Sunday, October 13, 2013

“Beware the Ragman If You Stay Up Late!” (or — A Most Fanciful Flavorof Nightmare Fuel)

EDIT: This post gets a quite a few clicks from people looking for high-quality video from the movie. If this is you, click here to check out a new post where with a better version of the Ragman clip.

Surely, some language must have a word for those dimly remembered childhood events that seem so surreal that you suspect you remember them wrong — that you’re actually remembering a dream, maybe, or that the passage of time and your stupid child brain have jumbled the details. If no word exists, then I motion that one should be created, specifically so I can more easily explain the half-remembered movies and TV shows that I saw on early cable, back when I was too young to be in charge of the remote. Even when the programming was intended for children, the deeper recesses of the cableverse exposed me to some wild stuff.

And one of the weirdest would have to be Nutcracker Fantasy, a Sanrio-produced, stop-motion retelling of The Nutcracker that seesawed wildly between cheerfully colorful and horrifically dark.

The trailer for the Japanese version hints at these extremes.

The version I saw had been dubbed in English. Melissa Gilbert voiced Clara, years before she’d return to voicework playing Batgirl on Batman: The Animated Series. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, Eva Gabor provided the voice of the Queen of Time, whom I have no memory of but who seems like someone that should exist in a Japanese retelling of The Nutcracker, I guess. The page also notes that the film is often mistaken for being a Rankin-Bass production. It’s not, but it’s just as creepy; those puppets herka-jerking around onscreen tread into Uncanny Valley territory just as easily as anything you’d see in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.

I found one YouTube user who’d posted three of the film’s more beautiful segments — and they do look beautiful.

Sanrio spared no expense on the sets, and this miniature world is one kids should probably like. However, like I said, this movie has a dark side. Even scarier than the snarling Mouse King is another character unique to this version of The Nutcracker: the Ragman, a horrifying boogeyman who haunts the opening few minutes of the film and who walks the streets at night, preying upon children impudent enough to stay up past their bedtime. Believe me, it’s no exaggeration that this clip was posted with the simple description: “Welcome to the worst 2.5 minutes I experienced as a two-year-old.”

Long after I forgot about the rest of this movie, the Ragman lingered. I cannot tell you how many nights of my young life were spent trying hard not to think about the Ragman out of worry that I’d accidentally summon him, because that’s how these kind of things work. It didn’t occur to me that my house existed far from the quaint cobblestone streets that he walked on and that boogeyman can’t fly on airplanes. Watching it today, I’m surprised how accurately I remember it: It’s essentially as scary as I remember.

The quality of that clip isn’t great, but I did find a supercut of the scariest scenes from Nutcracker Fantasy that more clearly demonstrates the Ragman doing his awful thing. The supercut is, alas, set to Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday,” which you may remember from the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack and which exists in a different sector of my brain’s vaguely remembered pop cultural experiences. Still, you get to see more of the Ragman doing his thing as well as other ways the film’s director sought to counteract the candy-colored sweetness of the other scenes.

Rock out and enjoy:

Miscellaneous notes:
  • If I remember correctly, Clara’s flights into fantasy land are the result from a terrible fever. Because fevers are magic. Go get a fever, kids!
  • Two other inappropriately terrifying scenes from movies intended for children? The Jabberwocky scene from the 1985 version of Alice in Wonderland and the “Bunyip Moon” sequence from Dot and the Red Kangaroo. Go, watch, experience my trauma.
  • The English version also includes a performance by Jo Anne Worley as Queen Morphia, and I think there’s a joke in there somewhere but I have yet to find it.
  • The person who uploaded the Japanese Nutcracker Fantasy clips has collected a whole lot of older Japanese cartoons. There’s one titled “The Phantom Ship” that’s worth watching — every bit as beautiful and disturbing as the Ragman scenes. Silhouettes are creepy too, just not as much as stop-motion puppets.
  • I appreciate how this poster advertising the Japanese release skews more creepy than cheerful.

  • Finally, this little ambulatory strawberry bears a striking resemblance to Toad from Super Mario Bros., don’t you think?

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