Return to Oz (1985)

Between Child Catchers and Drashigs, Mad Hatters and Sleestak, Bigfoots and all manner of witches, especially the ones who use boiling oil, our son has seen down the most nightmare-inducing imagery that the world of movies and TV can throw at kids. He’s left the room in tears a few times, but all of these frights mean that ours is the planet’s toughest seven year-old.

This is a good thing, because anybody who shows a seven year-old Return to Oz without giving them a good education in frights beforehand is just asking for trouble. Mother of Mary! If I had seen this when I was seven, I wouldn’t have slept for a month. This is a really good movie, but but you want to know about nightmare fuel? There’s a part where we meet a character with multiple heads. We’ve been down this road often enough to know that a bit later, those heads are going to wake up and start screaming. I’m not spoiling anything, because it’s that obvious. You could set your watch by it.

And yet when those heads start screaming… well, I’m a middle-aged fat man now and yet I’m pretty sure I’m not going to sleep for a month.

I was “too old” for Return to Oz when it was released in 1985, in that horrible teenage boy period I’ve mentioned here before when we all just had no time for kids’ stuff anymore. It’s always seemed to share some cultural overlap with some of the other mid-eighties fantasies, especially Labyrinth, but it’s never really had the same kind of championing or love. If Time Bandits is a prickly film, then this is downright spiky. It’s extremely well-made, but surely nobody finds it comforting.

The story goes like this. Dorothy goes back to Oz, as she did many times in Baum’s original novels and all the zillion tie-ins and cash-ins, and finds that a Nome King, played by Nicol Williamson, has wrecked the Emerald City, turned its people to stone, and captured the Scarecrow. Played by Fairuza Balk (who, at ten, is a much more age-appropriate Dorothy than Judy Garland), Dorothy finds some new allies but gets on the wrong side of a witch called Mombi, who is played, in part, by Jean Marsh.

Design-wise, it’s a very, very eighties movie. Mombi looks like she’s ready for a night on the town with… well, with Labyrinth‘s Goblin King, actually. Her servants, the Wheelers, are (a) completely horrifying, (b) strapped into what must surely be the most uncomfortable costumes ever worn by anybody in film history, and (c) look like they reported to the set just after making music videos in New Zealand, “Manic Panic” in their hair and all. Jack Pumpkinhead, who was brought to life in part by Brian Henson, is wearing a remarkable pink shirt that would never have been sold in any other period. And there’s Claymation. Quite a lot of it!

But while I giggle at the costumes and makeup, just like I do when I watch pretty much anything from the mid-eighties these days, the sets are pretty remarkable and show a wild attention to detail. There’s a great bit where the lumbering Tik-Tok leaves footprints in a dusty floor as he stomps, and the camera sensibly ignores it, leaving the audience to suddenly ask how long it took to reset the stage between takes. Mombi’s palace is full of mirrors, emphasizing the witch’s narcissism, and then there’s the sanitorium where the movie begins.

As with MGM’s original movie, some of the actors do double-duty as characters in both Kansas and Oz. If Jean Marsh is a little garish and scene-chewing as Mombi, she’s an all-business rod-in-her-spine harridan as the head nurse in Kansas. This is where the movie starts to get under your skin. The whole experience is framed like a horror film, with the quiet squeaking of hospital gurneys and distant screams of the incarcerated making viewers uneasy as the music insists this is not a kiddie movie at all.

Our own kid will be going to sleep in about seventy minutes. Maybe he’ll let me sleep in his bed tonight if I get too scared. Pleasant dreams, everyone.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under movies

The Goodies 4.1 – Camelot

I think that the Goodies’ 1973 Christmas special, “The Goodies and the Beanstalk”, might have been the trio’s most watched adventure at the time, but it wasn’t the first time that they worked with comedian Alfie Bass. He’d appeared in “Camelot,” the opener to their fourth series. It was filmed and taped four months ahead of “Beanstalk,” and broadcast a few weeks earlier in December 1973.

