Friday, November 21, 2008

Beware the Wheelers

"It had the form of a man, except that it walked, or rather rolled, upon all fours, and its legs were the same length as its arms, giving them the appearance of the four legs of a beast."

--from Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

Recently, I’ve been preoccupied thinking about the books I used to love when I was younger. I was really obsessed with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and used to carefully draw the characters with a colored pencil set I had (when I wasn’t drawing Jem & the Hologram paper dolls). For some reason I’ve had the urge to hunt the books down again. Along those same lines, I’ve been meaning for some time to watch “Return to Oz,” the film based on two of the Oz books. It was Fairuza Balk's first movie-pretty cool.

So, I never saw the whole film, just bits and pieces, but a few images have been burned in my mind for years and I recognized the characters from the books. Like this crazy princess who had a rotating collection of heads she wore. The kicker was she took on the personality of the head she was wearing. So if you caught her on a PMS-HEAD day you were screwed. I remember every time I had a cold or a monster zit I would envision screwing my head off and picking out a new one to wear.

The characters that reeeeealy creeped me out were the wheelers. (Apparently I am not alone in this, judging from the countless comments on IMDB and youtube from people who were also scarred by these freaks as children.)

In the book, Dorothy is perplexed by a foreboding warning scratched in the sand “BEWARE THE WHEELERS.” When the wheelers emerge to chase her down she sees they are humanoid men with wheels for hands and feet. Henchmen not unlike the flying monkeys. Seriously, if you’ve ever seen the movie you’ll remember these things were scary as hell. I saw them on a trailer at age ten, and was always too scared to watch the whole thing because they freaked me out so much.

It's funny how awkward or unusual movements can be so unnerving. Check out the Hush episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (sorry to nerd out completely), with the gliding, grinning psychopaths & the straitjacketed men on all fours, and you'll know what I mean. Irrational movements as a fear inducer--it's a concept perfected by Japanese horror-directors like in the movie Ju-On. Our brain processes them, but knows something is amiss. We are creeped out, but we don't know why.


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