We had learned earlier this year that Robert Zemeckis would be directing a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, first adapted by the late Nicolas Roeg back in 1990, with both Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron on board to produce. Talk about a power team, eh?
An update from Variety this week lets us know that Anne Hathaway has been offered a role in the film. The site writes, “the actress is fielding an offer for Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches.”
Granted, that doesn’t mean she’ll take it, but it’s good to know this one is moving along.
Based on the 1973 novel, the film follows a seven-year-old boy who has a run in with real-life witches. Zemeckis’ version will be more rooted in the original source material, which had a much darker, franchise-beginning finale (the young boy remains a mouse and must spend his short life hunting and killing all of those registered in the Grand High Witch’s address book).
The Witches is a 1966 British horror feature film directed by Cyril Frankel (Never Take Sweets from a Stranger). It was adapted by Nigel Kneale (The Quatermass films; Beasts; Halloween III) from a novel by Norah Lofts, using the pseudonym Peter Curtis. The Hammer Films production stars Joan Fontaine (in her final feature film performance), Alec McCowen, Kay Walsh, Ann Bell, Ingrid Boulting, Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, Duncan Lamont and Leonard Rossiter.
In the US, the film was released by 20th Century Fox as The Devil’s Own, the title of Lofts’ novel. The score was composed by Richard Rodney Bennett (The Nanny).
The Witches will be released on by Scream Factory on Blu-ray on March 19, 2019. It will feature a reversible sleeve with The Devil’s Own title theatrical art on the other side. Extras will be announced nearer the release date.
A British schoolteacher (Joan Fontaine) has a nervous breakdown after being exposed to witchcraft during a rebellion led by witch doctors while teaching as a missionary in Africa.
In an effort to recover, on her return to England, she is hired by a wealthy brother and sister (Alec McCowan and Kay Walsh) to become head teacher of their small private school in a rural village.
Gwen soon detects a sinister undercurrent beneath the pleasantries of the village life, starting with Alan admitting to Gwen that he is not really a priest. Soon more suspicious events start to occur, such as the disappearance and reappearance of a doll – found headless. There she also becomes suspicious of the way the villagers are treating a fourteen year-old girl (Boulting); her investigations point to witchcraft…
The Witches is a minor Hammer film, but an interesting one nevertheless. Fontaine gives an impressive performance, managing to be highly strung without become hysterical as the sense of conspiracy slowly but relentlessly increases. When she has a breakdown and loses her memory, the film takes an interesting turn – from this point on, it never quite goes in the direction you might expect.
Nigel Kneale‘s screenplay thankfully avoids the clichés of the paranoid thriller for the most part, instead inventing a few interesting twists as Miss Mayfield’s suspicions grow. She, like the viewer, is kept guessing by a series of often contradictory events and behaviours, and it’s only in the final act that everything starts to come together.
“There’s also an appalling (and distinctly 60s British) devil worshipping “orgy” where everyone keeps their clothes on … which is followed by what looks like a drama class warm-up routine, but, we’re reliably informed, is some kind of Sabbat. Considering the kind of stuff Hammer was busy churning out at the time (Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile), what were they thinking of?” British Horror Films
Director Cyril Frankel …uses his small screen skills to keep the story as low key as Kneale’s script, which allows tension and paranoia to develop through the characters. To do this, you need good acting, and Fontaine and Walsh are superb. The true stand-out, however, is Alec McGowen…” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear, An Illustrated History of British Horror Films
“unsettling, though compromised by a hysterical climax … when The Witches strikes the right balance it ultimately succeeds as an engrossing thriller, even if it ultimately disappoints as Hammer horror.” Alan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, The Hammer Story: The Authorised Biography of Hammer Films
“The Witches is rather tame and sedate as Hammer’s films go and almost never ventures into shock territory, but Cyril Frankel delivers it with a fair hand and it works with modest effect. The film’s biggest disappointment is its ending, which offers up a wholly routine instant deus ex machina means of stopping the evil and restoring the status quo of the sleepy village.” Moria
“If you have the patience for the slow buildup, you’ll find more action and several surprises in the second half. The Black Mass, when it finally comes. goes on for a while. But viewers may find the conclusion disappointing, either from the awkwardness of the Black Mass or from several gaps in logic.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“In its first half the film is actually quite brilliant – with an air of mystery gradually unfolding, and some great humorous touches and a very intelligent, adult feel to the whole thing. Unfortunately … the entire film is deflated by a ludicrous final sequence…” Dellamorte’s Disco Dichotomy
… an unequivocal disaster. The star, Joan Fontaine, made life extremely difficult for Hammer, complaining to whomever would listen that they were unprofessional, the production amateurish and subsequently blaming them for ruining her career.” David Pirie, A New Heritage of Horror
“The script is good and the settings are Hammer at their most proficient. But, despite some excellent performances, the flat direction and un-atmospheric cinematography make less of the film’s terrors.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
“Apparently Fontaine brought the novel The Devil’s Own to Hammer, which could explain why, with its cheery parochial tone, it’s so out of synch with the studio’s late 1960s output. If it had been made in the 1950s, the mock tribal dancing and the teenage girl writhing on an altar might have seemed exciting.” Gerald Lea, The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960 – 1969