Bass plays a developer who would really like to knock down a nice castle owned by one of Tim’s loony relatives. Tim swears he’s called King Arthur, and it’s true. That’s the name on his birth certificate: King, comma, Arthur. The whole shebang is full of really awful jokes and puns, including one about a package of fish fingers that will make my head hurt for years, and medieval-themed slapstick fights with dancing bears, wild boars, jousts, swords in stones, and a fire-breathing pantomime dragon.

Our son was so pleased, and so exhausted from laughing, that he demanded to watch almost the entire show again. Almost. He didn’t quite understand the stuff in the office, where Bill’s reading a copy of the comic paper Cor!, so we played it again from the bit where we first get to Camelot, which is right next door to Dunmovin at 33 Acadia Street.

Obligatory “they’d never get away with that these days” note: there isn’t any surprise nudity in this episode, thankfully, but there are medieval minstrels. They’re only onscreen for seconds, but there’s something else I need to explain to our son.

Leave a comment

Filed under goodies

Young Indiana Jones 2.3 – Verdun, 1916

When ABC showed those first six weeks of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in the spring of 1992, they got a reputation of being strange, unlike anything else on television, not even remotely as funny as the badly-edited commercials made them appear, and full of men with really thick French accents. And then there was the violence. One of those “won’t somebody please think of the children” organizations went apoplectic over this episode, which honestly is quite violent and visceral.

The previous two installments, which were written, like this one, by Jonathan Hensleigh, had some very well-staged war movie-like mayhem, with explosions and gunfire and heroic acts of bravery. But this is right in the center of the action, with slow-motion carnage, huge amounts of gore, field hospitals full of men who have had their legs blown into bloody stumps, bodies in mud-filled foxholes being savaged by rats, and the amazing sight of Indy, sent across No Man’s Land at night to spy, crawling across corpses and meeting a fatally wounded man who has been lying there alone for 36 hours just waiting for somebody to finally see him die.

Like war really is. How dare teevee depict it thus?

I wasn’t too surprised. The show’s principal detractor was the most loudmouthed of all numbskulls, that discredited psychiatrist who spent years whining about Dungeons & Dragons driving teens to suicide. Those creeps were all over the place in the seventies and eighties, and desperately tried to stay in the headlines in the nineties. Incidentally, as of July 2018, the dude I’m talking about is currently doing time for what the Pennsylvania Attorney General calls (ahem) “trading opioid addiction treatment drugs for sex.” The harder they fall, you know?

Anyway, it’s a powerful episode. Our son started out thrilled by the explosions, but the grisly and raw visuals didn’t leave him cheering like he might. He was fascinated by the gigantic howitzers that were mounted on railroad cars, and enjoyed seeing Indy, assigned to work as a motorcycle courier, speed away from a German biplane, but the politics were a stumbling block. It’s also worth noting that they hired French actors for most of the roles of officers, and some of them really did have incredibly thick accents. My wife’s language skills dwarf mine, and even she had trouble understanding what Bernard Fresson and Jean Rougerie were saying. So we quickly accepted that our son would just bide his time, eyes glazed, until Indy got on his motorcycle again.

One other thing to note this time: watching these on first broadcast was certainly a pain in the neck, but introducing us to Indy as a corporal when the last time we saw him on ABC he had only just been called up was incredibly annoying. And then there’s Remy, who we meet in the field hospital having a panic attack as he recovers from surgery. ABC didn’t air the episode where he got that injury for another six months. Then they wouldn’t air the next episode in the sequence for another ten months after that. Fortunately, we’re only going to wait three days…

Leave a comment

Filed under young indiana jones

Agent Carter 1.5 – The Iron Ceiling

Going back (again) to the first Captain America movie, I was disappointed that we didn’t see nearly enough of the Howling Commandos. This afternoon’s episode goes a long way toward rectifying that, as Peggy calls on the Commandos to assist in the SSR’s raid on a facility behind the Iron Curtain. The episode features Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, who we met in the movie, but the other characters, while all from the original comics, are new to the show. When I was a kid, I enjoyed Pinky Pinkerton the most among the Commandos. Nice to see him here!

