The public has always had a fascination with witches, whether it’s been a serious fear of the supernatural during the time of the Salem witch trials or a romanticized, playful look at the magic-casters in something like Bewitched or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Witches have also been an integral component of horror movies for decades and there’s even been a resurgence of the paranormal individuals in recent movies like The Witch and Hereditary.
In spite of how witches may be a natural fit for horror, it’s always interesting when the characters are placed in an environment for children, as is the case in Roald Dahl’s classic novel, The Witches.
Dahl is no stranger to dabbling in dark areas, but The Witches is a prime example of how something as frightening as witches can still be appropriate for kids within the right context.
Dahl’s book has a strong following, but it’s the movie adaptation of his spooky story that had really become the cult classic over time.
Even though the film is nearly 30 years old, its legacy still lives on. The Witches often pops up in discussions about seminal witch movies, and even though it’s technically meant for the whole family, it still turns up on horror collections.
As a result, The Witches is one of the more unusual movies out there, but it becomes an even more strange when all of the details and obstacles that it faced in production are put into consideration.
With that said, here are the 20 Crazy Revelations Behind The Making of The Witches.
20 The Grand High Witch Was Almost Cher
It’s hard to think of anyone else portraying The Witches’ iconic Grand High Witch other than Anjelica Huston.
Huston not only brings the role to life with an eerie joy, but it’s also become recognized as one of the actress’ most famous roles.
In spite of how perfect Huston is in the role, it’s not surprising to hear that the movie had some other actresses in mind in case things with Huston didn’t pan out.
According to the production, some of the other actresses that were in consideration for the role were Frances Conroy, Linda Blair, Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Jodie Foster, and even Liza Minelli.
Roald Dahl intentionally didn't weigh in on his preference during casting, but after Huston got the role, he happily expressed that she was his pick, too.
19 It Was Lost In Post-Production Limbo
The Witches now has the reputation of a cult classic of sorts, but many aren’t aware that it had a real tough time actually getting into theaters.
There was a period when it looked like the movie had just mysteriously been forgotten.
The main reason behind this was the fact that Lorimar Productions, the company that was supposed to distribute the movie, went out of business.
Warner Bros. picked up the slack here, but they shelved the movie for over a year after it was finished.
The Witches was supposed to open in May of 1990, but it got delayed again following test screenings and pushed back until August.
The movie would eventually bring in over 10 million dollars and garner critical acclaim, but it's crazy to think that it had such a torturous post-production cycle.
18 Rowan Atkinson Flooded The Headland Hotel
One of the most iconic aspects of The Witches is the breathtaking Excelsior Hotel that the majority of the movie takes place in.
Director Nicolas Roeg decided to use the real-life Headland Hotel to double as the Excelsior, and while the mvoie definitely brought the hotel a lot of publicity, it also caused a few problems for the building, too.
One night, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Stringer in the movie) caused an infamous accident when he left his bath running and fell asleep.
When a porter knocked on the door to try and do something about the disaster, Atkinson responded with, "Go away. I'm asleep."
The bath flooded most of the hotel's first floor, which happened to include the movie's production offices.
A lot of electrical equipment was unfortunately ruined.
17 Roald Dahl Almost Took His Name Off The Movie
The Witches is generally seen as one of the better adaptations of Roald Dahl’s work, but even still, things were so hostile behind the scenes that he was almost pushed to completely remove his name from the movie.
Initially, Dahl was so pleased with the filmed version of his book’s ending that he was even crying with joy.
However, the alternate ending where Luke is turned back into a boy that they ended up using was completely antithetical to the story’s message in Dahl’s eyes.
Dahl insisted that Luke remaining a mouse is a happy ending. Dahl was so upset when the crew prefered the other version that he threatened to have his name taken off the movie.
He eventually calmed down, but the whole situation made him soured his opinion of the adaptation.
16 Anjelica Huston's Make Up Took Over 7 Hours To Apply
Without question, the most memorable detail from Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches is the incredible makeup.
The movie pulls together some of the best practical effects this side of John Carpenter’s The Thing, but it sounds like the process behind putting the Grand High Witch together was almost as frightening as the end result.
Anjelica Huston's Grand High Witch makeup was extremely intense to apply.
In fact, the make up took over seven hours to apply and five hours to take off.
However, it definitely paid off, as the end effect is extremely frighting to most viewers.
Huston had reservations about taking a role that involved such heavy makeup due to her unpleasant experience in Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, but we're glad that she made it work.
15 It Censored Itself To Appeal To Children, But It Still Scared Them
Roald Dahl’s novels have a certain creepiness to them, and even though they’re not afraid to go to dark places, they also shy away from other mature topics.
It makes for a unique world that might be a little unnerving for some children, but it’s never meant to be too scary.
Nicolas Roeg’s movie still had concerns about this, but in spite of the crew's efforts to tone things down, the stark material still stood for itself.
