he, he asks or he asks her if she ever encountered a witch, and that’s when she shows them. And all she says was like, it was a very unpleasant experience.
We don’t know. In the book, she was a retired witch Hunter who had always been on. The hunt for the grand high witch. So we don’t know exactly what has happened, but this whole part in the beginning, you’re right, it is like a fairy tale. In fact, that’s how she’s telling it to him. It’s like a bedtime story.
And she says, I, you know, when your dad was a boy, I told him the same thing. And there are real witches in the world, and they look like ordinary women and they wear ordinary clothes and have ordinary houses and ordinary jobs. But she also says that there are things that you can look out for mean is not quite born well.
Don’t close the way wigs. That it cost them scalp rash over scalp rashes. No itching under the week must drive them crazy. They look quite hideous behind a human face. Mosques and can only be distinguished from ordinary women. If you are sharp enough to Spock the purple tinge to their eyes. witches have known to see tax Clarins rev voting stumps with Atos should be, so they never were pointed or pretty shows.
Just plain sensible shows. And they don’t use knives or guns to kill children because that is too easy to catch. So they’re trickier than that and all of that horrifying. I remember this kid, this cute little kid. What do you think? He’s supposed to be like eight.
Todd: I guess seven or eight
Craig: and he’s small and like he’s totally like dough wide and innocent and he or she, I love that this grandmother just tells him like it is.
You get a know she’s not sugarcoating anything. She, she’s legitimately warning him. As though it is a legitimate danger. And in the world of this movie, it is.
Todd: And again, what makes this so terrifying is it’s rooted in real life. Like you said earlier, this is basically the stranger danger talk, the talk that every parent has to have with their kid about this age and say, look, there are bad people in the world.
That want to do bad things to you and you need to be able to watch out for them and hear the things you watch out for. You know, they’re going to be really friendly to you. They’re going to say, don’t tell your mom and dad. They’re going to offer you candy. All this stuff. I mean, the parallels are right there.
And so even as a parent watching this, I’m thinking, Oh my God, I’m going to have to have a similar talk. With my son and then as can only happen in movies. You know, as soon as she’s told him about this, suddenly he has an encounter with a woman who’s trying to lower him down from his little tree house.
To me, this is one of the most terrifying scenes in the movie. It
Craig: is, and
Todd: it’s. So scary on multiple levels. So he’s up in his tree house and I don’t know, you can get to it through a little ladder or a rope or something. And this woman just very nicely comes down below and starts chatting with him. And you don’t need to have any mythology at all about which is behind it to know that this woman has trouble, she’s doing exactly what a child predator would do.
She’s suddenly opening up and being really friendly to him and smiling at him. But then. We see this purple Glint in
Craig: her eyes,
Todd: which looks super scary
Todd: he sees it too. And then he’s, she’s offering him things as, Oh, I come down, I want to give you something. I want to give you this snake. And she pulls us snake out of her purse.
Craig: Little boys loves snakes.
Todd: You know what. They do. I mean, he’s really interested in this snake. You can tell he kind of leads forward and looks down, but he’s cautious, you know, because he’s heard his grandmother warn him and he starts to see these warning signs and she talks to them. She says, you know, Oh, that’s okay.
It’s okay. I’ll just leave him here and you can come down and get him later. You know? They do have a tendency to slither away and then she talks to the snake like she’s telling it to stay put.
Craig: It’s so
Todd: delicious. Diabolical and evil, what this woman is doing
Craig: and the actress is really good. She’s kind of frightening in and of herself.
I, I’ve read that she was Andy Warhols bodyguard. Isn’t that hilarious? Are you serious?
The thing that scared me so much was like, he recognizes right away what’s going on. And he starts screaming for his grandmother and she just looks up at him and says, she can’t hear you. And like, that is such a nightmare. As a child, you know, you’re in danger and you know, you’re crying out for help, but they can’t hear you.
And here you just are in this terrible situation. Uh, so scary. I mean, it. Yeah. I never went through anything like that in my childhood, but I had nightmares of things like that. This is a nightmare.
Todd: It’s horrifying. And as a parent, it’s horrifying. As a kid, it’s horrifying, but he ends up not taking the bait and the grandmother does come out and you know, the woman was lying to him and she saunters off and the snake disappears.
