Perhaps Christmas is the season when you prefer cozying up with your loved ones more and watching a feel-good classic holiday movie. At Halloween, you want to be out at a party or trick-or-treating for candy; not at home watching movies as a Halloween activity. But Halloween is not without its own collection of bizarre, schlocky and silly cult classics, with one of them being “The Witches” (1990).
Growing up, I was obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books. They were just the right mix of mystical, wondrous and kooky, and they transported me to worlds much more preferable to a lonely nine-year-old girl than the one I lived in. One of my favorite books was “The Witches.” A whimsical and yet eerie story about a boy turned into a mouse tasked with stopping all of the witches of England had just the right mix of action, comedy and heart. It wasn’t until I grew older that I could appreciate just how horrifying some parts of the story were — such as the revelation that the boy and his grandma will die together being treated rather cheerfully — but nonetheless, it remained a staple of my childhood.
It wasn’t long until I discovered the movie adaptation. Most Hollywood adaptations tend to be hit-or-miss, but to my delight, this one managed to hit all of the right spots. It managed to capture all of Dahl’s odd flourishes and embellishments, complete with the tacky-looking witches and — there is no other way to say this — earnestly British dialogue. You don’t know if laughing or gasping at Angelica Houston’s bizarre transformation is the right call, and the rest of the movie leaves you feeling a similar way. “The Witches” takes a story with horror elements, but is true to Dahl’s story, embeds adventure and family fun into it, creating a quirky Halloween classic. It’s more cheesy and silly than scary, and the movie knows that. It never tries to take itself more seriously than that. Dahl criticized the movie for deviating from the ending of the story he wrote, but I think it’s in line with the tone that “The Witches” established, which is much more lighthearted.
But that doesn’t mean that “The Witches” doesn’t deserve a place in the Halloween mythos. It is more of a family movie and does mix goofiness and horror together in a way only a skilled author like Dahl could have. Sure, maybe some people could argue that Halloween is strictly a spooky holiday, but there’s no denying that Halloween, in many ways, is a pretty goofy holiday as well. Carving scary faces onto pumpkins? Dressing up in tacky costumes to beg candies from strangers? “The Witches” fits right into the heart of a holiday that is a strange mix of ghastly and dopey. So this Halloween, consider gathering all of your friends together and giving this peculiarly delightful holiday cult classic a try.