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Return to Oz is a Halloween flick for adults

October 12, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" never appealed much to me when I was a kid, probably because I've never been a huge fan of nonsense and whimsy. I do remember having the living daylights scared out of me when I watched the 1939 movie version. There's something about the Wicked Witch of the West cackling "POP-PIES" that made my blood run cold.

That's probably one reason why I never saw the 1985 sequel "Return to Oz" until this weekend when I streamed it on on a whim. If anything, it's even scarier than the classic.

Ten-year-old Dorothy is sent to get electroshock therapy in a 1900 insane asylum to make her forget about Oz. She escapes to an even darker Oz where she is held captive by an evil witch who has cut off the heads of two dozen dancing girls and plans to keep Dorothy captive until her head has grown large enough to harvest. Along the way Dorothy meets up with a Victorian robot who keeps winding down, a pumpkin head that calls her "Mom" and a talking moose head that she attaches to a sofa and uses to fly to safety.

Then they meet up with the avaricious Nome King, who promises to free Dorothy's friend the Scarecrow if she can guess which of a few thousand jeweled ornaments is actually the transformed Scarecrow. If she fails, Dorothy and her friends will also be turned into nick-knacks in the Nome King's lair.

As a kid's movie, I think it's a bit of a failure. It's really more of a dark psychological drama about a little girl who retreats into fantasy to escape her intolerable home life. If I remember right, the original movie was all Dorothy's dream too.

But as a Halloween flick for adults it has some merit. With Halloween coming up, I think any adult so inclined could have an Oz-themed party, complete with headless dancing girls, scary pumpkin heads and stony faced Nome Kings. All you need to top it off is the skimpy Dorothy costume.

As for Halloween picks, the little girl who played Dorothy in "Return to Oz" was Fairuza Balk, who grew up to star in another scary flick called "The Craft," about a group of misfit teenage witches. In that movie, Balk's character ends up insane and in a straitjacket in a modern mental hospital. Maybe it's a character type she specializes in.

It might be fun to watch the two movies back to back on Halloween night.


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