Fairy tales are a deeply ingrained part of our culture. They’re primal stories, for one, that deal with the most basic human experiences. At the same time, they’re also some of the first stories we ever encounter. Most of them have been the backbone of several Disney adaptations, knockoffs, or child-friendly TV versions. And of course, there’s the sappy-sweet series (also produced by Disney) that houses them all together: Once Upon a Time.
But it’s fairly well known, I think, that the original versions of these stories were actually quite dark. The Brothers Grimm tales were especially scary and even extremely violent. In most movie versions of Cinderella, you won’t see the stepsisters cutting off their own toes in order to try and fit into the fateful shoe. In most versions of Snow White, you won’t see the witch forced to dance on hot coals until she burns to death or a prince who is visibly upset when he breaks the spell because he was hoping to kiss a corpse, not a living girl.
You don’t need to stretch your imagination to come up with horror-themed adaptations of these tales. They were horror stories to begin with. So it’s natural that there have been so many attempts to bring that original sense of horror to the screen over the years. Most of these film versions are very low budget and campy, but that’s to be expected. It would be almost unheard of for a major studio to finance an R-Rated adaptation of what is widely considered to be a children’s story.
It’s natural that these movies would have to be done on a low budget. In almost all of them, those budgetary constraints show. Some overcome them and work really well, some don’t and totally fail, others completely embrace their campiness to create a purely entertaining B-Movie. This is the approach that the most successful incarnations usually take, but there are always a few surprises in there as well.
The Gingerdead Man
The Gingerdead Man is far from a good movie, but it’s the best thing Full Moon has done since their mid-2000’s revival and it’s undeniably fun. The appeal speaks for itself: It’s Gary Busey playing a killer cookie. The concept is really all that is taken from the fairy tale, while most of the actual plot seems to take itself from Child’s Play more than anything else, as this is actually the soul of a killer who has returned in the form of a confection.
With an impressive cast including Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill, Snow White: A Tale of Terror is actually not bad. It’s more of a creepy feature than outright horror, but it doesn’t skimp on presenting a meaner, adult version of the classic tale. Weaver’s performance as the witch actually earned her an Emmy nomination for the film. The costuming, set design, and makeup effects are all fantastic, while the score by John Ottman perfectly sets the mood. This one was first released as a TV movie, but also saw quite a bit of success on VHS.
Pinocchio’s Revenge is goofy and stupid but also a lot of fun. The foamy puppet is silly to look at and definitely not fooling anybody that it’s actually made of wood. Yet there’s something interesting about it. I can’t call it good, but at the same time I kind of love it. The script can be clunky, but there are some impressive twists that at least push things into uncomfortable territory, if not entirely unexpected. In some ways, it’s the movie Child’s Play wouldn’t dare to be, because it can afford to do it at half the budget.
Mark Jones tried to recreate the video success of Leprechaun with Rumpelstiltskin, which is of course an update of the classic fairy tale about an impish trickster. It’s not as good as Leprechaun, that much is certain. It just doesn’t work as well. But the makeup design for the creature is pretty solid and the story is actually a little darker than that of Leprechaun.
The Company of Wolves is a very well done and impressive update on the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. Directed by Neil Jordan, who would go on to find great success with Interview With the Vampire and The Crying Game, The Company of Wolves is about the masks men wear to present themselves as civilized and the beast that lurks beneath the surface. It stars Angela Lansbury as the grandmother and while it looks like a BBC production, there’s something about the way it’s presented that—much like the wolf—lures you in with the illusion of innocence.
It may not be based on any one particular fairy tale, but the Leprechaun is a classic fairy tale monster, being a dark fairy himself, and is thus the face of fairy tale horror as a whole. This was the one that launched a franchise that—for better or worse—still continues to this day. It’s actually one of the better 1990’s B-Movies with great makeup, a fun script and an excellent performance by Warwick Davis who is clearly having the time of his life playing this character.