Rag Rewind #1 Return to Oz

18 Jul

In the spirit of print revivalism in which The Rag was conceived, this week the writing team will start our first column: Rag Rewind. As the name suggests Rag Rewind takes a second look at some of our favourite film, television and music releases from the past, beginning with my personal favourite Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985).Where the first The Wizard of Oz was a technicolour dreamscape that delighted children and adults alike, Return to Oz is a barren gothic wasteland, the stuff nightmares are made of. Set six months after her first trip to Oz, Return to Oz sees Dorothy Gale (a young Fairuza Balk) no longer the doe eyed dreamer she was once cast, instead she appears delusional and her fixation on the fantasy world of Oz has Aunty Em (Piper Laurie) more than a little concerned.

In a last ditch attempt to save the worrisome child, Em seeks help from a renowned psychologist, Dr Worley (Nicol Williamson). This is where things begin to get disturbing. Aunty Em leaves Dorothy in the seemingly capable hands of Dr Worley at his psychiatric institution where he determines the child needs electric shock therapy to rid her of her delusions. The hospital itself is a terrifying, lonely place, complete with it’s very own nurse Ratched in nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh).

A storm knocks out the power just as the first session of est is about to begin and in the confusion that ensues Dorothy is transported quite literally to her happy place, back to the land of Oz. Oz too has turned into a desolate place under the rule of the evil witch Mombi (Marsh) and the Nome King (Nicol). I will spare you some of the more ridiculous details of the film, suffice to say that the king is allergic to eggs and Toto is replaced with a talking chicken, but Return to Oz has enough moments of artfully executed horror which more than make up for this. For me Murch’s vision of Oz is a dark and brilliantly horrific, playing on the more sinister suggestions in Baum’s works. How it was ever released as a children’s film I will never know, but Return to Oz remains one of my favourite films of all time.

Ed.

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