When you mention fantasy to anyone, they typically think of sweeping epics like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Game of Thrones. Just like when you mention horror, they think of a million Stephen King titles or gory films like Saw or Hostel. Now I do love a good fantasy epics and I can enjoy a splatterfest too, but those aren’t the areas I love about fantasy and horror. My tastes run into the surreal, the inexplicable, the creepiness that lingers with you for a long time afterwards.
I thought I would describe some of my favorite scenes that have lingered with me over the years. All of these I believe are from fantasy films/books, but they’re such dark scenes that it’s easy to see the subtle terror in them.
When people think of this 1990 film, they typically get caught up in the amazing effects for the transformation of the witches, or the way they transform the boys into mice. These were some of Jim Henson’s last pieces that had his personal input on them, so it’s entirely understandable that they’re what most people think of when they recall this film. However the section I loved was at the very beginning. Years ago I struggled to figure out where this scene came from because it felt so very different from the rest of the movie.
You can’t tell me that isn’t terrifying! I remember being shocked that it was from such an amusing film like Witches of all things. In doing research, they ended up changing the plot of the film around quite a bit because Roald Dahl thought it would be too frightening for children. I’m so glad they kept this scene in!
2. Return to Oz
This fabulous film from 1985 doesn’t get enough credit. It’s a mishmash of multiple books in the Wizard of Oz series, but it has several scenes that are far more intense than the famous 1920s film with Judy Garland. In addition to having scenes from a bizarre, unfriendly madhouse and giving the implication that Dorothy has been having hallucinations, the fantasy world is both strange and quite dangerous.
Princess Mombi is a sorceress who not only turned the citizens of Emerald City to stone, but she then went through and chopped off the heads of all the pretty young women to use for herself. Some of the creepiest scenes are with Mombi in her hall of heads.
Dorothy is far braver than I would be as a child, but I suppose this is hardly her first visit to Oz.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth
I remember sitting in the movie theater when this film came on. When people saw that it was going to have subtitles many started to leave. Then came a violent scene that involved a glass bottle and some poor guy’s head, and suddenly all those people came trickling back into the theater. Guillermo del Toro has a fabulous taste for my favorite kind of fantasy, and this film really epitomizes it. It’s a blend that isn’t entirely fantasy and isn’t your typical horror variety either. You love the monsters he creates even though they creep you out all the same.
Intense enough? I love how it’s not quite a fairy tale even though it uses all of the typical tropes, and I love how he takes it to such a dark level.
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
I haven’t had a chance to watch all of the BBC series they put out about this yet, only the first episode. The book however is quite a behemoth, but so worth it! If you can get past all the scenes with Mr. Norrell and reach Jonathan Strange’s sections where he shines, you will be rewarded. One of my favorite characters in this book is the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. He’s a trickster faerie who has been quite bored and finds a way to steal away part of someone’s life. He’s a little too serious for my tastes so far in the BBC version. I imagined him far more amused all the time, but maybe that’s just me. I also love the Raven King! He’s more legend than person, which makes him all the more fascinating.
Okay, enough gushing about this book. The part that made me really fall in love with it was toward the end when the realm of the faerie world begins overlapping with the human world. Roads begin appearing all over England leading into this other land, and some people are silly enough to follow it. There’s a short scene where a knight, who proclaims himself to be the Champion of the Castle, says he will kill anyone who tries to harm the Lady of the Castle. I won’t say much more, but in the faerie tale traditions, you can figure out where that goes. Oh, and there’s also a wonderfully weird scene with a crazy cat lady. This book is chock full with weirdness in fact, which is why I just couldn’t leave it off of this list.
That’s all for now at least. I’m sure I’ll be adding more to this list later. I’m always finding new blends of strange, surreal worlds that appeal to me, or creating my own. If you know of any books or films that you think would suit my tastes, please let me know! It’s a very niche interest, but I would love to find more stuff like it!