The 1971 PG-rated musical fantasy WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is based on the book CHARLIE AND THE FACTORY by frequent kindertrauma inducer Roald Dahl (THE WITCHES, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, etc.). Having initially spawned from the mind of Dahl, exactly zero people will be surprised to learn that freaky, bizarre, and unsettling things abound in the film. Diminutive, scornful orange-skinned, green-haired men bounce about, a shady creep known as Slugworth stalks amongst the shadows and itâ€™s clear any musical outburst revealing a lack of character may result in premature death. Still, no scene of presumed child torture and eradication that takes place within the movie can compare with the notorious transitional scene involving wacky Wonka (Gene Wilder) transporting his guests via Loompa-powered paddle boat through what appears to be the bowels of Hell.
â€œWhat is this, a freak out?â€ rightfully yelps Violet Beauregarde, as the surreal nightmare journey begins. As the boat enters the swirling tunnel, flashing psychedelic hues twirl and ooze across the screen and then give way to shocking images of gnawing insects and slithering snakes. Passengers become nauseated as the speed intensifies and a giant eyeball appears and is then eclipsed by a horrendous FACES OF DEATH-worthy close-up of a live chicken with its head being chopped off by a cleaver; even the movieâ€™s antagonist Mr. Slugworth materializes with a judgmental glare before vaporizing. Just when you think it couldnâ€™t get any worse, Wonka begins to sing a deathly dirge with the cadence of a mournful phantomâ€¦
Thereâ€™s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
Thereâ€™s no knowing where weâ€™re rowing
Or which way the riverâ€™s flowing
Is it raining? Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a blowing?
Wonkaâ€™s voice becomes more desperate, intense, and frenzied as the boat and lava lamp colors accelerateâ€¦
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes! The danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing.
And theyâ€™re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!
Even the most hardened and cynical of Wonkaâ€™s morally challenged guests are beyond terror and fear that their fates are sealed. Just as the pulsating nightmare reaches a fever pitch, spoiled Veruca Salt demands that her father make it stop. Mr. Salt yells at Wonka that theyâ€™ve gone far enough, Wonka agrees, and then WHAM: theyâ€™ve reached their brightly lit destination and all is (relatively) normal again. Somehow the groupâ€™s trust in Wonka appears to be instantly restored but I (and many other young viewers, Iâ€™m sure) never looked at the guy the same way again.
Wonka might as well have sung “O, Death” from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Bah! I shared a name with Charlie and could deeply relate to his poor-ass upbringing and crotchety grandparents. I knew that honest, good Charlie was going to be A-OK in the end. I was convinced that Wonka was never going to hurt Charlie and was quite pleased to see him dole out candy-coated justice for those little scoundrels.
As my wife tells it, when she was a kid, the scene when Augustus Gloop gets sucked up the pipe sent her running, screaming from the room.
Me – it just made me hungry for some chocolate.
The paddle boat was, to me, merely am omen of doom for the bad kids. I had no problem with it. The righteous need not fear Wonka’s psychedelic psychic projections!
Now, this is coming from a kid that was routinely scared sh*tless by 70s album covers and Sid and Marty Krofft productions.
Wonka gets a bad rap.
Glad to know I wasn’t alone in the terror this scene created!
Funny, as a youngster it was told that I was only freaked out by the near-end tirade by Willy Wonka to Grandpa Joe when he politely asks about the promised prize in Wonka’s bizarre “Half-office”. The manic and screaming, “Good DAY, Sir!!!” sent me hiding in another room more so than blueberry Inflation, death boats, or chocolate pipe doom.
The film was rated G. The G rating did not mean that there wasn’t any content. I just meant that most parents wouldn’t object to the content. Which gives you an idea of what it was like to be a kid on 1971. Also the Andromeda Strain had a G rating despite some gnarly gore and nudity and talk of buttocks.