Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Penny Jones
I was six years old the first time I was really scared, and although that was the year that I first read my parent’s Pan books of Horror; and the year I watched American Werewolf in London, and Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time. It was none of those things that were the cause of my many sleepless nights. Sure I was scared by them, I was six. But I was expecting to be scared, expecting to twitch at the curtains and turn on the lights. They were horror. But what I wasn’t expecting to be utterly terrified by was a PG rated film.
My parent’s had rented a video recorder from Rumbelows, and as a treat they rented a couple of films for me to watch. Although they knew I liked horror films, they thought it would be more suitable for a six year old little girl to have some children’s films. One of those videos was Disney’s Return to Oz.
The start of Return to Oz is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. The camera angles and the melancholy music set the scene for what is to be a disturbing movie. Dorothy (who is played by Fairuza Balk, who went on to play Nancy Downs in The Craft) is unable to sleep; we cut to Dorothy’s Uncle Henry looking at an advert for electric healing. Aunty Em talks about the fact that it is six months after the tornado and Dorothy hasn’t been herself since, that she talks constantly about somewhere that doesn’t exist. So Aunty Em in her wisdom takes Dorothy to see Doctor Worley at his hospital.
Now for the first, really freaky part of the film. Aunty Em leave Dorothy in the care of the seemingly kindly Dr Worley, and Nurse Wilson (who looks like she kills children and eats them for breakfast), so that Dorothy can have electro-shock therapy (just to remind you again this is a kid’s film). Dorothy is taken to a sparse cell-like room. Outside a storm is brewing, and in the distance Dorothy listens to the calming sounds of screams and thunder. A strange girl turns up, hands Dorothy a jack-o-lantern and disappears whilst her back is turned. But that’s fine, Dorothy isn’t on her own for long, as Nurse Wilson and two freaky orderlies soon turn up. They restrain Dorothy on a gurney with a squeaky wheel (that’s straight out of a horror film), and roll her in for her ECT. Luckily there’s a powercut, and the freaky girl from earlier runs in to save the day, and as she is un-strapping Dorothy, the screams begin again. Dorothy asks what they are and the girl responds…
“They’re patients who’ve been damaged, locked in the cellar.”
WTF! This is a children’s film remember. So to cut a long story short, they escape and Dorothy wakes up in Oz in the deadly desert (this time she has a talking chicken called Billina with her). Now the deadly desert surrounds Oz and you can’t touch it or you die and turn into sand. I’m not freaked out by this as most six year olds would be, because I still can’t get over the people locked in the frigging cellar. Dorothy makes her way to the ruins of the Emerald City, and finds that everyone has been turned to stone, and several of them have been decapitated (Gee this is the film that just keeps giving). Then we are introduced to the Wheelers (imagine psycho stilt walkers on wheels, with a bit of Mad Max thrown in, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what these insanely giggling creatures look like). These creatures work for Mombi and guess what? She’s not nice. She’s the reason that so many of those statues are missing heads and now she wants Dorothy’s. Cut to a headless witch bellowing ‘Dorothy Gale’, whilst all the other heads scream as Dorothy tries to escape.
Now Dorothy has picked up a little band of friends as always; a Gump (no I’m not going to explain, you’ll just have to watch the film), Jack Pumpkinhead (really annoying, I spent the whole film hoping he would die), and Tik Tok (who for some reason reminded me of Windsor Davies). They get to the Nome King’s mountain and save Oz, blah, blah, blah. Not going to bother telling you about this as it’s just standard Disney scary, not freaky why is this film a PG scary.
I love finding out that people haven’t seen Return to Oz, putting on my copy and watching as their jaws drop (it is still terrifying to watch as an adult). You can get it on DVD and it is well worth the watch if you haven’t seen it (or a rewatch if you were traumatised by it as a child). Just remember beware the Wheelers, Mombi is watching you (from several sets of eyes), and there is no-one screaming in the cellar.