Return to Oz | Chicago Reader

Return to Oz

Walter Murch's 1985 adaptation of the second and third Oz books couldn't have less to do with the MGM classic: in the vein of such underground classics as Invaders From Mars and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, it's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying. It opens with a depressive Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) receiving shock treatment at the hands of a mad doctor (Nicol Williamson); a lightning storm propels her to Emerald City, now dominated by a cruel princess (Jean Marsh) with a gallery of interchangeable heads and a malevolent mountain spirit (created by clay animator Will Vinton). Unlike brassy Judy Garland, Balk is distressingly natural and defenseless, lost in a landscape of nonhumans (read: adults). Studio pressure apparently forced Murch to back off from the full fury of his conception, but this is still strong stuff. Like the Oz of Baum's books, the dazzling art direction is based on Chicago's Columbian Exposition. With Piper Laurie and Matt Clark.

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