11 Spellbinding Facts About The Witches

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Famed children’s writer Roald Dahl published the dark fairytale novel The Witches in 1983, but it was executive producer Jim Henson and director Nicolas Roeg who brought it to American audiences via the big screen on August 24, 1990 (three months after it opened in the U.K.). Henson’s Creature Shop also provided the puppets and animatronic mice.

The movie, about a group of children-loathing witches who taint sweets with Formula 86 to transform kids into mice, tackled disturbing material and featured some grotesque, CGI-less special effects. Here are some spellbinding facts about the cult movie (and the book that inspired it). 

1. ANJELICA HUSTON WAS HESITANT TO ENDURE SO MUCH MAKEUP.

In 1990, the supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, John Stephenson, told the Los Angeles Times that Huston had an “unpleasant experience” with makeup when she acted in Michael Jackson’s Captain EO. She revealed to Stephenson that she "was worried about getting under all that makeup again.” Stephenson admitted that, “It’s not pleasant to be covered in latex. But she put up with it extremely well. She was very professional.”

In order to transition from Eva Ernst to the Grand High Witch, Huston had to tolerate chin whiskers, purple contact lenses, and more. Huston explained to TV3 that it took six to seven hours to get her makeup done and then another five hours to take it off. “Mercifully, I wasn’t in it for the whole movie—only for about two or three weeks,” she said, “but they were arduous weeks. I had fake hands. The tips of my fingers acted as knuckles and it took at least an hour to take it off, so it was a bit problematic going to the bathroom.”

2. CORNWALL'S HEADLAND HOTEL ACTED AS THE HOTEL EXCELSIOR.

When Luke and Helga vacation at the resort, they were actually on location at a now 115-year-old hotel, The Headland, located in Cornwall, England. The hotel’s website recounts behind-the-scenes trivia such as how Huston’s then-boyfriend, Jack Nicholson, constantly had roses delivered to her, and how “the girls on the switchboard would become very excited when he telephoned to speak to her.” The hotel also shares a story about the time Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Stringer) left his bath running before he went to bed and ended up flooding the ground floor of the hotel, including the film's production office. In ghastly fashion, the hotel is supposedly haunted—not by witches, but by a lady wearing a “long, dark coat without arms and a funny small white hat on her head.”

3. HUSTON LOVES TO MAKE CHILDREN SCREAM.

In a 2013 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Huston called her part in The Witches, “One of the roles I hold dearest,” and mused about the time she freaked out her friend's kids. While in Virginia in 2004, Huston got word her friend’s daughter and friends were planning on watching The Witches. Dressed in purple makeup and Grand High Witch hair, Huston snuck in and surprised the unsuspecting group. “I opened the door and said [putting on her sinister, vaguely European, Grand High Witch voice], ‘Thank you for inviting me!’ ... I got them all screaming. It was good. There’s nothing better than making children scream, I have to say.” 

4. THE GREATEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MOVIE AND THE BOOK IS THE ENDING.

The book’s told with a first-person narrator who doesn’t have a name, and neither does the grandma. In the movie, the boy’s named Luke and the grandma’s named Helga. The book ends with the boy living as a mouse. “I'll be a very old mouse and you'll be a very old grandmother and soon after that we'll both die together,” the narrator says in the book. In the movie version, Roeg and Henson decided the book ending was too dark and introduced the Miss Irvine “good witch” character, who uses her powers to transform Luke back to a boy.

5. THE BOOK WENT THROUGH SEVERAL CHANGES, WITH THE HELP OF AN INSIGHTFUL EDITOR.

The Witches editor Stephen Roxburgh wrote about editing the book and the changes it went through before it got published. When Roxburgh first read the manuscript, it was titled War on Witches. Dahl eventually “softened” the Grandmamma character. “I have allowed the mouse-hero to have all the bright ideas instead of Grandmamma,” Dahl wrote to Roxburgh. Dahl wanted the mouse-hero to go back to being a boy: “I am afraid I have let myself in for a sequel there but I don’t want to think about that for the moment,” he wrote. It was Roxburgh’s idea, though, that persuaded Dahl to make the mouse-hero stay a mouse and not become a human again.

Roxburgh and Dahl didn’t agree on everything—they butted heads on the possible negative portrayal of the witches, and Americanisms vs. Anglicisms used in the book. Dahl obliged and changed the word "lift" to "elevator," but refused to change "sweets" to "candy," and "fish-paste" to "tuna fish." "I won’t have ‘tuna fish’ for 'fish-paste,'" Dahl fired back at Roxburgh. “Please keep this Anglicism. It’s a curiosity even over here.” 

6. TWO ENDINGS WERE SHOT, BUT TEST-SCREENED AUDIENCES CHOSE THE ONE THAT MADE IT INTO THE FILM.

It was Jim Henson’s manager, Bernie Brillstein, who suggested filming a couple of endings. Henson employed democracy to choose the right ending when he corralled groups of people over a few months to watch the film and give their opinions. Between October 1988 and May 1989, in both London and Los Angeles, the alternative endings were tested, and the scarier material was edited from the film.

