One Man's Single Greatest Fear: Willy Wonka

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You know how some things haunt your dreams, how they rattle around your brain-parts without rhyme or reason, how they scratch scars of hideous terror into your soul without you having the simple comfort of ever knowing why?

For instance: My mom is petrified of snakes, to the point that she once made an usher tell her when to leave during Last Crusade. I have a buddy with an irrational fear of ketchup—like, you can chase him around the room with it and he’ll squeal and start sweating. It’s probably the best party trick ever. I, of course, can make fun of these people because I’m merely terrified of “Gene Wilder in a kids’ movie.

But I would argue that, unlike my equally potent problems with clowns and the Incredible Hulk, this is not some shapeless misty fear that I cannot place or control; rather, I attribute it directly to the original version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which science has proven is the third-oddest brain-scrambling creepshow masquerading as a childrens’ movie ever, right behind A Left Behind Thanksgiving and those 1980s TV movies that starred the Ewoks and Wilford Brimley, and were, until The Phantom Menace, the worst Star Wars productions ever.

Thanks to R. Kelly, the original Wonka is only the second-creepiest thing to bear the title Chocolate Factory now, but still, that this film and its rather lax approach to child welfare was ever filed in a family section is a shocking failure of oversight on the part of parents, Hollywood, the federal government and BP, somehow, I’m pretty sure.

Try describing the plot of Wonka to anyone and not sound like you’re revving up to say the words “human centipede”: “So there’s this out-of-control boat ride through an acid-trip tunnel of hideous terror. There’s the beheading of a chicken, televised on a giant screen. One kid nearly drowns in chocolate, before he’s expunged through a massive candy cannon and never seen again, and another child is going to be disfigured into a spherical blueberry shape. And this will all be the work of a tremblingly giggly reclusive man-child who is completely unprepared for life with other humans, who issues magical candy from his windowless castle walls and who has granted himself Christ-like empowerment in the ability to deliver Dante-esque divine punishment to youthful sinners. Also he runs a sweatshop with orange people. Who wants apple juice?” Short version: It is basically Seven, with a good deal more caramel.

As the owner of a 6-year-old who acts as though his circulatory system will fully shut down unless it’s fed regular viewings of old Tom and Jerry episodes, I am certainly aware that kids’ movies and TV shows are, and have always have been, deeply, deeply weird, fraught with terrible things like patricide and missing parents and forest-house torture and clowns and the gerbils from G-Force who sing Black Eyed Peas songs. And yet, having scared the bejeezus out of me at age 6, Wonka remains the only that is fully off-limits in my house, where we stick to things that are funny and safe, like ducks and rabbits, who hilariously blast each other in the face, with shotguns.