by Mark Greig
If Dorothy Gale’s first trip to Oz was just a crazy, Pink Floyd-inspiring dream, then Return to Oz is an absolute nightmare.
Return to Oz is a terrifying movie. Forget The Exorcist or Alien, this is the scariest movie I have ever seen. This is a movie you only put on if you think your children haven't had a traumatic enough childhood. Nothing good can ever come from watching Return to Oz. I doubt that anyone, child or adult, could watch this film and not have nightmares. Sure, the original had its fair share of scary moments, but that’s nothing compared to the twistedness of this movie.
This is a film that starts off with little Dorothy being sent off to an asylum for electroshock therapy. Yeah, you read that right. All those stories of Oz she keeps telling people have got her family worried she’s going crazy. We haven't even got to Oz yet and I'm already freaked out. Before she can be Carrie Mathison'd, another patient rescues her and one violent storm later little Dorothy finds herself back in the merry old land of Oz. But things sure have changed since she was last there.
Oz is now a much scarier place, which is really saying something because it wasn't all picnics and rainbows the first time she was there. The Emerald City has fallen into ruin, everyone has been turned to stone and the place is overrun with creepy Wheelers. They are in the service of Queen Mobi (a terrifying Jean Marsh), an evil witch who collects heads the same way Carrie Bradshaw collects shoes. By this point my ten year old self was cowering behind the sofa. My thirty year old self, however, is running from the room screaming for his mummy.
Return to Oz was never intended to be a sequel to the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, but a separate adaptation of Blum’s books, in this case the second and third books in the series, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. The looks of several characters, including the likes of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, certainly owe more to the book illustrations of W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill than the MGM musical. That’s not to say the 1939 film isn’t an influence. The slippers are ruby rather than silver (which Disney had to pay MGM) and actors appear in Kansas scenes before showing up as different characters in Oz.
Because of the film’s darker tone and nightmarish imagery, Disney had no idea what to do with this movie when it first came out in 1985. Since audiences were more familiar with the Judy Garland classic than L. Frank Baum's books, the studio promoted the film as a companion piece of sorts to the 1939 movie. A serious mistake as punters went into theatres expecting one thing and got something completely different. Hence the mixed reaction from critics and the film’s poor performance at the box office. Psychiatrists profited more from this movie as the number of traumatised children (and adults) rapidly increased.
All these years later and Disney still hasn't learnt its lesson. Just look at the DVD cover:
Is that not the most misleading DVD cover of all time? It gives buyers absolutely no indication of the twisted horror that lies within.
Notes and Quotes
--This film, along with Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, inspired an ace Scissor Sisters song, which is not something you will often hear me say.
--After falling out with the studio, director Walter Murch was briefly fired as director. Thanks to the support of the likes of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, Murch was reinstated by the Studio and finished the film.
--Still can't believe that Fairuza Balk grows up to be Nancy in The Craft.
--A gymnast named Michael Sundin stood upside-down and backwards inside Tik-Tok's body to move the legs.
Jack Pumpkinhead: "If his brain's ran down, how can he talk?"
Dorothy: "It happens to people all the time, Jack."
--It's one of the key requirements for working at Fox News.
Tik-Tok: “I have always valued my lifelessness.”
Lead Wheeler: “You'll be sorry for treating me like this! I'm a TERRIBLE fierce person!”
Tik-Tok: “I am only a machine. So I can not be sorry or happy, no matter what happens.”
Three out of four clearly traumatised young children.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.