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DVD reviews: Truly Horrible Halloween

Is it too early to talk about Halloween? Your regular bloggers Victoria and Eleanor will be taking a short break in the coming weeks, but we couldn’t let Halloween go by without a proper mention. In this post, we look at some unconventional scares found in classic children’s movies.

Do you have horror fatigue? Do you sigh when you see a trailer for the latest “scary” movie or psycho series, bored by blood-splatters and cheap shocks? The films below are all certificate 12A or below, and are all marketed at children. That doesn’t mean that they won’t give you nightmares….

The Witches (dir Nicholas Roeg) 1990

DVD LOBBY 791.43

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Grandma Helga hails from the witch capital of Norway and has taught her grandson Luke to NEVER trust a stranger. He knows the signs to look for: if a woman has an itchy head, she is probably a bald witch in a wig. If she wears square-toed shoes, it’s because she has no toes of her own. All witches have long fingernails, purple eyes, and a powerful hatred of children- it’s their duty to get rid of them by any means possible! After Luke is cornered by a witch, he and Helga (plus pet mice William and Mary) head to a seaside hotel for a bit of fresh air. The hotel is hosting a meeting of the NSPCC, all of whom seem to be women, with purple eyes, long nails and square-toed shoes….

The Witches plays on our worst childhood fears. What if adults can’t be trusted? What if our loved ones can’t protect us? What if witches poison the chocolate?!?! In one scene, the witches wait politely for a word from the Grand High Witch. On her command, they remove their uncomfortable costumes and reveal their inner ugliness. The Grand High Witch, played by Angelica Houston, is hiding a long warty nose beneath a silicone mask.

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But first…let me take a selfie

Somehow, she’s scarier with the mask on. She turns the hotel manager’s head, so he believes her word over Helga’s. She tricks the spoilt Bruno Jenkins into being her test subject (admittedly, that may have been the chocolate) Her beauty and position (as “head of the NSPCC”) give her an air of respectability, and nobody but Luke suspects a thing.

But looks alone won’t earn you the title of Grand High Witch. Every witch in England is subject to her rule, and when they disobey, she shows no mercy. A witch who dares to question her plan is humiliated, then obliterated. The Grand High Witch could clearly kill a child with a look, but she is shrewd and sadistic enough to bide her time. If her plan succeeds, millions of English children will be murdered by their parents. Does that scare you? It should.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (dir David Yates)

BOOK ZONE 823.91 ROW

Harry has won the Triwizard Tournament, but his victory came at a price. His rival Cedric Diggory is dead, killed by Lord Voldemort and his henchman Wormtail. For the first time in the series, Voldemort is powerful enough to wield a human form and poses a greater threat than ever to muggle society. But the Ministry of Magic won’t listen- they take control of the wizarding press and pass Cedric’s death off as an accident, claiming Harry is traumatised and desperate for attention. Dolores Umbridge, a member of the Ministry, is hired to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, but prefers theory to real defensive magic. When Harry questions her credentials (their last teacher, ex-Auror Mad-Eye Moody, was trained to hunt Death Eaters) she decides to punish his insubordination. When Harry reaches her pink-clad office, full of moving pictures of fluffy kittens, Umbridge produces a special quill. Harry is ordered to write lines- “I must not tell lies”- which appear on the parchment in Harry’s own blood.

Umbridge deals out special punishments to anyone who shows support for Harry. She hires Slytherin students to act as informants, until even the teachers are afraid to speak openly. She loathes “half-breeds” like Hagrid and the centaur Firenze, and has them removed from their teaching positions. Only one person is left to oppose her- headteacher Dumbledore, widely regarded as the most powerful wizard alive. To Harry’s horror, Dumbledore steps down, leaving Hogwarts completely undefended.

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Umbridge’s costumes on display at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Levesden- as her power grows, her outfits get brighter and brighter. 

