This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – The Worst Witch (1986)

I can’t help but to have a bit of anxiety when revisiting the influential films of my childhood even as I am excited to watch them with my son and see them anew through his eyes. Ultimately, it may be disheartening to have my fond memories tainted by the viewing of a film that clearly hasn’t aged well. Of course, nostalgia can carry us a long way, and I have to assume that is largely the case with the enduring popularity of 1986’s The Worst Witch. My wife watched this movie every Halloween season on a well-worn VHS recorded from television throughout her childhood. As we sat down to watch it with my son (age three) – my first viewing and his – she texted her two brothers a screen shot and they too felt compelled to find a copy and watch it that same night.

The Worst Witch is based on the Jill Murphy’s children’s book of the same name. It stars Fairuza Balk in her second of three films involving witches in her career, the first being 1985’s Return to Oz and the next 1996’s The Craft. Also starring are Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae, and Tim Curry. The film was a collaboration between HBO and UK television, and the production quality is clearly minimal. The editing is shoddy and the story, especially the climax, is weak. There are three songs of varying quality: the first is cute and probably the best, the second catchy for kids but Charlotte Rae certainly wasn’t going to win any vocalist awards for it, and third one, performed by a confused-looking Tim Curry before a green screen, is an acid-trip of 1980’s kitsch. Rock Horror this ain’t. In addition to the worst witch, the film may also showcase the worst lyrics:

Your dentist could turn into a queen,
Has anybody seen my tambourine?

Of course, none of this mattered to my son. He loved Aggie’s song and sang it for days. I thought he’d be bored with the fairly slow pace of the movie but he asked to watch it again and again as the month of October went along. It’s a harmless film with nothing objectionable. I have to admit that there is a minor charm to all, and seeing the similarities that J.K Rowling would employ in the Harry Potter series can on its own occupy the focus of one’s viewing. As a bat lover my eyes widened when one girl briefly walked in with a live megabat hanging from her hand, and I wish we could have seen more of that. My wife recognizes the film’s shortcomings but, knowing it word for word, doesn’t adore it any less. Who am I to shit in their punch bowl?

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thought: Soft recommendation. If you’re nostalgic for it, indulge to your heart’s content. No judgement here. For the kids it’s probably best for the preschool crowd before they graduate to Hogwarts. If you’ve never seen it before and want to, you might want a hard drink handy.

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