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April Fools Week: Taking the Worst from The Worst Witch

Written by: Lou Zammichieli, Special to CC2K

Image(Attention Readers: Please insert own joke at Ann Coulter’s expense here. Ever since Obama won, my snarkiness toward Republican’ts has dried up a little. But I digress.)

FOUND!! A major step in the evolution of the Harry Potter series, quite possibly one of the missing links between it and the Chronicles of Narnia. Cultural archeologists will celebrate by promptly reburying this artifact.

Okay, that’s a little harsh. True, there are places in this strangely popular afterschool Hallowe’en special that achieve major suckitude, but there also moments of likeable, goofy charm. Based on the series of books by British author Jill Murphy (See? More Harry Potter-like connections!), Worst Witch the movie concerns itself with the first book of the same name. So, they could conceivably make more episodes, I but I truly think that all those involved instead tried to quit while ahead. Or not.

Made in 1986, to say this production is dated would be a gross understatement. The horrendously bad special effects coupled with cheesy synthesizer music are an essay/review in itself, but I’d mostly like to focus on what works. Sorta.

Let’s start with the “Best of the B-List” cast. A pre-pubescent Fairuza Balk plays the title character, the tragic ne’er-do-well Mildred Hubble, who also seems to be the only student with an American rather than a British accent. (Hmmmm.) Miss Mildred is periodically the last in her class, always screwing up her potions and spells and generally getting the short end of the stick. Why, she can’t even get a black cat when the teachers hand them out, instead getting a distinctly un-witch-like calico instead. (As an aside: listen to some of the obviously dubbed-in “meows” and tell me they aren’t made by human vocal chords.) Seemingly a failure, Mildred is tremendously unloved by most of the school, with some notable exceptions. (True, this is more Dickens than Rowling, but let’s not intellectualize this too much, m’kay?)

One of her few semi-allies in the school is the Dumbledore-like headmistress Miss Cackle, played with dotty enthusiasm by Charlotte Rae AKA Mrs. Garrett. She also plays her evil twin sister (!) with oh-so-subtle differences. While Miss Cackle dresses in properly “schoolmarm” fashion, evil sister Agatha dresses wildly, has pink streaks in her hair, and speaks with a Texas/Southern accent. Now, granted that the last eight years have proved to us that the majority of the evil in this world emanates from Texas, I can’t help but think there’s some cultural assassination going on here. I mean the school fuck-up and the villainess have distinctly “American” accents?

But I digress.

Assistant headmistress/teacher of potions/Severus Snape figure Miss Hardbroom (nah, no phallic imagery here) is played by the fetching Diana Rigg, who has given many men of a certain age several “hard-brooms” themselves, if you catch my drift. One interesting moment is when she appears in Mildred and her best friend/roommate’s dorm room to scold them while they react in terror. I couldn’t help but think that if this was a co-ed school, the young wizards would have reacted instead by looking heaven-ward and shouting “Thank You, GOD!”

But that’s enough MILF love. Let’s move on to Man-Love. This review couldn’t go by without noting the presence of the incomparable Dr. Frank N. Furter, Pennywise the Clown Himself, TIM CURRY!!!!, as the Grand Wizard (Harry Potter equivalent unknown). The Tim Curry who can make even the shoddiest material seem cool and who should be on retainer by Hollywood to come in and save every crapfest they dole out. And so it is here. An acting tour-de-force? Nah. But can he sell it. From the all-too-laughable “flying sequences” to the have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed totally superfluous music video, somehow Dr. Frank makes all this almost watchable. Almost.

Oh, yeah. The plot. Evil twin Agatha plots to take over the school from good-twin Miss Cackle. After numerous screw-ups (including of flying broom display in front of the Grand Wizard), Mildred runs off and just happens to stumble across Aggie and her coven as they make their plans to turn the entire student body into toads. After a nail-biting, tension-filled confrontation (yeah, right) Mildred pulls off a David/Goliath victory and turns the entire band of evil-doers into snails. After presenting them to Sister Cackle, the entire school celebrates this stunning defeat and honor her appropriately. Even the Grand Wizard returns, revealing that he has been secretly watching and monitoring Mildred the entire time, and not in some creepy, Chester-the-Molester way, either, no sir. See the Curry-er was just faking his contempt and disgust with Mildred at the ill-fated flying expo. He’s seen all of Mildred’s trials and tribulations and takes the time to scold the rest of the school at her treatment. And her reward for all her good deeds? A flying lesson with the Grand Wizard himself! And so the two fly of together as the credits roll and “Into the Night” by Benny Mardonnes plays on the soundtrack. Look it up. I’ll wait.

APRIL FOOL! And now you know the truly sick and twisted bastard I really am. No, they just play more horrible synth-music that promptly went out of my head the moment I heard it. But what were you expecting? “The Time Warp”?

Author: Lou Zammichieli, Special to CC2K

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