By Bob Deakin
Halloween is upon us , which means it’s time to watch the scariest film ever made: The Wizard of Oz.
I don’t usually watch The Wizard at Halloween, but I’m changing that up this year. I’ve watched more scary movies this October than in recent memory, but I need to finish it off with the best.
Of course, much of the fright from this classic film is derived from childhood memories, shown annually on network TV. I remember looking forward to it from the earliest age and the bowls of popcorn that were sure to follow.
What could be better? A macabre sepia-toned black and white introduction to the film climaxed by a horrifying tornado sequence with special effects pulled off brilliantly in any era, let alone 1939.
The early part of the film perfectly sets up the viewer’s loathing for Miss Almira Gulch, who later becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, played brilliantly by Margaret Hamilton.
We get a great song by the lovable star (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) and an introduction to a charming extended family and a fun trio of farmhands. We also meet Professor Marvel, who later becomes the man behind the curtain playing The Wizard. Frank Morgan nails the awkward yet likable phony.
I’m touched by the entire black and white section at the beginning and end. I feel sorry for them all in a way, as life isn’t going that well for them in Kansas, yet they are so good-spirited about it, and they all stick together.
We get the most chilling tornado sequence ever, leading to the most frightening dream sequence ever, and the film has barely even started.
I always breathe easier when the house crashes, and the film turns to color. It’s an incredible fantasy sequence with such a beautiful set, costumes, and lighting - quite an accomplishment for the times.
However, the older I get, the earlier I anticipate the dread that’s about to come: The Wicked Witch of the West. She is still is as scary as anything I can remember. The green face, classic witch uniform, and that face! Sorry, Margaret Hamilton’s ancestors, but she was born to play a witch and she nailed it.
I always felt comforted by The Good Witch Glinda, as she could throw some sass at the evil witch. That said, she let everyone down for most of the film as she failed time and again to show up and stick up for Dorothy and her friends when they needed it.
Part of the film’s lore is some of the rumors behind it, such as the story that one of the munchkins hung himself on the set during filming. Not true. There’s also the tale that the snow that puts Dorothy and her friends to sleep was asbestos. That one is true from all accounts.
There were also severe injuries to cast members, including Margaret Hamilton, who suffered burns when the trap door failed, and the flames that preceded her arrival got her on the face and hands.
Thanks, effects guys. That’s okay; it’s only fire.
We can’t talk about The Wizard of Oz without discussing the flying monkeys. These guys were scary, especially when they all flew off the witch’s castle en masse. Again, the witch is perfect, waving them on to get Dorothy and the slippers. They would have done anything for her.
To call them monkeys is unfair, but the folks at MGM have to take responsibility for this. They look like monkeys with wings. They can understand commands, but none of them speaks except the one who utters, “She’s dead… You killed her.” That particular one doesn’t look like he could ever fly (maybe he had an administrative position) and looks suspiciously like Sid Caesar.
That said, Margaret Hamilton cackled, screamed, taunted, sneered anything else she could do to scare us. I genuinely got the impression that she wanted to kill Dorothy. She should have won the Academy Award. I was glad when Dorothy finally threw the bucket of water on her to kill her, but at the same time, we lost the best antagonist ever.
The Wizard turns out to be a good guy at the end, however incompetent a balloonist. This sets off a tear-jerking end sequence of the Technicolor section as Dorothy says goodbye to her friends.
Good Witch of the North Glinda finally returns, and I have to admit, all previous hard feelings aside, she is a huge help getting Dorothy back to Kansas at the end, so I have to give her that.
“There’s no place like home” with the heel clicks was clutch. Dorothy and her friends would never have figured that out. The same goes for Toto.
There’s no more comforting of a scene than when they all gather around Dorothy’s bed at the end, poking fun at themselves while they let her know everything’s going to be alright.
There’s no place like home for Halloween.