Since I started this month writing about movies that offer a fun scare, I think that maybe today I shall confess some of my own (movie) fears that I collected into my psyche as I grew up. This is not actually what I planned to write about, but the morning news triggered something. I always find it’s best to write it out of my head.
Today marks the DVD release of 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In my last post I praised Gene Wilder for his comedic talent and timing. I do enjoy his work for the most part. But honestly, this movie scared me!
What could be scary? It’s a children’s movie!
I know! I read the book three times in the second and third grade, trying desperately to self-analyze.
Even my overwhelming love for all things chocolate cannot calm the jitters I get when I see that film playing on television.
I first saw the movie as a child, during its original release. I remember being awed by the world of chocolate and candy that Willy Wonka had created. I recall thinking that I knew a little girl who acted like Veruca Salt and a boy just like Mike Teevee. I think I even liked Gene Wilder’s portrayal of the confection king.
But then came the Oompa Loompas. Yes, the vast army of orange and green little people dressed in ridiculous lederhosen and stripes. Their eyebrows were cast separately, I suspect. (I’m weird about eyebrows, but that’s another whole issue.) These little men with their hypnotic songs resembled carnival clowns. They appeared without notice and disappeared just as quickly. Freaky!
However, the scene that frightened me most was the ferry ride through the tunnel. That tunnel. The psychedelic lights and the video clips flashing all around the characters sent me into hiding. What was it that scared me in that tunnel?
All right, I’ll tell you. In one of the videos flashed on the walls of the tunnel—flashed on the movie screen—they show a chicken losing its head. I KNOW! A cleaver separates a chicken from his little noggin, in vivid, graphic color. It’s true! If you don’t believe me, go rent the DVD and watch it! You’ll see it with your own two eyes!
Now this shot would never fly in a child’s movie made today. Nothing like that appeared in the Johnny Depp version of Willy Wonka. And I’m sure that my Gramma Kate would tell me about how she learned to kill the dinner chickens on the farm when she was just a child. I get it; times change. That’s not my point.
My message here is that as a child that image scared me. Whom am I kidding? I still can’t watch that scene. It’s simply something you can’t un-see. The picture stimulates my synapses of fear. It’s a fight or flight reflex, but there’s nothing real to fight, so hiding is the only option.
I understand that most of you reading this will think I’m overreacting. Willy Wonka is a children’s story about a poor boy receiving a great blessing for no other reason but his good heart. How sweet.
Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, Trick or Treat, and all things scary, I recommend that you purchase the newly released DVD, and enjoy it for the adorable story that it is. But be warned, there is more there than meets the mind’s eye, and often when that happens, nightmares follow.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!