And the grandmother has also told a story that bears discussing real quick about a girl that she knew or at least was in her neighborhood when she was growing up, who was captured by a witch. And, uh, that is equally terrifying child abduction story that’s told through flashback.
Craig: I know. I think that, again, watching it for this reason and watching it and considering it as.
Uh, a horror movie. Um, this part is, is really disturbing. I mean, this cute, cute little girl. She doesn’t do anything wrong. She just literally gets nabbed off the street. Her parents can’t find her and she’s gone for like six weeks or something, and then all of a sudden she just appears in this big painting above the parent’s fireplace looking out at them.
Like, she looks sad and it says that the grandmother says that she moves position in the painting, but nobody ever sees her move. Not only that, but she ages over the years, and the grandmother said, it was just a couple of years ago that she started to fade and then she faded out all together and Luke says, you mean she died?
And the grandma’s like, well. I don’t know, but like obviously that’s the implication and the idea of this poor girl being trapped in that painting, looking out and watching her family for decades until she gets old and dies. That is horrible.
Todd: It is. It’s a straight out Twilight zone episode and it’s one of the cruelest,
Craig: you know, it’s funny because the director of this movie, I only looked into him.
A little bit, but the only other credit that I recognized him from was he directed. Don’t look now with Donald Sutherland, which we’ve talked about. On this show before, right?
Todd: Yes, that’s right.
Craig: That movie was super creepy too, with that little girl in red, and it turns out to be this creepy old lady. I thought it was really interesting that, uh, it was the same director and it makes a lot of sense why this movie is as atmospherically creepy as it is.
Because that movie was too,
Todd: yeah, he did the man who fell to earth also with David Bowie, and. Pretty decent movie. Um, that, uh, was a bit notorious called walkabout. Uh, 1971 was one of his first ones, uh, about, uh, some kids who are stranded in the Outback in Australia and a half to survive. So, yeah. Yeah.
You’re right. And the film does, uh, definitely have. His touch to it. I really like the angles that he uses and the camera work.
Craig: I love how he
Todd: just uses a wide angle lens really close up on people right up in their faces. That just provides a very distorting look and it’s just terrifying in and of itself.
Todd: That’s a trick that another one of our favorite directors, Bob Clark likes to use as well. It’s really effective. The two things that getting down on the ground and really putting us in the shoes of these. Kids while they’re, while they’re mice. Yeah. And then the looking up at these witches with this wide angle lens in that it just distorts their faces as they’re cackling and smiling and just adds just a really creepy other worldly sinister aspect to the scenes that are otherwise taking place during the day in very, you know, normal domestic settings, like a, like a hotel basically.
Craig: I noticed that whole angle thing even very early on before Luke was turned into a mouse. Just when the grandmother was telling them about the witches, it was shot as though it was from his perspective, laying in bed. So it was shooting up at the grandmother, and her face was lit by candle light, I think, or some very dim light.
Um, and so everything behind her was just black. And so it was just her face framed in black, and it was just really effective. I mean, there’s just, it’s just good. Yeah. The little boy, I mean obviously is a real little boy. So it’s not like his acting is sublime, but it’s fine. He’s totally believable as an innocent little kid.
And the other people, the grandmother, the witches, they’re acting is, is really good. And so. I just was totally into it and it doesn’t pull any punches. I mean, it’s not like this is uncommon. It happens in every Disney movie, but right after the grandmother tells, uh, Luke about the witches and things his.
Parents are going out for an evening and they say goodbye to him in a very nice way, and they leave in the car, but then the next morning he gets up to go show them some drawings he’s made for them and they’re not in their bed, and there’s a knock at the door and it’s the police. And his parents have been killed in a car accident.
And there’s a nice moment where the grandmother is, you know, crying on the couch and Luke comes in and she just wraps him up in the blanket or shawl that she’s got herself trapped in and they hold on to each other for a minute. But then through narration, the grandmother says, I didn’t take him back to America right away.
I decided to take him to England where I had a house. I think this grandmother must be super wealthy for unknown reasons.
Todd: That’s gotta be, Oh my gosh.
Craig: So they have this nice little cottage in England, and that’s where he first encounters that one really scary, which, um, but then for his birthday, she gives him to pet white mice, but immediately then falls ill.
and it turns out that she. Is diabetic and she’s suffering from some of the symptoms of diabetes, and the doctor tells her that she should take a holiday. And so they book a holiday at the seaside hotel and it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s on like these cliffs. It looks very secluded. It’s a gorgeous hotel.
