Retro Review: The Worst Witch (1986)
Continuing this month’s theme of Made for Television Halloween movies, we come upon a real head scratcher in this week’s entry, The Worst Witch. On almost every objective measure, this movie is awful. The child actors are not much better than your elementary school’s latest presentation of the Four Food Groups, the special effects are computer generated in an era where state of the art computing meant your rig could handle the flying toaster screen saver, and the frequent musical elements are decidedly hum-drum. Except for one. Sung by Tim Curry. It will make your day unless you have a cold dead rock for a heart, and even then, you’ll get a chuckle. So I’m reviewing it. Cause dammit, Tim Curry is practically Halloween (practically I say, because I feel he and David Bowie should split the duty…)
The Worst Movie, er, Witch…
The Worst Witch was actually a series of children’s books, very similar to and occurring before the Harry Potter series. The parallels are actually…spooky, though I hope J.K. Rowling had more of a vision for HP than remaking The Worst Witch with a penis. Mildred Hubble is the worst student at an all girls school for magic and witchcraft. More accident prone than foolish, she can’t seem to get spells correct at any opportunity. Adding to her misfortune, she’s drawn the ire of the school’s best student, Ethel Hallow, who trips her up at every step. Things look bleakest for Mildred after Ethel sabotages her presentation for Halloween in front of the Grand Wizard (Tim Curry, not in any way affiliated with the KKK…poor choice of titles, Disney) and Mildred is forced to flee the school before a hearing that would expel her. Alone in the woods, she comes across a coven of evil witches led by the twin sister of the Head Witch, who intends to destroy the school to spite her favored twin sister. Mildred intervenes and saves the day. Hooray. The books actually go on for seven iterations, and the series was popular enough to also warrant a TV series. Apparently the books were quite good, as the movie adaptation is not.
The Worst Witch suffers from wooden acting from its child cast, headed by Fairuza Balk, who later shattered her stereotype by playing a sexy witch in The Craft, and the devil Vicki Valencourt in Adam Sandler’s opus, The Waterboy.
The rest of the cast is only mildly more interesting. Facts of Life star Charlotte Rae plays as both the Head Witch and her evil twin, and is affable as the first, and cringe worthy in the latter. One ray of light is Ms. Hardbroom, the tough and sinister head instructor, played by Diana Rig. Daunting and delightfully malevolent, with an interesting back story of being snubbed by the Grand Wizard as a young witch, Rig manages to actually provide levity and charm in a largely by-the-number production. As Harry Potter viewers soon realized, the safest way past campy childhood acting was to have top notch, interesting adults surrounding the little snot nosed cretins.
The green screen animations are hard to endure, and while its hard to fault late 80’s visual effects compared to today’s capabilities, one wishes the movie had opted for old school stagecraft that worked instead of new technology that was very much in its infancy. Even for TV, they are pretty horrible.
The Old Razzle Dazzle
So, you may wonder, why review a movie with very few merits to recommend it? Life is short, and there are so many better movies to See Instead. Well, my friend, I’ve saved the best for last. The Worst Witch features a song and dance number of epic proportions, provided by none other than Tim Curry, the only man who apparently loves getting dressed up in ridiculous costumes more than I do. I won’t waste any more of your time. Here it is.
Tim Curry oozes charisma and raw sexuality, which is pretty damn creepy when you consider that he’s playing to an audience of pre-teen witches. But like the true showman he is, he gives absolutely zero fucks about being in a children’s straight-to-video production. He gives it all he’s got, and kicks the high holy hell out of it. And for that, he has my gratitude.