Film Review: Return to Oz – 7/10

‘I have always valued my lifelessness...’

I’ve already written about Return to Oz once before in the context of an article chronicling the top ten most disturbing movies of all time. Not surprisingly, Return to Oz was the only children’s film to feature on that list, and the fact that it should be considered disturbing at all is absurd really. And yet, here we are…

Six months after the events of A Wizard of Oz, Auntie Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clarke) take the fairly radical decision to send Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) for electric shock therapy. After being strapped to a gurney and led into a darkened room with a terrifying electrical device in the corner, a thunderstorm causes a power cut resulting in the tortured shrieks of the mentally ill who have apparently been sent to the cellar. A final reminder that this is supposed to be a movie for children.

Later, Dorothy and her talking chicken Bellina (Denise Bryer) will encounter the wheelers, a grotesque human/bike hybrid that wheel around on all fours instead of walking upright, Princess Mombi, a terrifying harridan who keeps a collection of heads in her palace, and the Nome King (Nicol Williamson), a sadistic mountain dwelling creature carved out of the living rock. Elsewhere, we also meet Jack Pumpkinhead (Brian Henson), a walking pumpkin who worries that his head might start to rot, Tik-Tok, an old tin robot who celebrates his lifelessness and Gump (Lyle Conway), who is literally just the disembodied head of a mooselike creature. It’s worth noting at this point that the latter three are supposed to be on Dorothy’s side. These are the guys we are rooting for. A decaying vegetable, a dead-eyed robot who inexplicably has a moustache and a goddamn moose head. This is an astonishingly bizarre piece of work.

The most pertinent question in all of this madness is who the hell is this movie for? Fans of the original would be horrified by it. Children traumatized. Is it for serial murderers? The mentally deranged? It’s very difficult to know. What isn’t in doubt however is that its sheer demented ambition ensures that if nothing else, Return to Oz is an unforgettable cinematic experience. Just don’t watch it with the lights off.

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