Henson didn’t want to step on Dahl’s vision and expressed his concern to Penguin Books in a letter, stating: “Roald’s ending works wonderfully and is obviously the best. However, a film is quite different from a written story and, for a number of reasons, we think that the new ending might work better in the movie … We will only make the change if testing shows that the audiences prefer it.” Turns out, the audience preferred the ending of Luke becoming a boy again, so Henson stuck with it.

7. HENSON JUST HAPPENED TO PICK THE ENDING DAHL HATED.

“Nic Roeg showed us the first ending, and Roald had tears running down his cheeks, he was so pleased,” Dahl’s widow, Liccy, told The Telegraph. “But then he showed us the other one, and Roald said: ‘Take my name off this thing. You’ve missed the whole point of the book.’ I'd never seen him so upset.” Dahl felt that leaving the boy as a mouse was indeed a happy ending. “The boy is happy as a mouse,” he wrote to Henson. “He tells us so. And there is a fair bit of elementary philosophy in it, too. What, after all, is so marvelous about being a human? Mice are far happier. They have far less worries.”

Besides the ending, Dahl also disagreed with Roeg in not cutting out the opening funeral scene. “Roald was horrified,” recalled Liccy. “He liked death in his books to be short, quick and humorous—not something to be lingered over.”

8. THE ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO CHILDREN EXISTS IN REAL LIFE. SORT OF.

In the book and movie, the witches congregate for a conference veiled as the RSPCC, but in fact their mission is the opposite: to exterminate children. After visiting New York and seeing they had a similar Society, in 1883 Thomas Agnew founded a Liverpool branch. In 1895, the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) received a royal charter. Basically, the organizations have the same name, but the NSPCC aims to help abused kids, not turn them into rodents. 

9. THREE SIZES OF MICE WERE USED.

“We had to create mice for the boys in three different scales, from life-size, about three inches, to 10 times life-size,” John Stephenson told the Los Angeles Times. The “A size” was literally the size of a mouse. “B size” was cable controlled, and “C size” was a large hand puppet. As Henson explained, “We had to shoot it in such a way that this gigantic mouse still had to look like it was only two-inches big. It was complicated to do that as it meant whenever we were shooting this we needed to have very large pieces of scenery to keep it in scale, but at the same time, this version of the mouse is most expressive.”

10. THE THEATRICAL VERSION IS SUPPOSEDLY LESS SCARY THAN THE ORIGINAL CUT. 

Having Roeg direct a "family" movie was an odd choice, as he had built a reputation for directing sexually-charged thrillers like Don’t Look Now. In his memoir, The World Is Ever Changing, Roeg wrote: “If a parent were reading the story to a child and saw the child getting nervous about it or upset, they could shut the book, but once you take someone to the cinema and put them in a seat, you frighten the bejesus out them.”

Roeg accidentally scared his son while watching The Witches dailies at home. “One of my young sons started watching it and then ran round and sat behind the television set,” he wrote. Roeg edited out “a lot of stuff that was quite extraordinary” to make the film more child-friendly, but he compensated by making the Grand Witch very sexy in the movie.

11. THE BOOK WAS LISTED ON THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S CHALLENGING OR BANNED BOOK LIST.

On the ALA’s 100 most frequently challenged book list from the 1990s (the books were culled from any year and didn’t have to be released in the 1990s), The Witches landed at number 22, alongside such titles as Judy Blume's Forever (#7), J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (#10), and Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (#50). When the ALA ranked the books again in the aughts, The Witches had disappeared from the list. The Christian Science Monitor posited the reason the book got banned was because of its misogyny, mainly that only women can be witches—not men—and that they’re ugly and evil.

12 Perfectly Spooky Halloween Decorations Under $25

Amazon/shopDisney
Amazon/shopDisney

Halloween is right around the corner—which means it’s officially time to bring out the jack-o'-lanterns, watch scary movies, buy your costume(s), and hang up your festive decorations. Although there are thousands of decorations to choose from, you don’t have to blow your budget while decking out your house or apartment in honor of the spooky season this year. With a little guidance, you'll find plenty of ways to create the perfect ambiance at home without going for broke. (And best of all, you can put the money you saved toward extra Halloween candy to stash away.)

From giant spiders to hanging ghosts and lawn decorations, here are a few of our favorite props under $25.

