Sunday, September 17, 2023

Gale: Stay Away from Oz, on Chilling

How can a franchise that is all about witches not be horror? Disney inadvertently proved the point when their 1985 sequel Return to Oz freaked out a generation of kids. Finally, someone had the conviction to lean into the horror potential of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s books, in this short film that is obviously intended as a proof-of-concept prologue. Dorothy Gale’s granddaughter definitely isn’t in Kansas either, but she does not yet understand her family’s fantastical history in Daniel Alexander’s Gale: Stay Away from Oz, which premieres tomorrow on Chilling.

Emily Gale never knew she had a grandmother named Dorothy, until she discovered her ancestor’s notebook among her late mother’s things. However, she is hoping the woman might have some answers regarding the strange nightmares and visions that have plagued her, since her sessions with her analyst, Dr. North, have not helped much.

The nursing home director is definitely surprised to see her, but not necessarily in a bad way. Nevertheless, the visit with her strange grandmother raises more questions than answers. For instance, the elderly woman compulsively clicks her heels is disconcerting and her emphatic warning to “stay away from Oz” is even more disturbing.

So, what is going on? Of course, viewers might have a better idea than the younger Gale, since we can pick up on all the references to footwear. The Oz-isms are as heavy as those of any David Lynch film, but they always make sense within the narrative (screenplay credited to Matthew R. Ford and the story to Alexander). It certainly succeeds in intriguing viewers as to what a full feature could look like.

Karen Swan makes a suitably Dorothy Gale-like heroine as the innocent granddaughter Emily. However, the real star is Laura Bailey, who chews the scenery with relish as the mysterious Dr. North. Margaret Hamilton and Jean Marsh (from
Return to Oz) would definitely approve. Of course, it leaves much unanswered, which is its job as a teaser, but that will inevitably frustrate the sort of viewers who wants everything spelled out immediately.

looks great, especially for a scrappy, boot-strapping short. There is no question this is the freshest take on Oz since Return to Oz (that counts Wicked too). It is also pretty fitting, when you consider the 1939 film’s macabre behind-the-scenes reputation. Recommended for fans attuned to the dark side of Oz (the Emerald City rather than the prison), Gale: Stay Away from Oz starts streaming tomorrow (9/18) on Chilling.