It was announced yesterday that Robert Zemeckis will direct a new adaptation of what is arguably Roald Dahl’s most frightening work, The Witches. This book instilled me with a lifelong suspicion of anyone wearing the telltale combination of pointed shoes, gloves and suspiciously shiny hair that could possibly be a wig. As a child, I would cling to my mother on the rare occasions I saw anyone decked out in such a fashion, sneaking glances at their face in an effort to ascertain if their pupils were changing color, or the little bubbles of spit in the corners of their mouth were tinged blue. Witches, I knew, were everywhere.
I was happy enough to believe this was the case because I loved the book so much. Like all Dahl’s children books, The Witches contained unthinkably, delightfully scary and irredeemably evil characters, led, in this case, by The Grand High Witch. The book has a reasonably happy, though it is extremely important to note, not entirely happy ending, which adds to the believability of the witches’ power and intent, and brilliantly ties up a novel which is not of happy endings, but of close calls, and of good and evil.
Anjelica Huston as The Grand High Witch, attempting to murder an infant / Via Giphy
The 1990 movie starring Anjelica Huston was, overall, a fantastically scary film and a pretty loyal adaptation, except for the ending, which is altered in order to give the film a perfectly happy ending. This is, of course, annoying, but the rest of the movie does not shy away from its unnerving source material and does such a good job of scaring the living daylights out of whoever is watching it (me, to this day) that I can more or less forgive the sickly sweetness of the Hollywood ending. And because the original adaptation did such a stand-up job, and was so enjoyable and thrillingly scary, and because it scares the absolute crap out of me, I have mixed feelings about the upcoming reboot. Here they are.
Feeling the first: I worry that they will do to the witches what Spielberg did to the giants in his recent botched attempt at adapting The BFG. The giants in Dahl’s book are, again, extremely dangerous, ominous characters. They have shiver-inducing names like Bloodbottler and Flesh Lump Eater. In the film, however, they are modeled on Celtic warriors in appearance (controversial) and are lumbering, comical morons, who stumble around bumping into one another. One of the first lines spoken by any giant in the film is an announcement of a sore finger: “I has a booboo.” Even when they are bullying the BFG (played by Mark Rylance and by far the best thing about the film), you never feel as if the BFG is in any real danger. They simply seem too stupid to inflict any significant damage on anyone.
My fear is that the witches will be dumbed down, made comical- the grandmother’s chilling stories about children taken by witches made light-hearted and silly. I absolutely could not stand for such an atrocity to be committed against children’s literature. I could go on a whole other rant about how in dumbing down villainous characters in a rather condescending attempt to shield children from anything remotely frightening, we do them a great disservice, as children are more than capable of inventing monsters ten times more terrifying than anything an adult could conceive of.
Great big idiots / Image Via YouTube
Feeling the second: I’m scared that if they don’t dumb down the witches they will use the technology that was unavailable in 1990 to make these witches even more terrifying and I’m not sure I’m personally ready for that, even though it would be better than having them be unthreatening. I’m not generally too phased by horror films- they make me jump in the cinema, but they don’t haunt me or bother me for long after I’ve seen them. But The Witches, a children’s film, to this day gives me chills. The scene in which the witch appears while Luke is in his treehouse and tries to lure him down with a snake HAUNTS ME.
Feeling the third: I know both the first and second feelings listed here are fairly pessimistic, but I am genuinely excited for the new adaptation. It’s a brilliant story, which has already yielded one excellent film and may well produce another. The characters are clear-cut and excellently wrought, the story jogs along at an excellent pace, in the marvelous setting of a seaside hotel, and is packed with humor. There’s no real reason to suspect that a new adaptation would be so much worse, when it has the original to work off. Still, I worry…
I’m just a nervous wreck over the whole thing and honestly feel that they should just hire me, someone who has thought about this LONG AND HARD FOR MANY YEARS, to consult on the film so it is just the right amount of scary but not so scary that I never sleep again. Even though I will probably never sleep again anyway, given how much of a nervous wreck I am over the whole thing.
Featured Image Via Consequence of Sound