Today: February 21, 2024

Fairy Tales

By Edward Boff – Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. – G. K. Chesterton

By Edwards Boff

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons
can be killed. – G. K. Chesterton

Have you ever read
the original versions of classic fairy tales? If so, then you’ll know many are
worlds apart from the colourful, upbeat and kiddiwink-friendly Disney fare that we’re so familiar
with. From Cinderella’s step-sisters
cutting off their own toes to fit the slipper (which was squirrel fur, not
glass) to the Little Mermaid
dissolving tragically into the waves, these original fairy tales were
delightfully dark. Which is, perhaps, why filmmakers who go back to those dark
origins always stand out. As Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters (27th
and Jack The Giant Slayer
3D (22nd March)
hit UK cinemas, Ed Boff takes a look at some of
the big screen fables which would make anyone weaned on the House Of Mouse’s
versions go faint at the knees …

The Red Shoes
This is probably
the most family-friendly title on this list but rather than being a straight
adaptation, it goes for a “story within the story” approach. Michael
Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s
balletic tale of a dancer torn between
her career and her love is paralleled with the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the title – a ballet of which is
the centrepiece of the film. This love triangle is played to perfection by
leads Moira Shearer, Marius Goring and
Anton Walbrook, and the beauty of
the dance is captured by one of the best cinematographers in the business, Jack Cardiff. Proving that not all fairy stories are about Happy Ever
Afters, this film perfectly chooses for its basis, a tale that can best be
described as a beautiful tragedy.

This landmark in
Eurohorror isn’t directly based on any classic fable. Yet, Disney’s Snow
White And The Seven Dwarves
was a huge influence on director Dario Argento which becomes immediately
apparent when you watch the film. The colourful art direction, mixed with
cinematography in old school Three-Strip
(this was actually one of the last movies ever to use it)
gives much of the setting an appropriately otherworldly feel. Also, all the sets were made somewhat
larger and out of proportion, making the main character seem very small and
vulnerable in the setting which, for a horror, is very appropriate. Finally, as grim and as violent as a
lot of the murders are, there’s a certain style to them that’s reminiscent of
Anderson or the Brothers Grimm at
their most morbid.

The Company Of Wolves
Author Angela Carter wrote a short story
collection entitled The Bloody Chamber,
which reinterpreted many classic tales in a stylised and at times Freudian form. The Company Of Wolves was an adaptation
and expansion of one of these, inspired by Little
Red Riding Hood
, with a script by Carter and director Neil Jordan. By making
it very clear from the word go that most of the film is one long, extended
dream sequence, this is a clever adaptation that gives the story great creative
leeway to indulge in not just stylish visuals, but odd plot tangents and
vignettes, with stories within the story. The early ‘80s was a good time for
werewolf movies, not least in terms of the effects (and this film has some
excellent transformation effects), and this one is one from the era that has by
far the most meat on the bone.

Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton’s

films have nearly always been about outsiders, and there can be none who fit
that description better than the title character here. Teaming up with Jonny Depp for the first time, Burton’s tale takes an
artificial boy, made by inventor Vincent
, from the fairy tale world he was ‘created in’ to suburbs. The clever move here was in bringing
such a character to the truly artificial world of the ‘burbs, where he’s made
(unsuccessfully) part of a world entirely based around shallow conceptions of
appearance and conformity. The end
result is one of Burton’s most beloved and poetic films, where everything comes
together beautifully. It’s with
good reason that, whenever a trailer or perfume advert wants to create a
fairytale mood, they nearly always use Danny
theme to this film.

The Secret Adventures Of Tom Thumb
Stopmotion director
Dave Borthwick takes the basic Tom
Thumb fairy tale and creates from it a stylish and strange animation that’s
akin to the work of The Brothers Quay
or Jan Svankmajer. Tom is born unto an odd, highly
polluted world only an inch tall, and goes on a strange journey though a
post-industrial landscape with fellow mutation Jack The Giant Killer. What adds a whole extra, unsettling
layer to this film is that all the humans are actors filmed in pixelation
(stopmotion), giving them a truly unnatural appearance. This adds a huge amount to an already
incredibly atmospheric film, as well as leading to some very darkly humorous
imagery. If you put David Lynch in charge of Aardman studios, you’d probably end up
with something like this.