Again, she must be very independently wealthy because they stay in this huge suite in this beautiful seaside hotel, but that’s where things start to go down. Immediately after they arrive, we see Angelica Houston arrive and. Gosh, you know, I have no idea how old she is now. I have no idea how old she was then that she looks amazing.
She is statuesque. She is, gee, she looks like a Greek goddess, like she’s tall and. And not like supermodel skinny, but lean and just so put together and just, she has such a unique face. She has amazing bone structure and she just carries herself in this movie with the ultimate confidence and condescension.
Like she’s looking down at everybody. I can’t say enough. About, like you said, she must have just enjoyed every second of being able to play this role because she just embraces it and is wicked and evil. Fantastic. Frankly, I can’t imagine now I’m willing to give it a chance. And I do like Anne Hathaway, but Anne Hathaway is sweet and cute and pretty, and I just can’t imagine her capturing this kind of power.
But I will reserve my judgment until I see it.
Todd: Well, it’s kind of like you say, I mean, she’s almost a little bit like Sigourney Weaver, you know, she can be. Cute and nice and very fat. You know, quote unquote feminine. But she’s got an edge. She’s very in control. She has a part, just an aspect to her. I don’t know what’s her face or physicality, just her personality and the way she can play roles where she can be very much in charge and very much, you know, at dominating and hold her own.
And that makes her very convincing. And I agree with you. I don’t feel like Anne Hathaway as a person, seems to have that. Aspect. You know, she just a little too soft around the edges. A little too sweet. But yeah, will remain. We’ll retain some judgment and see.
Craig: We’ll see. She is a very talented actress, so we’ll see.
It’s funny that you mentioned Sigourney Weaver because she was considered for the role. Lots of people were considered for the role. Cher was in, like I contingent Eartha Kitt. Who I can totally see and Bancroft’s Olivia Hussey. I don’t really see that. Linda Blair, Blair Faye Dunaway. Faye Dunaway, maybe Susan Sarandon, maybe Jodie foster.
I don’t know. Vanessa Redgrave, maybe Frances Conroy. I can definitely see Liza Minnelli.
Todd: That’d be a little weird.
Craig: Hey everybody,
Todd: let’s go kill some children.
Craig: Yeah. But angelic. But Angelica Houston was a cast, and I, I read that Raul doll made a point of never recommending anybody for a role in his movies again, after Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory, because he had an actor in mind for Willy Wonka. And they didn’t go with them, and they went with gene Wilder instead, and he said, I’m just not going to recommend anybody again.
But they cast Angelica Houston. And it turned out that that was in fact, who he had envisioned in the role. So he was really pleased with her casting, and he was right.
Todd: She nailed it. She was born involved in, I think the Adams family around this time as well. Wasn’t she that film adaptation of that? So
Craig: a little later, but yes.
Great in that too.
Todd: She was a bit a high profile around this time as well, so I’m sure she brought some star power to the movie that it really didn’t have otherwise.
Craig: She was Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend at the time. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. Apparently he, uh. Was calling the hotel and sending her flowers all the time.
They had a pretty intense romance, uh, for awhile. Interesting story there, but for another time anyway.
Todd: Well, another person who’s in this movie of note, maybe the only other one is, uh, mr B and Rowan Atkinson, who wasn’t Mr. Bean at the time, I think he was doing this in his act, but his TV series that really rocketed that character to start them, I think came out a year after this movie or maybe the same year that this was produced.
Craig: And so. The same year, I think.
Todd: And so he’s, you know, rarely, rarely do we ever see him since mr being like, talking too much. But he’s, I think he plays a fantastic character in this as kind of the, what do you call him, the guy who’s kind of in charge of all the service at the hotel.
Craig: Matrix. No, not maitre D concierge shares.
Craig: I think he’s like the hotel manager. He based his role on a role that John Cleese played in, I think it television series. John Cleese is one of his heroes. And so he, uh, based his performance on that, and he plays a small role. But now that we know him. It’s fun. He’s a fun, he’s a good actor. He’s a funny guy.
Todd: There’s a bit, and I wonder if when Roald Dahl was talking about vulgarity, if this is what he had in mind, because this was definitely not in the book, but there’s a bit of adult by play going on between him and a woman who works at the hotel. That’s just implying that the two of them are having a bit of a salicious relationship.