Dum Dum comes up with a new code name for Peggy, hoping to entice her to stay in Europe: “Miss Union Jack.” She flies back to New York.

The raid doesn’t find any evidence for Howard Stark being involved with Leviathan, but they do get a glimpse of something very weird going on. The audience has a big lead over our heroes in this: we can guess that this is one of the facilities where Russian intelligence services train women like the Black Widow, and learn that they’ve been doing it since at least 1937.

We paused it quite early on to make sure that our son understood the implications of that flashback, especially since a graduate of that program is active in New York in 1946. We also gave him a quick introduction to the concepts of the Iron Curtain and a glass ceiling, so he’d understand the implications of the title. Sadly, most of this was way over his head, and he probably didn’t pay much attention at all to a scene where guest star John Glover introduces some new intel about a hushed-up wartime incident. Overall, this was a pleasantly complex hour even if he wasn’t completely thrilled. Happily, there was one great gunfight to keep him interested.

Leave a comment

Filed under agent carter, marvel universe

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts five and six)

We finished up the Key to Time storyline/season this morning with what our son really believed is one of the most epic Doctor Who adventures ever. He completely loved this one, despite a few hissing villain roadblocks along the way. I also enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, despite the interior of Shadow’s planet – slash – space station looking… well, it’s not so much that it’s fake, because lots of Doctor Who environments look fake. It’s that I kept expecting a bunch of kids to run in and start playing laser tag in it. It’s that kind of fake.

The best thing about it, though, is the introduction of Barry Jackson as a failed Time Lord called Drax. The character is just incredibly entertaining, and he and Tom Baker seem to have a great rapport. The Doctor, who apparently went by the name/designation “Theta Sigma” at the Time Lord academy and does not want to be reminded of it, asks Drax where he got the remarkable Souf Lundun accent and slang that he uses. Apparently, Drax was arrested (“got done”) in London some time back and spent ten years in stir. There’s absolutely no reason to nail this decade down to any given time period – I mean, Drax could be getting arrested right now in 2018 for all we know – but it amuses me to imagine that at the same time that the Doctor was exiled to Earth and fighting the Master, Drax was cooling his heels in HM Prison Brixton. Best moment of the whole story: Drax, on his way back to his TARDIS, telling the Doctor and Romana that he’s “done” a deal with the marshal of Atrios to provide reconstruction services for his planet, half an hour from now.

While Drax was sadly never seen again in the show, we do meet a new villain that will come back down the line: the Black Guardian. Valentine Dyall had a film career as long as your arm but was best known for his role hosting and narrating a radio series called Appointment with Fear. This anthology of horror stories ran for more than a decade on the BBC, and Dyall’s downright evil voice was known to pretty much every parent who sat down to watch this story in 1979, recognizing something terrifying from their own childhood.

So a couple of weeks ago, our son speculated that the third segment of the Key to Time could be a person. Today, we learned that the sixth segment was indeed a human being, which is how the Doctor unmasks the Black Guardian. At the end of the story, the Key is split into six parts again, hopefully leaving the poor Princess Astra to live her life in peace. Marie asked whether they’d ever need to turn a person into a Key segment again, and our son suggested that instead, one of the segments should disguise itself as “the worst tasting hot dog ever.” Well, if it sits around for decades waiting for somebody to come collect it, it probably would taste a little lousy.

So a couple of goodbyes to note this time. I’ve already noted that this was Dave Martin’s final script contribution. He did some more work in television but mainly wrote novels after this. He passed away in 2007. This was also Anthony Read’s final story as script editor. Douglas Adams had already been hired to replace him in the role, and apparently he worked on some of the rewrites of this adventure with Read. In that BBC way, we’ll see Adams commission Read to write a story in the next season.