Freeway is based on
the idea of transplanting the basic storyline of Little Red Riding Hood to gritty modern LA (or at least what white,
middle class people thought LA was like). Reese
and Kiefer Sutherland take
the lead roles and their early scenes together makes for some good
tension-building moments where the format of the fairy tale works at its
best. Unfortunately the film
ultimately ends up trying to imitate producer Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, before ending with a somewhat
rushed and muddled finale. Shame
really as Freeway had the potential to be much more, but annoying characters,
highly implausible plot points and a really warped sense of morality hold it
back. It was successful enough
though for writer/director Matthew
to do a follow up, Freeway
II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby
(yes, really!), this time based on Hansel & Gretel.

Snow White: A Tale of Terror
Taking a very old
school, Brothers Grimm approach to this classic tale, Sigourney Weaver takes centre stage as the Wicked Stepmother, given
the proper name of Claudia. What’s
interesting is that the character is greatly expanded upon and given a proper
motivation against Snow White (played by Monica
). In fact, the film’s greatest strength is showing both the growth of
her magic and her madness and obsession, with Weaver more than up to the task
of portraying such complexities.
Also changed are the seven dwarves who become simply mining outlaws
(only one is a little person) which gives us unique moments in this re-telling. Although it might have been overselling
the horror aspect calling it “A Tale Of Terror”, this is still one of
the darkest Snow Whites on screen yet. At least until someone does an
adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass,

Pan’s Labyrinth (Main Picture)
Fairy tales are a
form of escapism and this film more than any other shows the power and at times
the need for such an escape from reality by almost literalising it. Director Guillermo Del Toro, building on themes he previously explored with
the ghost story The Devil’s Backbone,
juxtaposes the real life horrors of Franco’s
fascist regime of Spain in 1944 with a fairy story that main character Ofelia
becomes part of. One potent source
of the film’s power is that for most of the telling, it’s never entirely clear
what is real or fantasy. However,
there is one major hint towards the end of the film which, when noticed, gives
the story even more resonance than before. However one interprets this movie, though, it’s still an
unforgettable experience, where you seriously wonder whether the nightmarish Pale Man is really any more of a
monster than Ofelia’s army captain stepfather.

Hansel & Gretel
Nothing to do with
this month’s big blockbuster release, this is a Korean production that’s very
roughly inspired by the tale. It
follows a young man lost in the woods, who stumbles into the idyllic home of
three children. However, this is no pleasant hideaway, as it soon becomes clear
that he can’t leave the forest and the children have some strange powers on
their side. This film most
resembles the classic Twilight Zone
episode “It’s A Good Life”,
and taps into similar fears and dark humour. As the enchanted home the children have made is explored
further, the story, like all good fairy tales, gets into darker and more
melancholy areas. It’s a bit
overlong for its own good but it has plenty of atmosphere, some startling
imagery and a lot to say about the nature of childhood and growing up.

Red Riding Hood
Oh dear, what was
the director of Twilight thinking
when she took this classic tale and made it into a supernatural romance? Actually, on viewing, this ain’t half
bad. The story forms the basis for
quite an interesting mystery plotline, trying to work out who’s the wolf in the
fold (wonder if the makers ever saw The
Beast Must Die?).
Also, the
love story is very well handled and woven naturally into the storyline, and Amanda Seyfried makes for a good
heroine who thankfully bears not a trace of similarity to Bella from
Twilight. Director Catherine Hardwick creates an almost Hammer mood at times, that’s helped by Gary Oldman giving a Vincent Price-channelling
performance. It probably won’t
convert any haters of the supernatural romance genre but it’s definitely one of
the better examples out there.

Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters is out on 27th
February. Jack The Giant Slayer 3D opens in UK cinemas on 22nd

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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