Layers of pink barely disguise the monster that lives within Dolores Umbridge. She is a bigot who rewards children for cruel behaviour. Her honed passive-aggression allows her to gaslight Harry and the Hogwarts teaching staff- aren’t they just over-reacting, being unreasonable? It feels sweet when Fred and George build a swamp outside her office, but pranks won’t be enough to take her down. Dolores’ authority comes straight from the wizarding government, whose sole aim is to discredit Harry. It is only at the end of the book, when the Ministry is invaded by Death Eaters, that the Minister admits there is a problem. Harry and Neville both bear scars, Professor McGonagal is injured and Sirius is dead. If only they’d listened.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (dir Mel Stuart) 1971

DVD LOBBY 791.43

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This adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a psychedelic take on a classic morality tale: do exactly as adults tell you, or face some terrible consequences. Four horrible children and their horrible parents join kind, impoverished Charlie and his Grandpa Joe on a tour of Willy Wonka’s mythical chocolate factory. Augustus Gloop is the first to fail Wonka’s test: though he is warned not to drink from the chocolate waterfall, he ends up stuck in one of the pipes that lead to the chocolate smelting room. After he despatches Oompa-Loompas to retrieve Augustus, Wonka takes the remaining children onto his boat for a tour. This is where things get weird.

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The boat enters a dark tunnel, and Wonka tries the calm the children with an eerie song. “There’s no earthly way of knowing/Which direction we are going….” Grisly pictures appear on the walls:  a man’s face covered in insects, a live chicken on the chopping block. Wonka’s singing grows louder to cover the childrens’ screams. “Not a speck of light is showing/So the danger must be growing/Are the fires of Hell a–glowing?/Is the grisly reaper mowing?” At the end of the song, the lights come back on and the boat stops outside the wondrous Inventing Room. The trip is never mentioned again.

Roald Dahl’s novel features a boat made from an enormous boiled sweet, but this episode comes straight from the mind of screenwriter David Seltzer, who went on to write The Omen. Roald Dahl famously disowned the movie, as he thought it focussed too much on Wonka (played by Hollywood star Gene Wilder) and not on his young hero Charlie. He also disapproved of Seltzer’s subplot in which rival confectioner Slugworth asks the children to steal from Wonka. No complaints about the soundtrack, though. Though the film initially flopped, it became a cult classic and earned five times its original budget when it was re-released in 1996. Adults with fond memories of the movie took their children to watch the same scenes that scared them in the 70’s. It’s hard to balance fantasy with horror, but this film gets it right.

Watership Down (dir Martin Rosen) 1978

DVD LOBBY 791.433

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Rabbit Fifer is the smallest of the litter, but his keen spiritual awareness makes up for his lack of strength. He receives visions, messages from the rabbit God Lord Frith and trickster spirit El-ahrairah. In one frightening scene, Fifer sees the fields drenched in blood, trees scorched by cigarettes. Fifer and his brother Hazel are unable to convince their leader that the rabbits need to quit the warren immediately, and so they leave, along with soldierly Bigwig and quick-thinking Blackberry. The bucks form their own warren on Watership Down, but realise they are missing something: female rabbits. Hazel plans a raid on a nearby warren ruled by the maniacal General Woundwart.

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Hazel’s plan fails, and Bigwig is forced to battle Woundwart one-on-one inside a claustrophobic tunnel. The General is completely mad, his battle-scarred face flecked with blood and spit, and when Hazel (aided by Lord Frith) sends a dog to bait him, Woundwart flies at it, and is never seen again. These aren’t fluffy pet bunnies- they are wild creatures, fighting to survive in an overpopulated world with scant resources. The feeling that all this is worthless- squabbles between rabbits won’t halt the encroaching humans- is amplified when Hazel dies at the end of the movie, one season after his adventure. Life is short and brutal, children- what’s scarier than the truth?

Halloween is on Saturday 31st October- share your favourite horror stories on our Facebook page.

References

Piascik, C 1044 20120221 No Earthly Way accessed at https://flic.kr/p/bx1DSP on 06/10/15

bigdeadbat Willy accessed at https://flic.kr/p/4uHxi on 06/10/15

jvoves Watership Down accessed at https://flic.kr/p/dVMBis on 06/10/15

Lord Mariser Watership_down accessed at https://flic.kr/p/8y9sTu on 06/10/15

Piratoba, H La Gran Bruja accessed at https://flic.kr/p/hcDsTC on 06/10/15

The Style PA Roald Dahl Witches mug accessed at https://flic.kr/p/8HBp1Q on 06/10/15

Travel Dugong Professor Umbridge’s costumes accessed at https://flic.kr/p/c1k8yj on 06/10/15

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