Dahl's book remains much darker, while the movie tries to make things more palatable for its child demographic.
Characters like Luke's grandmother are nicer in the movies, while the novel features a lot more casualties.
However, Dahl wasn't a fan of these alterations and kids were still creeped out by the movie's effects.
14 The Book's Original Ending Was Shot
One of the biggest points of contention between the movie version of The Witches and Roald Dahl’s original novel involves the different endings.
The movie might have decided to ultimately go in a different direction than the source material, but The Witches actually shot Dahl’s original ending, too.
In Dahl's book, Luke remains as a mouse and he and his grandmother plot revenge against the witches, while the movie's ending features Luke turning back into a boy.
Jim Henson's manager, Bernie Brillstein, suggested that they try the alternate ending.
The studio screened both endings and the happier alternative was prefered by viewers, so it was the ending that the movie used.
However, Dahl was not happy with this decision.
13 It Has 100% On Rotten Tomatoes, But Roald Dahl Despises Itself
There are only a few movies that hold the prestigious honor of a sterling 100% rating on the review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s often even more challenging for an adaptation to reach this honor since fans of the original text often have preconceived notions that can clash with the movie.
However, despite all odds, Nicolas Roeg’s film earns its critical acclaim and arguably stands out as the ultimate Dahl adaptation.
Even still, Roald Dahl absolutely despises the movie.
This hatred essentially comes down to Roeg and company using an altered ending that went against Dahl’s vision in his book.
In fact, Dahl was so upset by the changes to The Witches that he put in his will that any future movie adaptations of his work would have to be held to very high standards.
12 Jack Nicholson Was A Frequent Guest
There’s a considerable amount of star power on the screen in The Witches, but those who were close to production actually got to spend some time with another major celebrity off camera.
Anjelica Huston is the movie's antagonist, and during the production of The Witches, she was in the middle of a relationship with fellow celebrity, Jack Nicholson.
Due to the fact that the bulk of production on The Witches took place within the Headland Hotel, this meant that Nicholson was a frequent guest.
According to Headland Hotel staff, Nicholson was often present during filming and even had a habit of delivering roses to Huston.
Apparently Nicholson even became close with the hotel staff and film crew. He even weighed in on his opinion of Huston’s portrayal of the Grand High Witch.
11 There’s A Small Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Easter Egg
Roald Dahl is the author responsible for The Witches, but he’s fortunate enough to have penned many prolific children’s books.
Dahl’s separate worlds don't tend to crossover. That being said, there was an opportunity in The Witches to make a sly nod to another one of Dahl’s most successful books that had also been turned into a popular movie.
One of the major schemes that the witches have to attack children revolves around poisoning chocolate bars.
Children have many vices, but the decision to focus specifically on chocolate bars feels like an intentional wink at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
While it’s unclear if the chocolate bars in the movie bear the official Wonka brand, they do have the familiar golden inner foil.
10 It Featured Many Prestigious Puppeteers
When people think about The Witches, most recall Anjelica Huston's role as the Grand High Witch.
While the cast of The Witches was extremely talented in their own right, there were also many acclaimed puppeteers who helped to bring the movie to life behind the scenes.
Part of what makes The Witches such a success is its practical effects, which were done with makeup.
However, there was also a considerable amount of puppetry done behind the scenes in order to bring the mouse-like creatures to life.
The Witches was produced by Jim Henson Productions and features work from Brian Henson, David Greenaway, Anthony Asbury, Sue Dacre, Robert Tygner, Steven Whitmire, and Don Austen, who worked on Luke and Bruno’s mouse forms.
It was the final film that Jim Henson would work on before his unfortunate passing.
9 Luke Has No Name In Dahl’s Novel
When it comes to movie adaptations based off of books, there are all sorts of changes that can happen for a wide variety of reasons.
Sometimes these changes can work for the better, while other times they can ruin the final product.
However, one change that fans can’t really can't get mad at the studio for is the decision to give the movie's protagonist a name.
Roald Dahl doesn’t give his protagonist a name in his book, which was an odd decision.
In a movie, this can be a lot more obvious and cause a lot of confusion. It’s very difficult to portray a character who is nameless, especially when it’s not crucial to the story.
The movie eventually decided on the name “Luke Eveshim” for their hapless lead.
8 Miss Irvine Is The Movie's Only Significant Original Character
When a story is adapted into a movie, it’s not uncommon for some characters to be removed, combined together, or radically changed in order to become more appealing to movie viewers.
At the same time, adaptations will sometimes add new characters in order to touch on something that wasn’t highlighted in the original story.
Movies can go overboard in this department, but Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches shows restraint on the matter, as it only creates one new character, Jane Horrocks’ Susan Irvine.
