Movies That Ruined My Childhood: CBS’ Alice in Wonderland.

Movies That Ruined My Childhood: CBS' Alice in Wonderland.

Let’s go through the looking glass for another ill-advised TV movie designed to terrify tiny tots.

I guess it’s time for another CBS Storybreak. It seems that channel just couldn’t get enough of special programming with questionable content in the 1980’s. They did after all air wholesome content such as (check’s notes): Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Devil Dog – The Hound from Hell, and A Hobo’s Christmas. Most TV stations rely on Nielsen ratings; I just assume CBS was running on a scream-o-meter. For this installment, we’ll look at when they aired a two-part presentation of Irwin Allen’s take on Alice in Wonderland, complete with all of the insanity.

Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass (1985)

Lewis Carroll’s little heroine (Natalie Gregory) explores a musical fantasy land of strange notions and characters.*

*Strange notions and characters? Literally everyone in Lewis Carroll’s story is insane. Some in the nonsense sense, but many more in the “eat your own face to stop your teeth from screaming” sense. I guess Victorian England had a lot more gray area between what was whimsically weird and what was full-blown psychotic.

Movies That Ruined My Childhood: CBS' Alice in Wonderland.
No, dear. These are crazy people.

That’s Not So Bad…

The first episode will be fairly familiar to almost all audiences. It basically recapitulates the Alice in Wonderland story everyone knows from watching Disney’s adaptation. The character designs are definitely a bit creepier in places (looking at you, The Walrus and the Carpenter section!) but there were also lots of fun characters (Sammy Davis Jr. as the Caterpillar) or unique takes on minor characters (Sherman Hemsley as the proudly terrified Tit Mouse). Almost all of the questionable stuff at least got a nice song and dance added to them (yeah, still looking at you Walrus and Carpenter…even as a kid I realized befriending dancing oysters so you could cannibalize them was horrific!)

All kinds of wrong.

That’s not to say the first half of this series was all sunshine and lolipops. There were flashes of the frightening elements that would rear their head in the second half. I remember being upset by the scene where Alice finds a crying baby, and as she tries to soothe it, the baby suddenly turns into a squealing pig. The double exposure effect looks dated now, but to a kid it was convincing enough to unsettle.

All in all, the story remains familiar and comfortable. Alice outsmarts the bloody-minded Queen of Hearts and finds her way back home. All’s well that ends well, right?


…Nope, Nope, Nope!

The very end of the first program is where I realized we were suddenly in deep water without a glimpse of the shore. Alice is home, relieved to be out of the crazy-pants Wonderland and ready to see her family. Only nobody is home. Then she notices that in the giant mirror in the living room, the side she’s on has stuff missing. Like her cat. And her parents, who are happily preparing to go out on the town, unaware of their little girl shrieking for their attention on her side of the mirror. That’s pretty bleak.

Movies That Ruined My Childhood: CBS' Alice in Wonderland.
You know what, this “whimsical” tale DID need a shot of soul crushing despair. Thank you so much!

Alice tries to comfort herself by sitting down and getting her bearings. So she picks up the first book she finds, called Jabberwocky.

Yup. The Jabberwocky.

The Goddamn Jabberwocky.

No sooner does Alice puzzle over what the hell a Jabberwocky is, when the lights go out, lightning strobes the room, and a giant fucking dragon rumbles into the parlor. She starts screaming bloody murder…and the screen freezes with a To Be Continued message from CBS. Thanks a ton, assholes, now half of me needs to watch the next half to see if little Alice survives and the other half wants to leave the country before a damn Jabberwocky shows up in my bedroom.

You rang?

It would be easy to paper over the Jabberwocky all these years later. I could laugh at the suit looking like a reject from a Godzilla movie – the ones where they basically did backyard wrestling in Styrofoam cities. But, for all that, the suit is still pretty damn creepy and the effects are admirable. It has an eerie sheen to it, making it look gross and fleshy. The strobe effect for when it is one screen amps up the unsettling factor a lot. And every time it comes back, the damn thing gets scarier.

First, it’s just a big, gross monster shuffling after our hero like Barney the Dinosaur on bath salts. The next time, it’s faster, and chases Alice into a giant web, complete with tarantula included. We also see it almost step on her as she’s hiding in the grass…and dude’s got some gnarly feet that even tough actin’ Tinactin couldn’t solve. But the worst was yet to come.

The last time we see it, it’s hiding in a birthday present. It comes inflating out of the box in a ghastly sight fit for Freddy Krueger. And it has now got a flamethrower in its mouth. Every creature in Wonderland assembled for Alice’s party rightly runs like the devil of hell is on their ass. Alice and company think they have lost him after she wisely sacrifices a brave knight old man to it, when suddenly it’s above them, slavering drool (gasoline?) and then the fucker FLIES down at them. I don’t know if Alice and the White Rabbit made it out alive, cause I had got the fuck out of my living room by then.

And the devil take the hindmost!

What Kinda Program You Guys Running Here!?

There’s more than just Gamera’s roided up cousin wrong with this movie. The costumes are all shabbier in this outing, with characters looking more like taxidermy rejects than Disneyland mascots. There’s another horrific double exposure where the White Queen starts acting psychotic, and when Alice asks if she is OK she starts braying out the words “much better” like somebody on a mental ward banging their head against glass…and then she suddenly turns into a sheep. WTF?

I am NOT alright with this.

I don’t know who Irwin Allen is, and I don’t know why he hates children so much. Did somebody put a Jabberwocky in his birthday present as a child? His other productions include The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, so he certainly seems like he prefers tragedy to comedy. And Alice Through the Looking Glass is definitely a tragedy. While the first half of the show is mostly a celebrated memory of mine thanks to the stellar cast and excellent musical bits, the second half is nightmare fuel of the finest vintage.

Movies That Ruined My Childhood: CBS' Alice in Wonderland.
Irwin, baby, you need chill out and be cool like Sammy.

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