“Possessing both an unnerving sense of calm, some quite startling visuals (the sacrifice dressed as a weird doll, writhing on the floor) and a gentle but effective lead role, The Witches deserves far more praise than it often gets. Its main comparison is obviously Hammer’s two Dennis Wheatley adaptations but, with that added sense of conspiracy and isolation, The Witches is arguably just as strong a film.” Adam Scovell, The Spooky Isles
“Genteel horror story with little in the way of surprise, given the talent involved.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films
One of the movie’s few high points is the lovely village, but this is supposed to be Hammer horror, not a travelogue.” Tom Johnson, Deborah Del Vecchio, Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography
“Chintzy horror with predictable development and risible climax.” Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Film Guide
Cast and characters:
Joan Fontaine as Gwen Mayfield
Kay Walsh as Stephanie Bax
Alec McCowen as Alan Bax
Ann Bell as Sally Benson
Ingrid Boulting as Linda Rigg (as Ingrid Brett)
John Collin as Dowsett
Michele Dotrice as Valerie Creek
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Granny Rigg (as Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies)
Nicolas Roeg (15 August 1928 – 23 November 2018) was an English filmmaker, best known for directing Performance (1968, released 1970), Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Bad Timing (1980), and The Witches (1989). For the purposes of this overview, the focus is naturally on Roeg’s contributions to the horror and science fiction genres.
Having made his directorial debut twenty-three years after his initial entry into the film business, Roeg soon became known for an idiosyncratic visual and narrative style, characterised by the use of disjointed and disorientating editing. For this reason, he was considered a highly influential filmmaker, with such directors as Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and Danny Boyle citing him as such.
In 1947, Roeg entered the film business as a tea boy moving up to clapper-loader at Marylebone Studios in London. For a time, he worked as a camera operator on a number of film productions, such as Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure. Roeg later claimed he had only entered the film industry because the studio was across the road from his home. He became a cinematographer and amongst many movies, worked on Roger Corman’s resplendent The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966).
Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) is based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name and features Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple in Venice mourning the death of their daughter who had drowned. It attracted scrutiny early on due to a sex scene between Sutherland and Christie, which was unusually explicit for the time. The puzzle-like film was widely praised by critics and is now considered one of the most important and influential horror films ever made.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) starred David Bowie as a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to collect water for his planet, which is suffering from a drought. The film’s non-linear narrative divided critics and its length – 138 minutes – caused it to be truncated for its U.S. release. Perhaps the most memorable scene is when David Bowie’s character Newton reveals his alien form to Mary-Lou (Candy Clark); her reaction is one of pure shock and horror.
In an Empire Blu-ray review, Kim Newman observed that the film is: “At once consistently disorientating and beguilingly beautiful […] Bowie’s cat-eyed alien is startling enough to make Clark wet herself, but his human disguise — two-tone red hair and film-noir fedora — is alien enough without the make-up.” Over the years, The Man Who Fell to Earth developed a growing following amongst fans of more eclectic cinema and it received a BFI 4K makeover in 2016. Curiously, in 1987, it was also remade as a more conventional science fiction TV movie.
Bad Timing is a 1980 psychological thriller starring Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel and Denholm Elliott. An American woman and a psychology professor are living in Vienna, and, largely told via flashbacks, the plot relates their turbulent relationship as uncovered by a detective investigating her apparent suicide attempt. Bad Timing was controversial upon its release, being branded “a sick film made by sick people for sick people” by its British distributor, the Rank Organisation.
The Witches (1989, released 1990) was Roeg’s unique adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story. The Witches is about a young boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) whose parents have died in a tragic accident, and whose grandmother (Mai Zetterling) takes him to a posh hotel in England, where a secret coven of witches is holding its annual convention. The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston, in a scene-stealing performance) has decreed that all children in England be turned into mice, and Luke and his pal Bruno (Charles Potter) are the first victims on the list… The resulting movie highlights Jim Henson’s makeup effects work and revels in the dark humour of the situation. It has been rightly acknowledged as one of the scariest of kids’ films.
Filmmakers have been paying tribute to the late director. On Twitter, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) said: “Farewell to the extraordinary cinematic talent, director Nicolas Roeg. His films hypnotized me for years and still continue to intrigue. Along with classics like Performance & Walkabout, I could watch Don’t Look Now on a loop & never tire of its intricacies. A master of the art.”
Joe Dante (Gremlins) said: “I followed his career first for his photographic style, later for his fascinating choice of subject matter. Walkabout is a near perfect tone poem, the restored The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever.”
