Were you really a 90s child if you weren’t absolutely petrified of Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch in The Witches?
The film, which was released thirty years ago (yes, thirty) was arguably the scariest, most memorable and let’s face it, nightmare-inducing kids movies from our childhood.
In fact, my grandma had a painting in her house that I swear on my life had kids trapped inside, just like the one from the beginning of the film.
So, when watching it again as an adult, I had hoped that the scare -factor would’ve lessened and that the itchy scalped, square shoed and purple-eyed witches, wouldn’t freak me out as much.
But…boy, was I wrong. Could this film have gotten even more frightening as an adult?
Settling in to watch the film on a Sunday evening (which in my old household we used to call “family movie night”), we turned on The Witches, hoping for some childhood nostalgia.
But what met us was the same heart-palpitations and wide-eyes we had as kids — because honestly, this was even scarier than I remembered.
Watching when you’re older is made worse by the fact that this time around you understand the nuances.
For instance, Helga had diabetes and was basically poisoned by the Grand High Witch by putting her into a sugar coma and watching a child shake, vibrate and explode into a teeny tiny mouse… don’t even get me started.
But there was one scene which was made it all a little less scary. The one where all of the witches congregated at the conference at the hotel.
After the doors were locked and the women took off their wigs, I had a revelation. Most of the witches weren’t women at all. They were men.
And, as you can see from my very important investigation below, all the witches circled are in fact men dressed in women’s clothing. Unreal.
As a child, I would never have noticed such minutiae, but as an adult, I was positively gobsmacked!
In my research to find out why director, the late Nicolas Roeg, chose to do it this way, one can only assume that it would make the witches appear more masculine, uglier and scarier — of course, this wouldn’t be the case today, but it was the 90s.
Of course, Roald Dahl’s books always had a certain scare factor to them, however, he never meant for them to be scary and Roeg was concerned about this himself.
Unfortunately for us, the dark material still stood for itself, and even with alterations from the novels, the movie’s effects were still positively freaky.
While not much is said about the male cross-dressing, Huston, however, was very vocal about the film and in a 2013 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, said that held the role of the Grand High Witch, “the dearest” because there’s “there’s nothing better than making children scream”.
According to Huston, in 2004, she got word that her friend’s daughter and friends were planning on watching the film so she dressed in purple makeup and Grand High Witch hair, she snuck in and surprised the unsuspecting group.
“I opened the door and said [putting on her sinister, vaguely European, Grand High Witch voice], ‘Thank you for inviting me!’ … I got them all screaming. It was good.”