Todd: so funny. It’s clearly just thrown in there for the adults. But, uh. It’s just kind of a funny aspect of this movie, uh, that they keep popping up. And there’s every now and then in these scenes, a reference to, uh, Oh, I’ve, I’ve been with her all day. I mean, uh, you know, I saw her a few minutes ago and she’s fine.
You know, these new
Todd: kind of competence. So, yeah, those are the only two really recognizable actors in the movie and the child actor. And this is the first and only film role he ever had. And he, apparently, he went on to become a. Barrister after this.
Craig: Oh, not the main kid. I think you’re thinking of Bruno.
The, the main kid was in at least a couple other things. Not a lot, but the main kid was, I think in Parenthood. Was fie Martin,
Todd: was he really? And I love that movie too.
Craig: Yeah. Oh gosh. I know, but I haven’t seen it in decades. Yeah, he’s been in a couple of things. Not a lot, but when, when they get there, Luke meets another little kid, Bruno, and he’s
Like this gluttonous little kid, but, but not a bad kid. I mean, he’s not unfriendly. A little rude and definitely, I mean, like when Luke meets them, he’s like nibbling all the raisins off the buns at the like tea buffet or whatever. Jenkins, the cucumber sandwiches. All right, too. Except when they use margarine instead of butter.
How much pocket money do you get? My dad’s rich, but he’s very tight. We’ve got three cars. Hello boys. I hope there’s butter in the Savage just today. I really do hate more Duran. There was one other moment that I wanted to mention though, as soon as they come in the grand high, which comes in right after them, and as she’s checking in, she looks and she sees a painting and there’s a little kid in the painting and she flicks it and you kinda hear like.
Yeah. Like, like it’s hurt and then she walks away and the kid fades away out of the painting and watching it. This time was the first time I realized she just killed that kid. Did you catch that?
Todd: Killed the kid or have
Craig: all these people, they are actively murdering children and that’s what it comes down to.
Like there’s some business where. The maid who Rowan Atkinson is like having an affair with or whatever gets scared by Luke’s pet mice because they’re out on the bed and Luke gets in trouble. But the grandmother. Like makes up some story about seeing rats in the hotel. And she says she’s gonna like call the health department or something.
And so Rowan Atkinson is like, well, fine, he can keep his mice, but they have to stay in the cage and they have to stay in the room. And the kids like, but I have to keep training them. So the grandma’s like, well, that’s fine, but you can’t do it in here because the maid may come back and you can’t get caught.
So he goes, he takes his mice. To go find a place to train them. And the place that he finds is this big empty conference room. And he does, you know, he plays with his mice in there for a while until the a room becomes occupied. And it’s a meeting of the Royal society of the prevention of cruelty to children.
But really. It’s the meeting of all of these witches, and once they are all in there, they lock the doors and the grand high witch Angelica Houston tells them that they can take off their shoes and take off their wigs, which they do, and they’ve all got like disgusting head rash and they’re scratching at it.
And then, well, I’ll get to the big reveal in a second. I just wanted to say, I’ve always loved, and I always noticed even when I was a kid, that at least 50% of these witches are men in drag. And they clearly did that on purpose to make them less appealing, you know, not feminine. Um, and it works. It’s great, they look ugly and.
Horrible, and then that’s when the grand high witch peels off her face, which they had to cut part. They cut part of that in the European release so that they could get the re the what’s equivalent to our PG rating because it is grotesque, like she literally peels her face off and she is just the design.
Is brilliant. It’s just great. She looks, she’s a nightmare.
Todd: She is. And her, she has a nose like a foot long, and her fingers IX. I, by the way, I’m not sure how she tucks that nose into her face. I guess it’s just part of
Craig: the overall magic.
Todd: Terrain, magic transformation. I don’t know why she even has a peel off face really, but if she’s that good at hiding everything else with magic, because she has these fingers also that are also about a foot long each.
And I was noticing this time around just because I was really curious about it. Even the fingers. You know, they’re not flopping around like some rubber fingers on her and they’re clearly articulated like puppetry, just like they’re mechanized. Yeah. The rest of her face. It’s such a convincing, such a delicious li disgusting and evil looking design on her.
It’s fantastic. And then the way she plays this role is just. Incredible. It’s scary. It’s super scary actually. I mean, it’s scary for me.