Guillermo del Terror commented: “Of his infinite talent and multiple achievements, if I was forced to choose one Roeg film (it would be hard) I would choose “Don’t Look Now” as it stands full of secrets and sadness and terror and beauty above all. A moebius strip of life and death, love and destruction.”
In 1990, Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches burst onto the big screen, terrifying children and delighting their parents. It was one of the largest first-run commercial success the director experienced in his life time (though its box office numbers were not stellar by any means), and as we mourn his passing today, I […]
Just a few months after his 90th birthday, we’ve learned this morning, British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg passed away on Friday night. Roeg is perhaps most known for directing the 1973 horror film Don’t Look Now, and he later returned to the genre for 1990’s The Witches.
Roeg also directed the David Bowie-starring The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as Eureka, Insignificance, Castaway (1986), Cold Heaven and Two Deaths. In addition to directing, Roeg also worked on notable films such as Lawrence of Arabia (Second Unit Photography), Doctor Zhivago (cinematographer, some scenes), and Casino Royale (additional photography).
Edgar Wright tweeted today, “Farewell to the extraordinary cinematic talent, director Nicolas Roeg. His films hypnotized me for years and still continue to intrigue. Along with classics like Performance & Walkabout, I could watch Don’t Look Now on a loop & never tire of its intricacies. A master of the art.”
Duncan Jones also paid tribute, “Just heard another great storyteller, the inimitable Nicolas Roeg left us today. What an incredible body of work he’s left us with! All my love to his family. Thank you for making so many brave choices, & giving this strange little lad in pajamas an ongoing love of filmmaking.”
The Witches is a 1990 comedy horror feature film based on the book of the same name by Norwegian-British author Roald Dahl (The Night Digger). It was directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now) and produced by Jim Henson Productions for Lorimar Film Entertainment and Warner Bros. The movie stars Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling and Rowan Atkinson.
The soundtrack score was provided by Stanley Myers (Paperhouse; Incubus; Schizo).
The Witches is about a young boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) whose parents have died in a tragic accident, and whose grandmother (Mai Zetterling) takes him to a posh hotel in England, where a secret coven of witches is holding its annual convention. The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston, in a scene-stealing performance) has decreed that all children in England be turned into mice, and Luke and his pal Bruno (Charles Potter) are the first victims on the list…
As well as being the last film that Jim Henson personally worked on before his death, this was also the final theatrical film produced by Lorimar Productions and the last film made based on Dahl’s material before his death in 1990.
“I love Henson’s look and it works well with Dahl’s storytelling. The movie is surreal and terrifying (the witches transformation at the end is pretty horrific at points). The filmmakers also did a great job combining the animatronic mice with real mice. The Witches is a fun movie that kids and adults will enjoy.” JP Roscoe, Basement Rejects
“This mostly terrific Roald Dahl adaptation is down to the fact that left-leaning British master Nicholas Roeg, the man responsible for Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth, is very much in tune with the devilish cunning of this black hued novel. Hence, its one of the best, and most unnoticed, of recent kid-scaring (and therefore kid pleasing) movies.” Ian Nathan, Empire
“The Witches is an intriguing movie, ambitious and inventive, and almost worth seeing just for Anjelica Huston’s obvious delight in playing a completely uncompromised villainess.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“The Witches is a film that genuinely takes one aback with its gleeful malice, especially so when placed in comparison to the blandly G-rated inoffensiveness of other children’s films. Nicolas Roeg serves up some marvellously horrid images of decapitated fingers and witches malevolently pushing baby carriages from cliffs. There is a tour-de-force of makeup grotesquerie…” Richard Scheib, Moria
“The visual creations from Jim Henson Productions are great, the look of Eva when she removes her hair and mask is stunning but it is too scary for children. Yet the comedy of Luke spying on the witches, scampering through the kitchen as a mouse is the stuff which young children will enjoy. Throw in a whole 70s vibe and “The Witches” ends up being a mismatch and one which doesn’t work.” Andy Webb, The Movie Scene
” …the movie is often downright scary, which makes the experience feel surprisingly potent and engaging. There’s a real sense of poignancy and danger that accompanies the entire movie, and the whole thing is a tense, funny, grotesque and delightful way to spend ninety minutes.” Julien Houle, Pop Culture Thoughts
“The transformation scenes where the grand high witch takes off her human face and becomes her true self are beautifully executed. It really looks as though Anjelica Huston’s face is a mask. There are nearly no cuts in the scene, which makes it even more impressive. The Witches is a great family friendly horror film that delivers the scares without being too graphic.” Tyler Doupé, Wicked Horror
This is not a warning, people. September is halfway over and October looms with promises of black cats, bats, vampires, werewolves, trick or treating, and every other delight the Halloween season has to offer. It’s also time for scary stories and there’s no better way to foster an appreciation for things that go bump in […]