It is a fairly established truth that when you rewatch films as an adult that you loved when you were a child, it opens up whole jokes, asides and references you totally missed as a child. Entire corners of internet content have been dedicated to things that ‘OMG you can’t believe Disney got away with’, all of which offer approximately zero surprises.
Occasionally, though, a rematch gives you a completely new understanding of a film. Like how I just realised that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a slasher film.
After winning a competition, five children enter a strange and mysterious building. They are guided around it by Willy Wonka, an even stranger, even more mysterious figure who it is slowly revealed is in control of a small army. One by one, the children are testing in a set of weird and elaborate trails that seem specially designed for them to fail. The children inevitably fail one by one meeting grisly ends. One is incinerated, and another is pulled into a giant chocolate mixer. By the end, only one remains to fight another day. Even scarier still, the mantle is passed onto him, meaning these games will continue into another generation or candy killing and pic n’ mix punishment. All that without even mentioning its horrifying take on the 2001 stargate sequence, featuring chicken decapitation and a man covered in insects.
With a few tweaks, this could be a candy-striped Saw sequel. Sure at the end of the film we are told by Wonka that these children will all be fine and will be taken home, but why should we believe this clear psychopath? After all, if everything in his office has been cut in half, it seems like we are only being told half of the story. The Wonka factory is clearly a Soylent Green-style processing plant, with every bar of chocolate we see throughout the film clearly tainted with the blood and flesh of previous groups of children who dared to enter the mysterious Wonka factory.
I may be deliberately exaggerating here, but the strength of this film is that I am only just stretching the plot. Whereas the later, awful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film would dial up the zaniness to the extent that Johnny Depp becomes more of a wig than a character, this film works because every crazy flight of fancy is anchored to something far darker, a black undercurrent present in all of Roald Dahl’s work. This, after all, is the writer who brought the Childcatcher into our nightmares with his script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
In fact, our early exposure to this film means we often cannot see what a clever piece of cinema it is. Its sets are just superb, with the candy garden still one of the most magical moments ever put to film. Even from a pure story mechanics point of view, there is perfect balance. The four children who are not Charlie are painted in broad strokes (in fact, pretty much one broad stroke each), but the contrast and complexity of and between Charlie and Willy Wonka gives the film a depth that makes it a Christmas classic I will now rematch every year. Even if I know Willy Wonka is moments away from mutilating Charlie as soon as the credits stop rolling.