Craig: It is. And she does it with a German accent, which I think is always just a smart choice.
Todd: It’s just always like all Americans think German accents are inherently scary.
Craig: Well, and it’s funny because I wrote somewhere in my notes I wrote. Grand high, which reveal, and then I wrote great audio, but really then as the scene continued, I was like, like, it’s just
Todd: gold. It is
Craig: all of her talking. I’ll be in class, did grades miserable, which is good fun. Nothing. Wow.
I see the passive side.
I’ll play boating. Nikki,
I ask you why, like she’s so good. And eventually she lays out her plan and the plan is to. In her words, rub out every child in England. There’s a great scene where one, which whispers to the witch next to her, Oh, there’s, there’s no way we could get rid of all of them and the grand high, which has like this whole rhyme about insubordination, and then she’s zaps or with lasers from her eyes.
Yeah. She just goes up in flames while all the rest of them watch
Todd: it, and they almost enjoy it like everybody else, they do sadistic. These witches, they’re fawning, like completely fawning all over this woman, embarrassingly so. But also they’re terrified of her, but also they love it when she exacts retribution on one of their own and burns this girl up, she yells at another woman who.
Jumps up and tries to poke holes in her plan and everybody’s standing around smiling just waiting to see what’s going to happen to her. I mean, these people are just like pure evil. It’s horrifying. Yes. And the whole time the, you know, Luke is just sitting in the corner behind this screen watching this happen, and you’re wondering how is he going to get out of this?
His mouse runs away in escapes.
Craig: She tells them that you’re all going to go back home and you’re going to quit your jobs and I’m going to give you a ton of money and you’re going to buy. Candy stores, sweet shops. She calls them and she says, I’ve made this formula, and she pulls out this little tiny vile, and it says formula 86 on it.
And she says, each one of these little vials has, what did you say? Like 500 or 200 doses or whatever, and a, you’re going to put it in the candy and all the kids are going to come eat it. And the lady who tries to poke the hole, she’s like. It. It’s poison. And she’s like, no, you idiot. It’s not poison. If all of these kids dropped dead, then you know they would know what happened.
And then she gives this, to borrow a word from you, delicious. A description of what’s going to happen to them. And she teases it. She does it slowly. He’s no longer good.
Todd: that she is about to demonstrate her formula to the crowd because . It has a two hour activation time, and just about two hours ago, I gave a little bit of it to a gluttonous little boy out in the lobby and invited him in here with the promise of six more bars of chocolate,
Craig: and it turns out it’s Bruno and he comes in.
And, uh, it’s so funny, they all put their wigs back on. Angelica Houston puts her face back on and there’s a great moment where like the secretary, cause she has this kind of reluctant secretary who’s trying to get her face on and like, it’s hard obviously, cause she’s got that huge nose, but they eventually get it on.
And I love the moment right before Bruno walks in where you see Angelica Houston. It’s clearly just her now, but it’s like she’s still trying to, trying to fix her face around the outside. Uh, so funny. And Bruno comes in, her reaction to him, like she is so disgusted, she can’t even say child or children without almost throwing up, which is hilarious.
And then when he comes in, as he’s approaching her, you can just see her in her performance, like dry heaving and trying, not noticeable, but eventually, uh, he’s. You know, he said, you promised me chocolate. And she’s like, you’re in for a treat. And then she looks at the witches, all of you are. And they count down to the second it’s supposed to happen.
And then it happens. And this transformation is Jim Henson. You know, creature puppet affects. And it’s amazing to look at and scary. Horror movies stuff, and they had to cut out
Todd: parts of this
Craig: for the European release too because it was just too much, uh, for the rating that they wanted. But I just think it looks fad.
Todd: it does. God,
Craig: I just, I know I’m going on and on, but seriously, like this came out in 1990 and I wish we saw more stuff like this today. These practical effects, obviously. They have to do. Camera cuts away. Like you don’t see the entire transformation. You just see it in stages. But every stage has just more and more grotesque and, Oh, it looks so good.
And then he turns into a mouse and then he’s a little mouse puppet and they try to stomp him out. Um, but he gets away. Yup. And then the meeting’s over and they’re all gonna leave and they’re about out the door. But the lady who works at the hotel in is also a, which is kind of cleaning up the stage, and she says she smells dogs droppings, which is what.
