Have you ever walked out of a film? Got up and left a cinema because you simply couldn’t endure any more? I have. And I was five years old. How’s that for showing your opinion on popular culture? Letting the rest of the audience know you’re no fool. You’re a free agent and can come and go as you please, with a hair flick and a flounce. But (almost) thirty years later doing that is now something that makes me feel very nervous. For a few reasons. Mainly because I don’t like that feeling of not finishing something. Like when you leave a bit of tea at the bottom of your mug – you haven’t had that final satisfying swig so you end up feeling a bit incomplete and discombobulated all day… until you have another cup and can finish the damn thing and move on with your life (or sometimes finish the old, cold mug of tea, with that white skin on the top, just to get rid of it. Sure). I have heard there are some people who walk out of a show at the theatre at the interval. Good God. The stress and sadness of knowing people would be on stage performing to empty-seats is enough to keep me there until the theatre staff are locking up. So when a friend asked me recently if I have ever left the cinema before a film has finished I couldn’t immediately think of a time that had happened… but then I remembered. I thought about every single movie I have sat through over the years – that I have endured, and then I remembered that there is only one film that had me walk – nay, RUN – from my seat in horror. And that was Roald Dahl’s The Witches back in 1990 with the utterly terrifying and scarily convincing Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch.
My mum took my brother and I to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on a Saturday morning. They often showed children’s movies on a Saturday morning… you know the way it went, appease your kids with a film and then take them around Allders choosing curtains (if you know, YOU KNOW. RIP Allders).
I am not sure how long the three of us lasted in that auditorium. Or who it was out of my brother and I who had the first breakdown (maybe it was my Mum, it’s anyone’s guess). But I vividly remember my mother gathering us both up and fleeing from the cinema in a cloud of anger, panic, horror and upset. I am trying to remember now at what part she (or we) had decided enough was enough. To be honest, having seen that film of late, it could have been any moment from the first 5 seconds on.
And I believe that was the first and last time we watched The Witches as children. It was almost like it was one of those things that was just banned in our house. No-one said it was banned, we just never spoke about it. Ever. God only knows if we made it to Allders after. Maybe to Joshua’s Tea Room (on the ground floor. Again, if you know, YOU KNOW). Probably so my Ma could have the strongest coffee known to humankind (hopefully laced with something even stronger) whilst her two kids sat shellshocked, rocking from side-to-side.
A good few years ago now, Before Children and Before Covid (what I like to call the double BC) when we could go out drinking without worrying about getting home in time to release the grandparents or when we could party long past 10pm and have friends to STAY, stumbling home to waste away the midnight hours chatting, drinking and watching movies, knowing that the next day expected nothing from us apart from working out who was going to make the first round of tea, we went out with some friends. After a fair amount of gin, we left the bar with loud discussions of what movie we were going to consume drunkenly on the sofa when we got back… and it was to decided that we would give 1990s The Witches a go. The only film in my history that made me turn on my CICA trainers (my God, do you remember those?!) and never look back. So, we watched this film at about 2 in the morning, and I think I was as terrified as I was when my mother had to extract me from a cinema in the last millennium. It may have been the gin, but I think it was actually the fact that the film is just bloody scary. It’s a film about real life witches. REAL LIFE WITCHES. With no toes, and no hair and no fingers who turn kids into mice. WTF guys. WTF. And this is from someone who has had to watch a lot of terrifying movies in this career. Films where people are locked in cages; aliens grow inside your brains; ghosts appear on top of wardrobes and all sorts of nonsense.
And so now, with only a few days to go, we have a new version of Mr Dahl’s book re-imagined by Robert Zemeckis… And you know what? I am excited. I am genuinely really excited about what this will be like. Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci – it’s a great cast and I have watched the trailer about 4 times now without those early 1990s memories haunting me. I am committed to the scares, I am up for the horror.
But hey – am I going to let my daughter watch it with me? Hell no. This is a strict 9pm watershed watch and make no mistake about it. The lights will be on. And I will not be watching it alone. Sorry Simon babes, but luckily you watched the other one with me so recently that you’ll have good chat to compare notes at the end. I’ll pour you a gin.