Sadly, Mary Tamm decided to bow out with this story, and didn’t return to tape a farewell scene, which led to a pretty fun decision about what to do with the character of Romana. I don’t see that Tamm had any really major roles after this one, but she was regularly seen in guest parts on British television for the next thirty years and “gave good anecdote,” as they say, on the convention circuit. My older son met her in 2009 at a show in Atlanta that I didn’t attend, and came back with stars in his eyes. She died from cancer three years later at the horribly young age of 62.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll start season seventeen in August. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts three and four)

I’m enjoying this one much, much more than I did the last time I watched it. The Doctor’s first confrontation with his mysterious opponent, the Shadow, is full of great dialogue, and there’s a real sense that our heroes have an absurd amount of things to do, with one genuine obstacle after another. None of it feels like padding, and after the writers’ last two stories for the show the previous year (“The Invisible Enemy” and “Underworld”), neither of which I enjoyed, this feels like they’re back on form. This was Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s last Who serial as a team, although Baker would write a solo adventure in the next season, and Dave Martin would write a few of the tie-in books in the 1980s.

In fact, the only scenes in this story that are at all long-winded are the ones where K9 communicates with the Evil Supercomputer that runs the planet Zeos. There are lots of long pauses, sped-up tape computer noises, and sound effects. It kind of gets in the way of the slapstick. Tom Baker and guest star Davyd Harries get to hide from each other in weird corridors and be silly, which delighted our son and probably kept Baker amused at a point where he was losing interest and yelling at everybody. Good thing one of the other guest stars, Lalla Ward, was around to keep him smiling.

Our son really thought these two parts were incredibly exciting, especially when Atrios’s marshal launches his attack on Zeos, which will trigger a doomsday device in retaliation, like Dr. Strangelove. He was completely thrilled by this, but incredibly aggravated by the cliffhanger revelation that the Shadow has abducted K9 and put one of his little black control boxes on him. K9 now calls the Shadow his master! He was incensed, and refused to agree that this is a good adventure at all, just because that ending had him so riled.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts one and two)

The Key to Time story makes its way to the finish line with this story written by veterans Bob Baker and Dave Martin. It’s got John Woodvine as the main villain – so far – and guest stars Lalla Ward as the mysterious Princess Astra.

The story’s kind of “Genesis of the Daleks”-lite, and it shares that story’s problem with creating a believably large environment. Lots of Doctor Who stories have this issue, but the heavily radiated K section of Atrios looks to be about one corridor away from the main control room. It’s a story where I have more than a little trouble suspending belief, but I do like the way that the Doctor pretends quite deliberately that he’s really dumb enough to fall into the marshal’s traps. Tom Baker seems to be having more fun in this story than usual. Maybe he really likes a guest star or something.

Our son was initially pretty restless with the situation but calmed down and started worrying as we learn more about the marshal’s strange controller. He’s talking to a skull that’s perched on a pedestal on the other side of a mirror, and he knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Our kid says that this one started out a little scary, but that it is really, really creepy overall. Then again, he was also being distracted by the promise of new (old) video games to play tonight!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Young Indiana Jones 2.2 – Germany, 1916

Picking up from the previous episode’s cliffhanger ending, tonight’s installment is the big prison break episode. Both parts were originally shown in the US on ABC during The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles‘ truncated run on Monday nights in the fall of 1992. It’s really entertaining. Indy and another member of his Belgian company, who had been captured at the Somme, take the identities and uniforms of two French officers who didn’t survive the transportation behind the lines. Unfortunately for Indy, the man he’s pretending to be has made one too many escape attempts, so they ship him to a maximum security prison for “incorrigibles.” Fortunately, if there’s one man who can break out of any prison, it’s Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, he’s only seventeen at this point…

Among the guest cast this week, a famous French actor called HervĂ© Pauchon plays one of Indy’s fellow captives, Charles de Gaulle. Sean Pertwee plays a German officer, and we’ll see another member of the Pertwee family in the show a little while down the line. Julian Firth plays an imprisoned British officer, which is interesting because Firth has a completely different part in a couple of other episodes later on!

Leave a comment

Filed under young indiana jones