*Originally written in 2003 – again, apologies for posting all these old, crappy reviews.
In this minor dark fantasy classic, we return to Oz with Dorothy Gale who has not been able to adjust to normality since her primary adventures. Her Auntie and Uncle do not know what do to with her, and no-one believes her amazing stories. Eventually she is sent to a psychiatric hospital, and unknown to her family it is run by near-masochists who supposedly perform terrifying experiments on children. As this is still a kids’ movie none of this is shown, but the suggestion is pretty heavy.
Jean Marsh plays the relentlessly horrifying Nurse Wilson, and pursues Dorothy through the stormy night in a bid for escape. Dorothy jumps into a river and when she wakes she is in Oz with a chicken called Billina. However, after some exploring it appears that Oz has been infected with some kind of evil, and it is no longer the enchanting place it was, instead it is a place of nightmares. The Emerald city and all inhabitants including the Cowardly Lion and the Tin-Man have been turned to stone. After a chase by the brilliantly memorable and scary Wheelers, Dorothy meets Tik-Tok, a mechanical man, and they try to find the Scarecrow and work out what has happened. Soon Dorothy is taken prisoner by the wicked Princess Mombi, Jean Marsh again, who is obsessed with her appearance, stealing the heads of beautiful young women. It seems that the Nome King has become immensely powerful, turning all to stone as his personal statues. The struggle to return Oz to its glory is one which will take all of Dorothy’s skill and love.
This film is a definite classic for kids, but beware – it is dark and has many moments which will be scary. I saw this recently, having not seen it in a few years, and although the impact has dwindled, and the flaws are clear, it is still a good film which should definitely be seen at a young age. There are many things to recommend it, although fans of The Wizard of Oz my be disappointed by the lack of music and light-hearted fun. The acting is all top notch; Jean Marsh is excellent in her roles and Fairuza Balk is outstanding in her first major performance, seeming both timid and strong and giving a good account of what may be a disturbed, abused child. The new characters are all just as good as those in the 1939 film, particularly Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok. The effects are extremely good for their time and hold up today. Scary moments include the Wheeler chase, the final encounter with the Nome King, and of course the infamous screaming heads scene which will likely stay in the memory of all who see it. If you have children with strong imaginations, or with an interest in reading or fantasy, then this is a film they should be shown, but if they are scared easily it may not be such a good idea.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Return To Oz!