The grandmother had told Luke that children smell like to them. We were watching this and my partner was like, okay, now you’re right. This is scary because they smell him and they’re like sniffing him out and eventually he runs for it, but they’re all grasping at him and trying to get him. And, uh, again, my partner is like, yeah.
This is scary.
Todd: Yeah. Cause then
Craig: it’s a terrifying,
Todd: it is terrifying. They grab him, and this is the part that kind of pissed me off the most, is they grab him and they just lay him out on this table and she forces this stuff down. It’s really disturbing. It really is. She forces all the whole bottle down his throat and sure enough, he instantly starts transforming.
It’s just as disturbing as before. He becomes this little mouse, and again, they try to stomp him out, but he runs away underneath the stage and you hear in the background, Angelica Houston’s character go, that’s okay. Don’t worry about them. It’s not worth it anymore. Let’s go eat. And so they all leave and file out.
Craig: There’s actually just really quick, a little, just really quick. They, they, they don’t get them right away. In fact, he runs through the hotel and, uh, he runs outside and the grand high, which comes across this woman, mother or nanny. Who’s like sitting on a bench reading a book, and the baby, an infant is in a pram and the grand high, which pushes it down the Hill towards the cliff, and Luke has to go chasing after it and he eventually gets it.
But. I mean, this is a children’s movie and this woman just pushed an infant and a pram towards its ultimate demise. I’m kind of surprised they got away with some of this. I don’t know if they could get away with some of this, maybe not day and age.
Todd: I guess we’ll have to see it in the remake.
Craig: Yeah, and see, and I don’t remember if that was in the book.
I have a feeling it wasn’t, but I don’t remember. But anyway, they turned Luke into a mouse and then there’s a lot of cute stuff with, he meets up with Bruno. They actually meet up with William and Mary, the two little pet mice, and there’s a lot of cute stuff with them running through. The hotel and trying to avoid the guests and stuff.
They get to the grandmother. And of course, the grandmother being who she is except this immediately, you know, she just understands that it’s the work of witches. And so she tries to take Bruno back to his parents, but they totally cause Bruno, he’s busy eating, so he won’t. Talk to them, and so they just totally reject it.
Todd: I actually, I love that scene because it, it’s a little unrealistic the way it plays out, but first of all, the both of the kids seem a little, not terribly concerned that they’re mice right now, especially Bruno, who is oblivious to the fact that he’s a mouse until it’s pointed out to him and then he’s going to like.
Eh, okay. Whatever. It’s just kind of oblivious kid anyway, which provides some of the comedy, but then when this grandmother sits down in front of the parents and it’s like, I have to talk to you about your son. They’re like, okay, where is he? What’s going on? They’re not painted as really great parents anyway.
They’re like, Oh, where is he? He says, well, he’s very near like, Oh, really? Is he around? She’s like, no, I have them here. In my handbag. Yeah, and they sit there way too long. I just calmly listen to this woman. Like, what? What are you talking about? What could you possibly be doing?
Craig: Plus they’re assholes anyway.
Todd: I think in like 2020 if a woman came up to you and said, I have your son here in a handbag, then they’d be pretty freaked out at that very moment. It’s not that kind of horror movie, I guess so is what we’re trying to say
Craig: now. But they, they, right. They. They just think she’s crazy. Um, and then there’s a funny scene where Luke tells the grandmother that he knows who the grand high witches, and she’s like, Oh, I thought I recognize her.
Luke has a plan. He’s like, we got to get some of the potion, and they’re having a special dinner for them tonight, and they’re all going to be served this one particular soup. So if I can get some of the potion. I can put it in their soup, and then they’ll all turn into mice. And the grandmother is reluctant and doesn’t want to do it, but he’s like, we have to.
So coincidentally, they’re staying in the room directly above grand high witch. So she takes her knitting, she’s like knitting a sock. She puts him in it and she lowers him down and onto the balcony of the grand high, which is room, and he goes. To get the potion. There’s a cat there that chases them around and which actually is kind of scary in its own right.
And then, uh, the grandmother distracts it with her knitting. She’s like playing with it or whatever. So he goes and he gets the potion and gets back into, I think, I don’t remember. Does he get into the grandmas. SOC, or does he get back some other way? He gets back some other way. The grand high witch. Yeah, the grand high, which shows up, and so he has to go back through the hotel, but he gets back.