1. Halloween Pillow Covers (4-Pack); $17

ZJHAI/Amazon

These adorable Halloween-themed pillowcases make the perfect accessory for any couch, sofa, or mattress. Made with thick linen fabric, these are durable, sturdy, and designed to last for seasons to come. (Tip: To prevent the zipper from breaking, fold the pillow in half before inserting.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black Lace Spiderweb Fireplace Mantle; $12

Aerwo/Amazon

This versatile spiderweb prop is made with 100-percent polyester, and its knit lace spiderweb pattern adds a spooky touch to any home. Display it on your doorway, across your fireplace mantel, or atop your table. (It also makes a great backdrop for Halloween photo ops.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Statement Halloween Signs; $16

Dazonge/Amazon

These festive, statement-making banners come pre-assembled, making them incredibly easy to install. They’re also weather-resistant and washable for both outdoor and indoor use. Use tape, push-pins, or weights to prevent the signs from blowing away.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Jack Skellington and Sally Plush Dolls; $23 (Each)

Disney

Celebrate your favorite holiday with a pair of adorable Jack Skellington and Sally plush dolls from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack stands at 28 inches tall, while Sally is a bit shorter at 21 inches. Set them up on your sofa or against the window sill for all to see.

Buy them: Disney Shop (Jack and Sally)

5. Halloween Zombie Groundbreaker; $22

Joyin/Amazon

This spooktacular zombie lawn decoration is sure to scare all of your friends, family, and neighbors alike. Made with a combination of latex, plastic, and fabric, this durable Halloween prop is sure to last for years to come.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Hanging Ghost Decoration; $14

Moon Boat/Amazon

Drape this handmade, 14-foot-long hanging ghost decoration over your porch, doorway, or window. You can also hang it outdoors over a tree or a (very tall) bush. And, since it comes pre-assembled, you won’t have to waste time constructing it yourself.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Two-Piece Hanging Ghost Set; $17

GeeFuun/Amazon

This pair of ghosts adds a whimsical touch to any home. While they’re not “scary,” per se, they certainly are adorable. Display them in your front yard, on your porch, on a lamppost, or a tree. To hang, simply tie the ribbons and bend the wires, arms, and tails.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Pumpkin String Lights; $19

Eurus Home/Amazon

Not only are these solar-powered, 33-foot-long LED string lights good for the environment, they’re also incredibly easy to install (no long, tangly power cable chords necessary). Since they’re waterproof, you can use them both indoors and outdoors. Choose from eight different light settings, including twinkling, flashing, fading, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Inflatable Ghost; $22

Joiedomi/Amazon

This adorable inflatable ghost (which dons a cute-as-can-be wizard hat!) features built-in LED lights and sandbags to help it stay sturdy. It also comes complete with a plug, extended cords, ground stakes, and fastened ropes. Simply plug it in and watch it magically inflate within just a few minutes.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Graveyard Tombstones; $17

meiguisha/Amazon

Turn your front lawn into a graveyard with this six-piece set. Each tombstone is made with foam and designed to add a touch of spookiness to your space. To install, insert one holder into the bottom of the tombstone, and one into the soil. You can use these indoors, as well.

Buy it: Amazon

11. 10-Piece Skeleton Set; $24

Fun Little Toys/Amazon

This skeleton set includes a skull, hands and arms, and legs and feet—plus five stakes to hold everything in place. Each “bone” and “joint” is flexible, allowing you to prop the skeleton into different frighteningly fun poses. Simply place the stakes into the bone socket and turn clockwise.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Outdoor Spider Web; $18

amenon/Amazon

This giant, ultra-stretchy spider web spans a whopping 23 feet. It also includes a 30-inch black spider, 20 pieces of fake spiders, one hook, and one nail. Its thick polyester rope—combined with the sturdy stakes—allows the spider web to stay in place all season long. Place the hook on a wall or tree, and expand the web using the stakes.

Buy it: Amazon

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The Office Children's Book Is Coming to Introduce Your Kids to Dunder Mifflin

The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary is coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in October.
The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary is coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in October.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Amazon

Thanks to constant TV reruns and easy access via Netflix, The Office hasn't lost any of its popularity since airing its series finale in 2013. Now the beloved sitcom is about to be introduced to a whole new audience that (fortunately) isn't old enough to understand what Michael Scott means when he says "That's what she said." As Entertainment Weekly reports, a new book for kids, The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary, is out now.

While it might be hard to imagine how a children's book all about Dunder Mifflin would work, now that we're getting a glimpse at it, it seems like the best idea ever. A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary will introduce your little ones to all your favorite paper company employees—though they won't be the same Jim and Pam we all know so well. In this book, the illustrated characters are all school-aged.

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The 40-page book is written by Robb Pearlman, author of Bob Ross and Peapod the Squirrel, Pink is for Boys, and Star Trek: Fun with Kirk and Spock, and illustrated by Melanie Demmer, who works on the My Furry Foster Family series. Though the book is intended for kids ages 4 to 8, you can be sure that we'll be reading it, too.

You can order your copy of The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary for $16 on Amazon right now. And if you're looking for more Office collectibles that are available right now, head here.

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