When I was a kid, my parents had very strange rules about what I could and couldn’t watch on television. I was allowed to watch most R-rated films, but not Will & Grace—the world of parental supervision was a Wild West situation in my house. That strange criteria is how I was able to sneak by and watch Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, a 1982 live action puppet film that will haunt the very essence of your being. Some parents feel the need to protect their children from the mature nature of violence or sexual content, but heed these words: The real threat is puppets.
After Netflix announced a series based on the world of The Dark Crystal, I decided to return to the film because I’d managed to block out that film from my waking memory. The original, branded as a Jim Henson puppet feature, was inappropriately marketed to kids as a children’s film. It definitely was not. To catch you up, Jen, a muppet baby with mouse ears and Carly Rae Jepsen’s haircut, is sent out into the world to retrieve a shard of crystal that will restore balance to the universe. This is important because at this point, the planet of Thra is currently being ruled by the evil Skeksis, a race of creatures that look a bit like the cast of Dinosaurs, if you put them in the microwave on defrost. Actually, here’s a picture because words can’t fully capture it.
The overarching mission is as follows: if Jen doesn’t get that crystal before the three suns of Thra align, then the Skeksis will rule forever. Yikes. This was all very much over the head of a six-year-old. I was in it for the kid-friendly nature of the VHS cover, but what followed was absolute nightmare fuel. Anyway, Jen heads off to find the shard and restore peace to the planet of Thra. He thought he was the last of the Gelfling race, but he discovers that he has a female counterpart named Kira, who looks identical to Cora Corman, the fictional singer from the underrated romantic comedy Music and Lyrics.
Anyway, Jen and puppet Cora Corman make it all the way through the movie, get the shard, and head to place it in the crystal that will save Thra. That’s when the Skeksis stop them. Though I was pretty shaken up by the visual imagery of puppets that seemed to be sentient and moving on their own, I was fine up until this point. But then one of the leaders throws Cora Corman’s pet, Fezzgig, into a fire pit and then stabs her with a knife. Again, this is a children’s movie. Jen, sad that Cora Corman is dead, has no other option but to finish the job, so he restores balance, the Skeksis evolve into a super species geared toward goodness, Cora Corman is brought back to life, and the movie ends. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you read all of that correctly.
The Dark Crystal was well beyond its time when it comes to its technical aspects, but the problem here is that this film is just too throughly, terrifyingly ’80s. The voice work sounds menacing across the board, but the real terror comes from the puppets themselves. If memory serves me correctly, I didn’t leave my bed for years after this because I was terrified these monsters lived under it. These puppets are too realistic to be fake, but too fake to be real. There’s something so incredibly terrifying about it that watching it again 23 years later still makes me want to check under my bed and make sure that a Skeksis isn’t hiding under there.
Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance has the benefit of having recognizable voices and even more enhanced visuals, but I can’t get past the fact that this level of puppeteering is essentially just witchcraft for people who own Etsy shops. I don’t like the mystery, and the child who misguidedly was allowed to watch the 1982 original will always live in fear of the puppet monsters hiding around any given corner. For those who loved the original film, good for you. You’re probably going to love the remake. But for those who live in fear of the Skeksis and the Gelflings, know that you’re not alone.