Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Worst Witch

Premiered on HBO and Central Independent Television in the Fall of 1986

Miss Cackle's International Academy Of Witches is a boarding school where girls hone their witching skills. But one student is going through a rough patch, Mildred Hubble (Fairuza Balk) is having trouble casting spells and flying her broomstick.   She manages to turn herself and her lab partner invisible when they were supposed to be creating a laughing potion.

Hazards of imprecise potion making
She is constantly bullied by mean girl, Ethel Hallow (Anna Kipling).

One of Mildred's teachers, Miss Hardbroom (Diana Rigg) seems to have it in for Mildred.

Pleasant nightmares!
Even the school's headmistress, Miss Cackle (Charlotte Rae) calls Mildred "the worst witch" in the school.

Her only friend, Maud Warlock (Danielle Batchelor), offers encouragement to Mildred, telling her to ignore her detractors.

Halloween is approaching.  All the girls, including Mildred are anticipating the Halloween Festival.  The guest of honor will be the Grand Wizard (Tim Curry).  The girls fawn over him like a rock star.

Sooo dreamy!?
Meanwhile, Miss Cackle's evil twin sister Agatha is plotting to take over the school.  Agatha ("Aggie" to her "friends") will stage a coup during the Halloween celebrations, when the school is distracted.

Agatha and hench witch Delilah
After much practice,  Mildred shows major improvement in her flying skills and is happy when she is added to the broomstick display team which is scheduled to perform for the Grand Wizard on Halloween night. Ethel isn't happy about Mildred's inclusion on the team and gets a nasty idea.  Mildred's broom is broken, so Ethel lends one of her spare brooms.

Ethel is up to no good
Unbeknownst to our heroine,  Ethel has placed a curse on the broom!

Halloween arrives, as does the Grand Wizard, in grand style.

 He entertains everyone with a Halloween song.

Anything can happen on Halloween
 Next, it's time for the broomstick team's performance.  Everything is going well, the girls are flying in formation, but suddenly Mildred's broom goes haywire.  She crashes, ruining Halloween.  The Grand Wizard departs for another gig and Mildred is sent to her room without supper, fully expecting to be expelled the next morning.

Mildred is despondent, feeling like the whole world is against her and decides to run away.   She stumbles upon Agatha and her cronies (pun intended) getting ready to make their move on the school.   Will she be able to stop their depredations?  Will she be expelled from school?

RigbyMel says:

I have very fond memories of watching this little film when it first showed on HBO.   It quickly became a family favorite - my brothers and I watched the VHS tape quite a bit.   I think most kids can relate to the feeling of not quite being in step with those around them and the misfit theme certainly crops up in various holiday programs aimed at children.

Watching it as an adult has caused some of the shortcomings of The Worst Witch to stand out a bit more than they did when I was 10.    This is a very low-budget production,  the special effects are not of great quality and proportions of characters to backgrounds vary wildly within the same scenes. The plots is a bit on the paper thin side, but is enjoyable.  Much of the budget probably went to paying talent like Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae and Tim Curry to appear in the film.   Each of the cast members give their all.

One of my favorite bits of The Worst Witch has not changed from when I saw it as a child.  Tim Curry's song as the (unfortunately named) Grand Wizard is a cheese-tacular wonder that should not be missed.  The lyrics are silly and fun and it seems to be trying to incorporate just about every music video sin from the 1980s that it can cram into less than four minutes,  but somehow it is endearing and is definitely proof that "anything can happen on Halloween".

Behold, I am in an '80s music video!

 (It's also an amusing callback to Curry's more famous turn as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show aimed at a much younger audience.)

In fact, this song is so amazing, I feel we must share it on the blog,  so without further ado, here's Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard singing "Anything Can Happen On Halloween":

Awe-inspiring, isn't it?  ;-)

The Worst Witch also has some interesting resonances with the Harry Potter universe - both include schools dedicated to the training of young witches and wizards as well as  protagonists who must deal with bullies and with dark external forces that wish to harm the school and its students.  Both feature important events that take place on Halloween.  And both universes also feature testy potions instructors.

There may also be a lesson to be learned about what happens to bullied children from Fairuza Balk's later career, she stars as a teen witch gone bad in the 1996 film The Craft!

This is a fun, goofy  Halloween movie whether one is young, young at heart or just obsessed with Harry Potter and/or the 1980s.  

RigbyMel's rating:

3 and a half jack o'lanterns

The school is lit up like a giant jack o'lantern on Halloween.
J.A. Morris says:

Unlike RigbyMel, I had never heard of The Worst Witch until a few years ago.  But I've always enjoyed the work of Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae and Tim Curry.  The dulcet tones of Rae's "singing" voice is something you must hear.  She has made an art form of (intentionally) singing badly.  Plus, Rae has a dual role in this story, as portraying both Cackle and her sister Agatha.

Agatha lets out an evil screech and casts a spell at Mildred.
Curry's song has become a favorite, I've put it on a few playlists for Halloween parties.

Ethel & the other witches in-training get black kittens...

...while Mildred, being the Worst Witch, is given a tabby.
Fairuza Balk may not have become a superstar, but she's had a respectable acting career as an adult since this film.  Balk's very believable here as a kid going through an awkward stage.  I especially liked the scene where all the witches in training are given black kittens.  Mildred is given a tabby cat (she names it Tabby, after thinking about naming her Blackie "because she isn't"!) and doesn't feel the least bit left out.  Tabby is a misfit just like Mildred and she bonds with the cat over this common trait.

Ethel taunts Mildred...

...until Mildred turns her into a pig!
Most of the other kid actors don't make much of an impression, but Anna Kipling is good as mean girl Ethel Hallow.  Every good story needs a good villain, if you were ever bullied at school, you will recognize Ethel.  Kipling seems to have stopped acting in 1990, but she will live forever in the minds of every kid who watches The Worst Witch.

Mildred can't bear to look as she crashes her broom.
 The plot isn't that great.  We never learn why Agatha is no longer in charge of the school.  And her plan to overthrow Miss Cackle is sketchy at best, but the story never gets boring.  

Mildred enjoys a flight on the Grand Wizard's cape.
But some of my co-blogger's nostalgic feelings have rubbed off on me, it's become part of our yearly Halloween viewing.  While the special effects are sometimes laugh-inducing, the film has its heart in the right place.  The Worst Witch is good, seasonal fun, with some nice performances by the veteran actors, and it's anti-bullying message is still important today.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 jack o'lanterns.

1 comment:

bga said...

I share your fond memories of this Halloween film.