Since Miss Irvine is a new character, this perhaps explains why she experiences such a rich arc and goes through a lot of character development (arguably even as much as Luke).
In the movie, Irvine dabbles with the dark side, gets turned into a mouse, and then gets restored to her human form and learns a lesson in redemption.
7 Two Scenes Were Cut Out In The UK Release To Obtain A PG Rating
Even though The Witches is a movie that’s meant for kids, there are a number of frightening scenes and characters that are likely to give even adult viewers nightmares.
Since The Witches is creepy at times, the UK ultimately decided to shield itself from some of the movie's most haunting scenes.
Due to different censorship guidelines and restrictions in the UK, there was a slightly different cut of The Witches that was released in Roald Dahl’s native land.
There are only two brief moments that receive censorship, but they made a huge difference.
The first scene happens when the central witch’s face gets removed, which is slightly edited. The second scene involves Bruno’s mouse transformation, which was altered as well.
These scenes were eventually restored in the video release.
6 It's An Allegory For Stranger Danger Concerns
Roald Dahl's storys are popular because they’re rich texts that portray new worlds, but are ultimately tied down to our reality as well.
They also work as deeper allegories for more serious issues.
The Witches presents some harsh ideas about children and gender roles, but it also uses effects and makeup to soften the blow, providing an incredible and truly engaging story.
The Witches focuses on a tale against supernatural evil, but in many ways the movie is also meant to be a cautionary tale to protect children against strangers.
It teaches kids to refuse candy from strangers and also to avoid walking alone in suspicious areas.
5 Three Sizes Of Mice Were Created And Used With Real Ones
There are many exciting moments from The Witches, but the scene when all chaos breaks loose at the grand meeting and characters start turning into mice is a clear highlight.
The scene is an example of The Witches at its most carefree, but there was actually a great deal of work that went into creating the mice for the movie.
In order to pull off the effects that the film was going for, The Witches’ production team created three different sizes of mice that varied from a three-inch model, a life-sized mouse model, and = a much bigger version that's ten times the size of a regular mouse.
All of these mice were then used in different ways to resemble mice on camera.
On top of that, real mice were also thrown into the mix for authenticity sake.
4 Anjelica Huston Fully Embraces The Role
The Grand High Witch is one of those over the top characters that allows an actor to really let loose.
Even though a strong script, direction, and chilling makeup can go far, if the performer doesn’t truly commit with a role like this, then the result will be a weak performance.
Thankfully, Anjelica Huston not only gives her all to this role, but the character is one that she thinks of fondly and is happy to revisit.
Huston told The Sydney Morning Herald that, back in 2013, she played a prank on one of her friend’s children.
While the kids were watching The Witches, Huston waltzed in wearing a simplified version of her costume and scared them.
Huston’s response to the gag was "there’s nothing better than making children scream, I have to say.”
3 Nicolas Roeg’s Young Son Helped Him Tone It Down
One of the biggest hurdles that Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches faced behind the scenes involved properly establishing the movie's tone.
It was no surprise that the kid’s film would be no stranger to the macabre and more frightening subject matter, but it couldn’t go too far in the area, as an imbalanced tone could potentially sink the movie.
Accordingly, when Roeg was viewing dailies at home, his young son saw footage from the movie and became frightened.
Since Roeg knew that this the movie supposed to be a family friendly, he used his son’s reactions to figure out which scenes were too intense and where it would be appropriate to tone down the movie or remove scenes.
2 Robert Zemeckis Promises To Do The Original Book Justice In A Potential Remake
In an age of constant remakes and reboots, it’s not surprising to hear that there are rumors to remake a movie from 1990.
While Nicolas Roeg’s movie still holds up nearly thirty years later and a remake probably isn’t necessary, this doesn’t mean that a creative, unique take on the material is impossible, especially if it were in the right hands.
Those right hands might have been found, as Robert Zemeckis is tentatively tapped to do a remake of the movie (with Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro producing, no less).
At one point, del Toro was even going to take a stab as the movie's director.
Zemeckis promises to be more faithful to the text and will probably employ his classic valley motion capture technology to make the movie even more uncomfortable than Nicolas Roeg’s original.
1 Its Soundtrack And Score Cannot Be Obtained
Nicolas Roeg’s movie is full of evocative imagery, but another crucial component that makes The Witches stand out is its powerful use of music.
The film’s soundtrack and score both know how to properly play into both the movie's creepiness as well as its more playful nature.
It’s a strong piece of work, but unfortunately it’s not exactly an easy collection of music to obtain.
Stanley Myers’ score for The Witches curiously remains hard to find, as an official soundtrack for the movie was never issued.
With the reputation that the movie has gained over the years, it would make sense for an official release to happen in conjunction with an anniversary DVD or Blu-Ray, but this remains to be seen.
Can you think of any other behind-the-scenes secrets about 1990's The Witches? Let us know in the comments!