Uh, and so they’re going to set this plan into motion. So they go to the dinner. He has to go through the kitchen, which he does, which is a great. Scene because there’s peril at every turn. He gets the potion into the soup, but then the cook sees him and cuts his tail off with like a meat Cleaver,
Todd: and so then
Craig: he’s just got like this bloody stump tail.
Todd: I love this. It’s the classic red in the kitchen gag.
Craig: It only just now crossed my mind like. If he, if he were to return to human form, like what would he be missing? Cause something definitely got shopped off.
Todd: So I’d, you’ve now been circumcised?
Craig: Yeah. Just your last two vertebra are gone. Good luck with that.
Oh gosh. But they do, they get the, they get it into the soup and the witches are all eating the soup. I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I’m kind of trying to rush, but this all happens very quickly. It does. I miss, am I missing anything noteworthy?
Todd: No, you’re not really. And that’s one thing about this movie is it’s, it’s a long buildup and it’s a great buildup.
And then, uh, it. You know, the, the rest of it moves very, very quickly, probably faster than I would imagine the remakes going to go. I’m sure the remakes gonna make the, the last half of the movie, this wild ride of him evading the witches and him, them coming up with this plan and their plan getting, you know, going wrong.
And, you know, having to regroup and all this stuff like movies tend to do now. But back then we liked movies to be a nice tight hour and a half or less. And this movie is, and it moves very quickly and very satisfying. Really, I think towards its conclusion, there’s only so much time we really want to spend watching these mice run around.
You know, honestly, I think most of the fun was in the buildup, and now we know what they’re, they’re worth, they’re going to do, and they end up doing it and it works. You know, all these witches, they eat the soup and there’s this kind of chaotic scene with all this green smoke they’re spewing. Actually, it’s also a bit terrifying as well, where these ladies are just spewing green smoke as they’re transforming into these.
These rats and, and apparently, uh, even the green smoke itself during the scene was, was really troublesome to Angelica Houston’s contact lenses that she had in, and they had to constantly be rewetting them during the scenes. Even this scene was unpleasant for her when she’s not even in full makeup, but she transforms into this nasty looking little rat and the grandmother traps it under a.
Pitcher and tells Rowan Atkinson’s character, Hey, go over there. There’s a particularly nasty little mouse that you need to deal with.
Craig: He goes over there
Todd: and lifts it up and with a meat Cleaver takes out the head, which, which is extremely satisfying and also pretty gross for a kid’s movie, even though it doesn’t go into it.
Too much detail. Uh, but yeah, that’s it. And so all the witches are killed. And, uh, the, this is where the movie starts to deviate a little bit from the book.
Craig: All of them are killed except for the woman who was the grand high, which is secretary, because she wasn’t allowed to come to the dinner for whatever reason.
Like she’s too much of a piano or whatever. And we actually. See a scene of her sitting up in the room by herself and she says, well, I never really wanted to be one of them. Anyway, the grandmother dumps Bruno on his parents’ table and they hear him talk, so they have to accept that in the book. It’s implied.
That the dad dumped Bruno in a mop bucket and encouraged a janitor to drown him. But that doesn’t happen in the
Todd: movie. A big surprise there.
Craig: And so the grandmother and Luke go home and Luke has this amazing. Mouse Haven where he can like ride and little trains and cars and has all these tunnels and different things, and they’re talking about their plan, which, and this is what happens in the book too.
They are going to, they took all the money because the grand high, which had enough money for all of those witches to buy all these sweet shops and they took all that. So they’re going to go on. Uh, a mission to find whoever’s going to be appointed the new grand, high witch, and somehow they’re going to turn all the witches in the world to mice.
Now, in the book, Luke realizes that he’s a mouse and that’s all there is to it. And mice only live for a certain amount of time. And so the book ends on him kind of coming to the realization that he and his grandmother are probably going to die right around the same time. The end, the filmmakers wanted a happier ending, and so they filmed an ending where that secretary comes and restores Luke to his human form.
Happy ending role. Doll was, he saw it and he was furious. He hated it. He hated the happy ending. So the director said, okay. I’ll film your ending too. And he did, and Raul doll saw it and was brought to tears because he liked it so much. Well, they decided to go with the original or with the happy and negate anyway,
Todd: you to the.
To the source material
Craig: to the writer,
Todd: the wetter don’t wonder role to is such a bitter man.
