When The Dark Crystal was released in 1982, it was a distinct departure from Jim Henson's usual oeuvre of quirky, family-friendly puppeteering. Considering all the creepy scenes and characters, it's far darker and more bizarre than audiences at the time realized or anticipated. The story was heavily influenced by Grimms' Fairy Tales, which are far from cheerful little yarns, and, before filming, Henson had the entire creative team read the 1972 book Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul. The book is a chronicle of author Jane Roberts's experiences channeling a multidimensional being who spoke at length about metaphysics through Roberts while she was in a trance. Not the sunniest pre-production work for a children's film.
The Dark Crystal follows an elf-like creature named Jen who goes on a mission to find the lost piece of a powerful crystal. If he finds the shard and can restore the gem, balance and harmony will return to the alien kingdom he inhabits. As his journey unfolds, he encounters unimaginable horrors that have haunted young audiences for decades. Some of the dark elements from the film are monstrous beings, while others deal with the grim nature of the characters themselves.
Kira is another elven creature who acts as Jen's love interest in The Dark Crystal. Unfortunately, there is no happily-ever-after for the two sweethearts, as Kira suffers a horrific demise in the film's climax. One of the Skeksis stabs her, and the scene is shockingly graphic for a family film. It feels like something out of a horror movie.
But The Dark Crystal portrays Kira's passing as a sacrifice that allows Jen to get his hands on the missing piece of the crystal. It may be necessary for the narrative, but it's still extremely harsh.
The Podlings are gentle, peaceful creatures whose only aim in life is to experience and share their joy. This all comes to a grinding halt when Jim Henson decides to mistreat them. In one scene, a Podling has the "juice" drained out of his mind, and viewers watch in horror as this lovable being is reduced to mush to preserve the Skeksis emperor's youth.
Things get even more troubling when the emperor drinks the juice he has just siphoned from the Podling.
For being an aspirational protagonist, Jen is extremely creepy. This is not a cute, cuddly little Muppet, a handsome adventurer, or a fantastical being that naturally exudes charm and grace. Jen has sallow skin, long brown-and-silver-streaked hair, two large elven ears, and a Planet of the Apes-like mouth. He also has wide, blank eyes and wears a cream-colored tunic. Jen is meant to exude intelligence and innocence, but his appearance is uncanny and unsettling.
Jen's age is never revealed, but he could easily pass for either a tween or a senior citizen.
Another character meets an excruciating end relatively early in the movie. The original Skeksis emperor struggles through his last moments, first hissing at his attendants, then gasping frantically for air as his eyes roll back in his head.
But Henson, being the maniacal genius he is, isn't content to stop there. He has the emperor's face cave in and turns to ash.