”For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you,” an old woman warns her wide-eyed grandson at the start of The Witches. They ”spend their time trying to kill children,” she intones. And as if that weren’t enough to grab the kids’ attention, Grandmom proudly displays the nub of a finger she lost to a witch when she was a child. Yet instead of being terrified by this rush of unsolicited horror, the boy is utterly entranced — a reaction you may well share while watching this charming comedy.
The Witches regards its title characters with an impish sense of delight. It’s a horror movie with training wheels — a primer on the wicked joys of sorcery. When a witch almost sends a baby sailing over a cliff in a long, lingering shot, director Nicolas Roeg seems to be taking a perverse pleasure in it. Most outrageous of all, Anjelica Huston plays the queen witch as a cross between Hitler and Leona Helmsley. Helping her along is the witty script, plus lots of rubbery special-effects transformations created by the late Jim Henson. The best trick: the way children mutate into mice, suggesting that the picture be renamed Honey, a Witch Shrunk the Kids. From scene to scream, The Witches is good mean fun for the whole family. B+