Craig: Well, I have to say in this case, as you know, this movie really was very dark and I’m, I’m kind of happy that they went with the hat. Be a Ning. It’s nice that he was restored to his human form. I don’t, I don’t think I would’ve been disappointed either way, but I liked the ending as it is.
Todd: I actually think it would have been better with the other ending just because I don’t like my innings, Pat and neat. And of course, as a kid, this never bothered me that this had a happy ending as an adult. I think it’s just too sappy, you know? It just seems a little rash at the end. A little too convenient that the spurned which comes in and restores him.
Okay. Whatever. I can get behind any ending. It’s not that important to me, but I think that just artistically it would have been thematically, it would have been a lot nicer just to have him as the mouse. They didn’t have to in the movie, point out that his lifespan would be low, small or something like that.
But there was something very poignant about the moment at which. He as a mouse sitting in the little real Ghostbusters a a firehouse going to bed says very cheerfully to his grandmother. You know,
Craig: grandma, I’m really, really happy being a
Todd: mouse. And grandma who’s laying in her bed with her face turned away and tears in her eyes says, I know Luke.
I know that. Pretty poignant moment that I felt kinda got spoiled a little bit by the woman coming and going, ah, I’ll make you a boy anyway.
Craig: Yeah, fair enough. Fair enough.
Todd: But anyway, fair enough. No, it was, it was still fine. And, and as a, you know, as an adult watching this movie again, I feel like I appreciate it even more than I did as a kid watching it.
And. If you’re going to show this movie to your kids, you don’t want it to be too little. Yeah. I watched this when I was in middle school. That’s about the right age. I’d say middle elementary or something like that. It’s probably okay. It is scary.
Craig: It might even be more scary
Todd: to me as an adult because I have more hooks to hang all this stuff on, but I do remember it being scary as a little kid as well, but not quite as terrifying.
I think you’re safe showing this to your kid around that age. But my three year old son, five-year-old, I probably
Craig: would wait a little bit
Todd: before showing him this movie because it is truly, truly a horror film and a really good one.
Craig: Yeah. My sister read the book to her kids, um, and I think they’re like 11 and nine now.
And she said that, uh, they watched the movie afterwards and I was surprised because her son, who’s the older one, um, is, is really affected by these types of things. And he doesn’t like it. And I said, wasn’t he scared? And she said, yeah, but we made them.
Oh, it really is scary. Uh, the truth of the matter is, you know, watching it again in its entirety, cause it comes on on cable every once in a while and I’ll, you know, leave it on while I’m doing stuff or whatever. I knew going in that I liked it sitting and watching it from beginning to end for the purpose of this podcast, I just appreciate it so much more and as though you couldn’t tell from the way that I’ve talked about it throughout this podcast.
I think it’s great. I think it isn’t. Excellent movie and it is a horror movie. I mean, you know, Facebook commenters what? Fight me. You know, like I will, I will die on this Hill. This is a horror movie. And it’s scary and I think it’s really good. I think it’s scarier than a lot of the movies that we talk about on here.
Todd: No, I think you’re absolutely right. It truly is, and I’m glad we did it.
Craig: Me too. All right. Thank
Todd: you again for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed this, please share it with a friend to find us online and on our YouTube channel. Find us on our website, on and on Facebook. Just search for two guys and a chainsaw and you’ll find us.
Well, leave us a comment. Let us know what you thought about this movie. We still have the rest of this month coming up with more child slash family friendly for films coming. Until next time, I’m Todd
Craig: and I’m Craig with
Todd: two guys and a chainsaw .
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4 Replies to “The Witches”
Wow this made my day. One of my favorite movies as a kid as always thanks guys and keep up the great work
Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it. We sure did.
Enjoyed The Witches episode immensely! I was around 7 yrs old when it came out and was at that perfect age to be terrified of but also obsessed with this movie. Couldn’t agree with both of your descriptions more. Also listened to your Night of the Demons episode and cracked up throughout. Would love to hear your takes on horror films from last year like Midsommar, The Lighthouse, or Us to name a few.
Thanks Kyle! We occasionally do newly-released horror films, so you might see one or two come up in the near future. But you might have noticed we do trend towards digging out the oldies, forgotten gems, or obscure ones that people might not know about. Especially now that I am in China, and horror films generally don’t get released here. So I don’t usually get to see the latest and greatest until they show up on streaming.