It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The pop culture festival that is Halloween is almost here, and that means it is time to enjoy the movies that make the season. Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, and The Nightmare Before Christmas are all annual traditions in the same way that It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas Eve classic. But there’s more in the “Halloween cinema” category than Disney movies and horror flicks.
One forgotten thriller is the perfect Halloween movie for the entire family, and it’s streaming now on HBO Max.
The Witches, the 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, was an entirely new kind of family Halloween movie. (It shouldn’t be confused with the 2020 adaptation of the same name starring Anne Hathaway that was erased from streaming altogether after the HBO-Discovery merger.) It stars Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch as she conducts a convention of witches only to have it interrupted by a little boy.
The movie follows Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) on a trip to a seaside hotel. Luke manages to smuggle himself into a mysterious meeting, only to realize it’s a convention of a threat he has heard about from Helga — witches. These ladies look like typical women but are actually horrific and ugly creatures with bald heads and square feet. The witches are hell-bent on one end: ridding the world of children.
Luke schemes to expose the witches and save children-kind, but his ploy is made significantly more difficult after he’s turned into a mouse. Like most mice in fancy hotels, he becomes Public Enemy No.1, hunted to within an inch of his life by the hotel staff. Through his ingenuity and help from his friend Bruno, the two transformed kids manage to get their revenge.
This movie is genius not because of its creative premise but because of how seriously it takes itself. Usually, children’s horror movies limit themselves to the goofiest of scares, but The Witches is unapologetically about a group of people who want to murder or transform children. Plus, the creature effects are genuinely gruesome, thanks to Jim Henson Productions’ involvement.
Much like its (vastly inferior) 2020 remake, The Witches alters the original book’s ending, where Luke is content to live his shortened mouse life alongside his mother, Helga, so that they die at the same time. But the idea that children can handle the scary and serious elements of life remains paramount throughout the film, thanks in no small part to director Nicholas Roeg, who is known for more serious movies like Walkabout.
Now that the weather’s turning colder and the nights are becoming cozier, this is the perfect to make this spooky movie a part of your annual watching agenda. If Hocus Pocus gets a sequel and an eternal place in Spirit Halloween, The Witches deserves its tradition, too.
The Witches is now streaming on HBO Max.