Strange Cinema: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Director: Mel Stuart
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, & Peter Ostrum

What’s it about?
Eccentric candy factory owner Willy Wonka invites five lucky children to tour his factory, but instead of candy, they each get to learn a lesson about being a decent human being.

Is it any good?
Chances are, you’ve probably seen this version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s fable, so you’ve already formed your own opinion about it. Some people love it unconditionally, while others think it’s the most disturbing thing ever created. When I saw that this version made it on to the weird movie list, I was honestly kind of shocked. But like most people who watched this film at a young age, I never really questioned the weird bits. Oh, some girl turns into a giant blueberry? Whatever. Wonka takes the children through a tunnel of nightmares while screaming about the “grisly reaper mowing?” Yeah, that makes sense.

When you really think about it, Willy Wonka is pretty fucked up. This reclusive candy tycoon leads a bunch of children into his secret factory and essentially punishes them in the most bizarre ways right in front of their parents. And while they’re being punished, these small orange creatures dance around and sing about how terrible they are. Now that I really think about it, this film is nightmare fuel for small children.

Okay, so now that we’ve established that this film is, in fact, worthy of the list, let’s see if it actually stands the test of time. I could preface this by saying this is merely by opinion, but I’m just going to come right out and say it: Mel Stuart’s version of this story is miles better than Tim Burton’s. While I do love Burton, just about all of his remakes are terrible. The 1971 version captured the whimsy of the book without making it too creepy, which was the major issue with Burton’s remake. Wonka remains a bit of a mystery in this one–he’s more of a legend than a man, and that’s how the children see him. Johnny Depp’s Wonka was a caricature (and he was honestly far too annoying for me).

If you get past the ’70s cheese, the atmosphere of the film is pure childlike wonder. The sets are real (no over-saturated CGI here), so even though the idea of having a candy garden inside a building is ridiculous, it still has a sense of realism to it. Watching it without the nostalgia goggles, the Oompa Loompa songs are kind of irritating, and some of the acting is a bit lackluster, but overall, it’s maintained its classic status.

Now that I’m thinking about it, there are probably a ton of films I used to watch as a kid that are just as bizarre as this one. Look out for some of the other children’s film on the list, and maybe a little commentary on just what kids find weird in movies.

Grade: B+ (for wonder, whimsy, and just a dash of terror)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you reconsider how great it would be to live in a candy factory)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]


Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 2)

The countdown continues! Be sure to check out part one of the list here.

12. “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” by Shudder to Think (featured in Velvet Goldmine)

Velvet Goldmine is kind of a musical, but kind of not. So there are plenty of musical sequences, but they’re stitched together in a series of interconnected vignettes. Loosely based on David Bowie, this film is chock full of some great glam rock moments (including some great covers by Placebo and Teenage Fanclub). My personal favorite moment is Shudder to Think’s “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon,” which plays over Brian Slade’s music video. It’s bizarre, highly sexual, and glam to the max. 

11. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (featured in Across the Universe)

There was a time when I was completely obsessed with this film and I was ready to defend it from disgruntled Beatles fans who called it blasphemy. I’ll still defend it because a lot of the Beatles covers are fantastic (minus the ones with Bono because those just sound like U2). I was torn between this song and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but I just love the way “I Want You” is used. Max (Joe Anderson) gets drafted into the army and prepares to get shipped off to Vietnam (because you can’t have a film take place in the ’60s without having someone go to Vietnam). Best moment: Max and his fellow recruits carry the Statue of Liberty into the jungles of Vietnam while singing, “She’s so heavy!”

10. “A Swan is Born” (featured in Black Swan)

This sequence kind of straddles the line between musical moment and score, so I guess it makes the list on a technicality. I count it as a musical moment because it doesn’t make use of an original score (this is just a reworked version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”). But anyway, it’s such a powerful moment. Nina (Natalie Portman) dances as the Black Swan for the first time in front of the audience, completing her transformation into her alter ego. The most indelible image in the film is Nina spreading her arms into wings at the end of her solo.

9. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith (featured in The Royal Tenenbaums)

Only Wes Anderson can make a scene about suicide seem like a work of art. (Note: I do not actually find suicide “beautiful” or “romantic” in any way–I just appreciate the way this scene was shot.) Using an Elliott Smith song in the background was darkly appropriate choice considering the singer’s own history. The song works perfectly in the scene–it doesn’t take the attention away from the events unfolding. (NSFW for depiction of suicide)

8. “The Floor Show” (featured in The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Moving on to something a bit lighter, let’s look at some good ol’ fashioned sexuality. There were far too many moments I could have included from this film, and I almost went with “Hot Patootie” instead of this one. But I have to admit, nothing beats the orgy in the pool. The Floor Show is actually three songs in one: “Rose Tint My World,” “Don’t Dream It,” and “Wild and Untamed Thing.” It’s sloppy, ridiculous, and oh so sexy–everything Rocky Horror is supposed to be. (Note: Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of The Floor Show on YouTube, so you’ll just have to listen to it below.)

