Thursday, April 28, 2016

Kreepy 80's Kids Movie Review: Return to Oz

"Welcome to your nightmare."
Severed heads! Poisonous chicken eggs! Threats of dismemberment! Boy George impersonators with wheels for hands and feet! Electric shock therapy and a King who likes to wear women's sparkly shoes. No, you're not in Vegas! This a movie about the wonderful land of Oz and it's brought to you by Disney!

Welcome to the first edition of Kreepy 80's Kids Movie Review! As a child of the 80's I realized how absolutely terrifying some children's movies actually were. I'm still traumatized by creepy puppets, visiting aliens and  other Hollywood "family friendly" films (I really should be sending Steven Spielberg my therapy bill). I've decided to deal with my childhood trauma by writing humorous reviews. First up is Return to Oz. The film was directed by Walter Murch and released in 1985. It was the film debut of actress Fairuza Balk (who was 9 years old at the time) who played lead character, Dorothy Gale. The film boasted a budget of 28 million dollars but only grossed 11 million at the U.S. box office. Although it was a box office failure it has developed a cult following throughout the years.

"Turn it up! I can't hear the music!"
This film is not an official sequel to the classic Wizard of Oz starring the iconic Judy Garland by MGM Studios however it did use one element from the film; the Ruby Slippers. In the original Wizard of Oz book written by L. Frank Baum, the famous slippers were silver not ruby. Let me give you a brief description of the plot before we move on. It's been six months since Dorothy has returned from Oz and she won't shut up about it. On top of that she isn't getting any sleep. Naturally Auntie Em and Uncle Henry think she's bonkers. They accept a loan from Em's sister to take Dorothy to a doctor who wants to give her an electrotherepy treatment. Dorothy has to stay at the hospital overnight. Right before she's about to be turned into a human piece of toast, a thunderstorm knocks out the power. She is set free by a mysterious girl and they make a break for it, running from the scary hospital nurse. They end up in a river, the mysterious girl drowns, Dorothy wakes up in Oz with her chicken from the farm who suddenly appeared out of nowhere and who can magically talk.

She just took off her head and showed you her room
of severed heads. Run Dorothy! RUN! She gonna kill you!
While in Oz Dorothy discovers the people of the Emerald City have been turned to stone and the King (Scarecrow) is missing. She is chased by Wheelers, kidnapped by a psychotic headless body and shown a room of severed heads. She meets a robot, a pumpkin head and a gump. They all escape the castle. They end up facing off against the Nome King who is killed when Dorothy's chicken Billina accidentally craps an egg in his mouth. Turns out eggs are poison to Nomes. Who knew?

"We made it! I can't wait to see Boy George Live in Oz!"
Let's start with the universal reason why this movie is creepy; The Wheelers. Everything about these guys is disturbing. Their laugh. Their freaky face masks. Their Boy George inspired makeup mixed with Jim Carey's personality. Their Jem and the Holograms inspired wardrobe. Oh yeah, the fact that they have wheels for hands and feet. Let's not forget their threat to dismember Dorothy and throw her remains in the Deadly Desert. The Wheelers appeared in the third Oz book 'Ozma of Oz' but were much more light hearted and a bit goofy. Apparently someone at Disney thought it would be better to create a version that would give you a new found fear of your bicycle.

I literally can't even. Why is Dorothy still standing there?! RUN!
Princess Mombi is in fact a wicked old witch who lives in Oz. Apparently when Dorothy murdered the two witches on her first trip, she missed this one. Mombi is also from the third Oz book and (get this) kidnaps Princess Ozma and turns her into a boy! The gender swap scene was left out of this film and instead her character was merged with Princess Langwidere who was a head changing nut job. I fear Mombi the most out of anything else in this movie. Why Dorothy didn't bolt for the door when she was taken into her room with heads still baffles me. As if that weren't enough, she stands there as Mombi takes off her head and switches to a new one. This isn't even the worst part. The worst part is Mombi's original head screaming "DOROTHY GALE" while her headless body rises from the bed with her arms outstretched. The headless body chases after Dorothy while all the other severed heads are screaming bloody murder. As this is all going down, the headless body is making a horrible choking sound. To this day I have trouble watching that scene. It absolutely terrifies me. Who thought this was appropriate for a kids movie?

"It's all good, Dorothy. Pretend you got knocked up at 9
years old and gave birth to a pumpkin. It's cool."
Jack Pumpkin Head is actually one of my favorite characters. He's cute and has a very pleasant voice. He's the only real pleasant character in the film. However I still get creeped out when he asks  9 year old Dorothy if he can call her "mom".  Yeah, that's not weird. On top of all the strange shit that's going on, let's pretend that Dorothy gave birth to a pumpkin on top of it. Why not?

"You called, Satan?"
Demons. There are legit demons in this movie who come out of the walls. They work for the Nome King and this is honestly the only point I feared him. Fire begins to spread. The castle is collapsing. I'm sorry, when did Oz become Hell? This scene was so scary it had me asking God to forgive me for my sins so I don't die and end up in that place.

"Ozma is back. You've been dethroned. Sorry. Maybe
they're hiring in Narnia." 
Towards the end of the film we see one beloved character return. The Scarecrow, who is the reigning King of Oz. But something is different about him. It took me years to figure it out but I finally discovered why he startled me. The dude doesn't blink. At all. Whatsoever. He just stares at you with those big horrible eyes. There are some frames where his expression changes but that just makes him look scarier. Scarecrow looks as if he's had some of that electro shock therapy himself. Maybe he should have asked the Wizard for some eyelids.

"We see you."
Return to Oz is not a bad movie. It is in fact more accurate to the Oz books than the MGM film (although they sprinkled it with a much darker tone). It's directed very well. The performances are solid especially young Fairuza. The puppet work and special effects are impressive for its time. The music is beautiful. But good God, whoever thought this was great for kids was mistaken. It's scary, dark and depressing. Brilliant. But scary.


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