I am often struck by the fact that many of the seminal films of my early childhood (i.e. – The 80s) were really, really dark and probably completely unsuitable for the children for whom they were intended. This not only seemed normal at the time, but we were all engrossed in a way I’m not sure I would be in today’s children’s films. Some of those early favourites are still my favourites today.
The film I loved above all others as a child was ‘The Labyrinth’. On paper, this sounds like the worst premise for a film ever – “I know, we’ll get David Bowie to wear a unitard and codpiece, and call him the evil Goblin King; he will torment a pretty young girl with an imaginary world in which she has to find her kidnapped baby brother, but then in the end it will all turn into an Escher painting and the Goblin King will confess that he did it all because he is inappropriately in love with her. Yeah, kids’ll love it.”
And they did! I wanted to be Sarah in her pretty white dress and dance with Jareth at the masked ball and hang out with lovely Ludo at the Bog of Eternal Stench! I’d totally have stayed in the labyrinth, though – I knew that much even when I was seven…
The Labyrinth was only one in a whole spate of inappropriate films in such a dark vein, just when I was lucky enough to be the right age to enjoy them all on home video. ‘Krull’ and ‘The Dark Crystal’ were of course other classics.
However, my other absolute favourite was the genuinely terrifying ‘Return to Oz’. If you have not seen this film, I cannot overstate just how dark and frightening it is compared to the original Oz. It gave me nightmares for YEARS but still holds up today. Starring the amazing Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale (in one of a hat-trick of her great spooky films – the other two being the best adaptation of The Worst Witch and, of course, The Craft).
Dorothy Gale’s telling of her previous experiences in Oz have led to her being diagnosed as mentally ill and prescribed electro-shock therapy – yep, that’s a child-friendly start right there – and ends up back in a desolate wasteland that was once Oz but has now gone wrong. Mombi and The Wheelers are possibly the most frightening characters in a film ever, and even the ‘goodies’ like Tick-Tock and Jack Pumpkinhead are a tiny bit sinister.
Still, this didn’t stop my sister and me from watching them repeatedly, transfixed every time. Still am, actually.