7. “El Tango de Roxanne” (featured in Moulin Rouge!)

The concept behind Moulin Rouge! is a bizarre one: take a bunch of actors and make them sing reworked versions of pop songs instead of original songs. But I love it, and oddly enough, so do other people. And even people who don’t really like this film will admit that the “Roxanne” scene is the best (I have dated many guys who have willingly admitted this). The song is The Police’s “Roxanne” reworked into a tango, and Christian (Ewan McGregor) sings it to Satine (Nicole Kidman) as she prepares to sleep with the Duke. I still get chills when I hear the strings at the end.

6. “Cell Block Tango” (featured in Chicago)

Hey, look! Another tango! I’ll just tell you now that Chicago is probably my favorite movie musical, and this song perfectly captures the sentiment behind the whole show. The women on Murderess’ Row relay their reasons for killing their husbands and boyfriends, and they all maintain that they “had it comin’.” Badass ladies singing about killing no-good men? Now that’s a great musical number.

5. “Squeezit the Moocher” (featured in Forbidden Zone)

Forbidden Zone is one of those films that you either love or hate. It’s amateurish, vulgar, and just plain weird, but those are three things toward which I gravitate. Based on the band Oingo Boingo’s stage shows, this film is basically an extension of the Elfman brothers’ twisted cabaret. At this point in the film, Squeezit decides to travel to the Forbidden Zone to rescue Frenchy, but gets captured by the Devil’s henchmen (and eventually gets beheaded). The best part of this sequence is seeing Danny Elfman ham it up as the Devil. (NSFW for nudity)

4. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (featured in Watchmen)

This is perhaps my favorite opening sequence in any film. As the credits roll, we see a brief history of the original Minutemen and what became of all the superheroes after the public’s backlash. And what better song to play during a slow-motion history than “The Times They Are A-Changin'”? I know a lot of fans of the graphic novel hate the film, but I love it. Did it perfectly capture the essence of the novel? No, but it’s impossible to make a perfect adaptation of Watchmen.

3. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rodgers (featured in The Big Lebowski)

Out of all the nonsensical musical moments in otherwise comprehensible films, this one ranks among the best. It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and is never mentioned again, but it’s honestly my favorite part of The Big Lebowski. After The Dude is drugged by Jackie Treehorn, he experiences psychedelic hallucinations involving bowling and Maude Lebowski in a Viking outfit. It’s perfectly ridiculous.

2. “Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now?” by Pink Floyd (featured in Pink Floyd’s The Wall)

I was quite tempted to just include The Wall in its entirety, but I didn’t think that was fair. So as painful as it was to choose just one moment from this film, I managed to pick “Empty Spaces.” This is an entirely animated sequence, and I know I’m breaking my own rule about no animation here, but since the rest of the film is mostly live-action, I’m going to include this. Gerald Scarfe’s animation is brilliant, and out of the three animated scenes in The Wall, “Empty Spaces” is the best. There are only two words I can say about this scene: flower sex. (NSFW for animated sex and nudity)

1. “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte (featured in Beetlejuice)

For those of you who know how much I love The Wall, it may shock you to realize that my favorite musical moment doesn’t come from it. What do I love more than animated flower sex? The best scene in Beetlejuice, of course! It’s fun, out of place, and perfectly choreographed. Beetlejuice is one of the best Tim Burton films (if not the best), and this sequence cements it as such.

Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 1)

If you couldn’t already tell, I love making lists. And from my experience on the interwebz, people generally enjoy reading lists. Granted, this one isn’t at all objective and won’t result in much argument for that reason (though someone will probably find something to complain about), but I’ve been wanting to write this for quite a while.

So let’s talk about music choices in film. The right song can evoke a myriad of emotions when played against a particular scene. The combination of images and music is vital for a good film to become a great film, and since I love both film and music, I had to share a few of my absolute favorite musical moments.

(Note: I’ve decided to include both movie musicals and non-musicals in this list. I did not include animated films because that list would be far too long. Also note that some videos may contain spoilers and/or NSFW content.)

25. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (featured in Shaun of the Dead)

Let’s start this list off on a lighter note (because it’s going to get dark very soon). If you’ve never seen Shaun of the Dead, stop reading this and go find it. It’s hilarious, gruesome, and generally heartwarming (for a zombie film). In this particular scene, Shaun and the gang fight off a horde of the undead inside their local pub with a soundtrack courtesy of the jukebox. Not only is the Queen song hilariously out of place in the scene, but the characters actually acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all during the battle. 

24. “By the Sea” (featured in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

Plenty of Broadway fans can find something wrong with this Tim Burton-helmed adaptation, but I genuinely loved it. Though “By the Sea” isn’t necessarily my favorite song from the musical, this sequence in the film was so well done. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) imagines herself in a blissful relationship with Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), singing sweet nothings into his ear. What makes this scene great is Sweeney’s complete indifference to Mrs. Lovett–he essentially ignores everything she says to him, but Mrs. Lovett continues to tell him about how wonderful their wedding will be.

23. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed (featured in Trainspotting

I almost chose the opening sequence of this one over the “Perfect Day” scene, but after watching both of them, I realized this is definitely the better scene. Renton (Ewan McGregor) overdoses on heroin at his dealer’s flat and slips into unconsciousness while Lou Reed croons about his “perfect day” in the background. The deceptively sweet song perfectly exemplifies Renton’s intense high (and honestly, it’s a little frightening). [NSFW for graphic heroin use.]

22. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (featured in Do the Right Thing)

I honestly don’t think any other song would have been as perfect a fit for this film as “Fight the Power.” The entire film is incredible, but this scene is one of the defining moments. Proud Italian Sal refuses to put pictures of black celebrities on his Wall of Fame, which leads to three of the neighborhood guys bursting into his pizza shop and blasting some Public Enemy. Despite the boombox, the atmosphere is tense, and shit soon hits the fan. 

21. “Führe Mich” by Rammstein (featured in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1)

Have you ever seen an opening sequence so intense you sat back in your seat and thought, “Holy shit, this is gonna be great“? That’s how I felt when I sat down to watch Lars von Trier’s latest foray into cinematic controversy. There isn’t any sex in this scene–instead, the audience gets a cold open on an alley, snow drifting gracefully on to the asphalt. We catch glimpses of a body on the ground, and suddenly…fucking Rammstein. That song hits you like a brick wall. I had no idea what was going on in the first few minutes, but damn, that tune brings you right to attention. (Note: Skip to 1:44)

20. “Origin of Love” (featured in Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

I’m not a huge fan of love songs in musicals, but this one is an exception. Instead of singing about a certain person, Hedwig relays the Greek myth about soul mates to her audience, and the accompanying animation is simply beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, here it is in a nutshell: Humans originally had four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces. They also had three genders (male, female, and “androgynous). When the gods feared that the humans would eventually overpower them, Zeus split them into two halves so they would be forced to roam the earth searching for their counterparts. 

19. “Hey Boy, Hey Boy” (featured in The American Astronaut)

Sometimes musical moments come out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. This is definitely one of those moments. The American Astronaut is technically a musical, but who the hell knows what any of the songs have to do with space pirates and women on Venus. This song happens early on, and the circumstances are kind of hilarious. Interplanetary trader Samuel Curtis stops by a bar (in space!) and gets followed into the bathroom by two sinister-looking strangers. While Samuel is sitting in his stall, the strangers put on a record and start singing and dancing inside the bathroom. That’s it, that’s the whole scene. 

18. “Please, Mr. Jailer” (featured in Cry-Baby)

This film is cheesy gold and Johnny Depp is at his absolute dreamiest in it. There are plenty of great songs, but “Please, Mr. Jailer” has always been my favorite. Cry-Baby gets thrown in jail and goody-two-shoes-turned-bad-girl Allison gets on the hood of a car and begs the jailer to “let [her] man go free.” Allison is a babe herself, and with the rest of the girls shaking their stuff for the inmates, this is one sexy number. 

17. “Man of Constant Sorrow” (featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

This is an amazing song by itself, but paired with George Clooney and the rest of the Soggy Bottom Boys crooning with that Southern drawl, it’s perfect. O Brother, Where Art Thou? has one of the best soundtracks, but “Man of Constant Sorrow” is definitely the highlight. And it’s even central to the plot! And this isn’t even a musical! Bonus points!

16. “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli (featured in 10 Things I Hate About You)

First of all, 10 Things I Hate About You is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. There, I said it. What’s not to love? Heath Ledger as a bad boy gone soft? Check. Julia Stiles as a badass feminist outsider? Check. Based on a Shakespeare play? Check mate. The single most romantic moment in this film is when Patrick (Ledger) tries to win Kat (Stiles) over by serenading her with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” (complete with a marching band!). I may scoff at most movie romances, but this scene made me swoon.

15. Accordion Intermission (featured in Holy Motors)

This is one of the few instrumental moments on the list, but I just had to include it. If you want a more in-depth explanation of the film, you can check out my review, but for now, I’ll just talk about one scene. Mr. Oscar becomes several different characters over the course of the film, but appears to take a “break” to play the accordion with an army of street musicians. The tune is surprisingly catchy, and even though it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot, this little intermission makes the rest of the movie that much sweeter.

14. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (featured in Wayne’s World)

This scene needs no introduction. This song will forever be associated with a car full of dudes head-banging to a sick guitar solo, and that’s perfect. I don’t even need to say anything else. Just bask in the awesomeness that is Wayne’s World. Party on.

13. “Still” by Geto Boys (featured in Office Space)

Yes, it’s the infamous fax machine destruction. The Office Space soundtrack is about 95% gangsta rap and I love it (the fact that a white guy named Michael Bolton listens to it just adds to the appeal). The office’s useless fax machine gets destroyed by three disgruntled employees with some baseball bats. It’s a gloriously satisfying scene, especially with the words, “Die, motherfucker, die” playing over the destruction.