St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

“The Witches” (2020)

The Witches title card.

Finally The Witches is here! Parker and I got a little bit delayed on this one because Hurricane Zeta knocked out the power in my apartment on Wednesday night and I didn’t have Internet for the entire next day, but damn it we were determined to make this happen. We had a very emotional Titanic-like exchange where I begged Parker, “Go on without me, I’ll only slow you down!” And he said, “I’ll come back for you. Wherever you are, I’ll find youuuuu.” But Thursday night we finally made the magic happen and popped on the new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Now this is a pretty well-known book that already has a well-known film adaptation, so blah blah spoilers blah blah statute of limitations. Don’t read on if you don’t want to know what happens, but honestly, you should know how the story goes by now.

Octavia Spencer dances.

An unnamed small boy winds up in the care of his grandmother (Octavia Spencer, who is a star) after his parents die in a car crash. The most lasting image from this movie might be Octavia Spencer doing a funky grandma dance to try and cheer up her grandson.

A witch threatens the boy with candy and a snake.

The boy’s first run-in with a witch happens at the grocery store, where this shady character tries to lure him in with some candy, only he has to get past her enormous snake first. She literally shoves her snake in his face and tells him to kiss it. If I were going to shit-stir I’d suggest The Witches was a strong anti-gay or anti-trans story about fake women who are really ugly underneath, wear pancake makeup, are bald, wear wigs, and tell small children to kiss their snake. I’m being a bit facetious, but the more I think about it the more that reading holds water. Don’t forget in the original film half the witches are played by men in dresses. Nooo, stop ruining a children’s classic! Back to the Halloween movie.

The Grand High Witch smiles sinisterly.

Anne Hathaway is the Grand High Witch, which seems to have caused some consternation among fans who either can’t see her in the role or can’t get past how perfect Anjelica Huston was in the original movie. If there’s any doubt about Hathaway’s casting just watch her and you’ll see — she’s beautiful, sinister, and absolutely loves chewing the scenery in this role. She revels in all the bald caps and claw fingers, and she doesn’t bat an eyelid when she plucks a live maggot out of her head and eats it. She has these disgusting feet with only one toe on each foot that she taps against the floor like a velociraptor tapping its claw, and yes, I am positive that Jurassic Park reference was intentional. The movie has a bunch of little adult references, like the fact she keeps the mouse potion chilled in her metal bra because it’s… cold as a witch’s tit! How can you not?

The Grand High Witch extends her multi-jointed arms.

The plot progresses much as you’d expect it to. The Grand High Witch catches our hero and turns him into a mouse. He steals some of the mouse potion and uses it to poison the witches and turn them into dirty great rats. In a slight departure from the first movie (though I’m not sure how the book goes…) the Grand High Witch doesn’t eat the soup and she escapes to terrorize the boy’s grandmother with her big creepy multi-jointed demon arms. But the kids band together and fling a bottle of mouse potion into her mouth, and she again winds up as the ugliest rat trapped under a glass jar. Dahl rebuked the original film for changing our hero back into a boy at the end. The point of the book was that he decides to live out the rest of his life as a mouse so he can die with his grandmother, so Dahl saw the movie as undoing that important decision. This version of The Witches seems truer to the book and leaves the boy as a mouse, traveling around the world with his grandmother and having adventures.

The Skinny

The Grand High Witch as a huge, ugly rat.

“Witches aren’t really women at all. They’re demons in human shape.”

Not a trans-phobic movie, not a trans-phobic movie, just keep saying that to yourself and it’ll all be okay.

Ignoring my half-arsed English 101 reading of this film, there’s so much to love in The Witches. The Irish witch who inexplicably carries an entire shillelagh in her handbag. The Grand High Witch’s dress that is part live snake. The way the witches transform into rats by farting explosively and catapulting themselves across the room. Don’t listen to the haters who are giving this movie a bad name. The casting is perfect and the effects are as creepy and funny as those in the original. I hope this movie will traumatize and mentally scar a whole new generation of kids.