I will be the first to tell you that I am a big ol’ wimp.
I was, frankly, pleased about the impending lockdown facing us this Halloween, because it meant I wouldn’t have to hide behind the sofa as my girlfriend greets six-year-old Trick or Treaters, as I’m too scared to do so.
It’s because of my cowardliness that I refused – nay, demanded that we wouldn’t watch any genuinely scary movies this year. (My girlfriend gets so annoyed that she can only watch Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor when I’m in the bath, out of sight.)
This year, she introduced me to Anjelica Huston’s The Witches – yes, I was even too scared to watch that prior to 2020 – and I actually quite enjoyed it, so when HBO Max’s adaptation was released this year, we (foolishly) paid the £16 to watch it from our home.
(My mother will read this and kick off because I “wasted” £16 on a movie. Well, just to appease her, it was actually £15.99 – genuinely, she’ll feel slightly better now.)
With the original, I could see who The Witches was aimed at – younger children who wanted a mild scare come October; Alex, my girlfriend, still recoils from a scene whereby a witch trapped a young girl in a painting. (Did I mention I have a girlfriend yet?) However, 2020’s reimagining is aimed at, like, 14 different audiences.
The Witches (2020) is far scarier than the original; Anne-Hathaway’s (brilliant) portrayal of the Grand High Witch is shadowed by some genuinely terrifying special effects, which are almost Stephen King-esque. As the Grand High Witch smiles, her cheeks tear apart to reveal a row of razor-sharp teeth, similar to that of It’s Pennywise (which, FYI, I as a 27-year-old man am still too scared to watch.) Repeatedly, the Grand High Witch’s arms extend, but in such a gruesome manner that her arms look and sound as if the bones inside them are snapping in doing so. It’s grim.
Whereas, in the original, the most frightful piece was when Anjelica took off her human mask to reveal her gruesome witchy appearance, but it wasn’t scary – it was over-the-top; she had a big, hooked nose and a wart on her chin – something all witches have… Not a sodding smile that would make children want to pour Toilet Duck into their eyes.
That’s not to downplay Anne’s performance; she was one of – if not the best thing about the film. I’m sure people will criticise her zany Hungarian accent as being too pantomime, but I liked that. Who’s to say witches don’t have wild, inaudible accents? They’re not real. Unless, y’know, you count Theresa May.
Her silly, wild performance is just the right level of camp to make The Witches enjoyable. I believe that her character does want to exterminate every child off the face of the planet, with her cruel snarls and dirty looks; but at the same time, she’s funny – there’s a delightful scene where Stanley Tucci’s Mr Stringer, the manager of the hotel, fails to understand the Grand High Witch’s accent, and it’s relatively funny.
It’s the rest of the cast that left a lot to be desired – starting with Kristin Chenoweth, who plays Mary, who was a child transformed into a mouse by a witch. While it is explained in the very final scene that mice age differently to humans, can you imagine how distracting it is hearing a 52-year-old woman act the same age as the two other children – who, in Roald Dahl’s original book – was aged seven? In fact, even if you ignore her age, her Southern twang was unbelievably distracting throughout. More so than Anne’s eccentric Zsa Zsa Gabor accent.
Chris Rock also made an appearance, but he was just, sort of, there. Stanley Tucci had a few scenes which ended in a rat biting his gonads, as he squealed in pain. Yeah. That happened. Octavia Spencer had a meatier role, but I really don’t think she had the time to shine as the protagonist’s mother. During her introduction, Octavia sings along to Four Tops’ ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’; she prances around the living room and pulls silly faces throughout. I was expecting a fun, silly Grandma, but it ended pretty much after that scene. She soon became a God-fearing woman with a cough – that was her entire character profile.
There were some nice nods to the original – like including male extras in the background, as the Grand High Witch addressed her fellow witches. Males were presumably used in this scene in the original as it would be cheaper and easier to use bald men, as opposed to putting bald caps on women, during the scene where the witches removed their wigs.
The CGI mice will please younger audiences, as they walk on two legs and throw thumbs up to each other – they’re definitely funnier than the mice in the original The Witches. I just fear that children won’t make it that far, as they switch off after Anne Hathaway flashes her fucking terrifying smile.
Can you see why I don’t like horror films now? Roll on sodding Christmas, that’s what I say.