Once Upon a Terrifying Time…
SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR has the potential to be one of the great revisionist re-tellings of the original Grimm Fairy Tale, but, like BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, suffers from inauthentic sets, TV production values and bad editing. And big dwarfs.
As the title suggests, it’s the age-old German folk tale of Snow White (tabulated and published by the Brothers Grimm in the 1800s; made famous by Disney in the animated SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, 1937), but presented in an adult context. This movie is the precursor to the many Marvel superhero films that would come after it; not in any way superhero-related, but updated in the manner of modern superhero tales in relation to their pantied comicbook counterparts.
So though we recognize all the characters, they are “revised” here in a very compelling way – Sigourney Weaver (nominated for an Emmy and SAG Award) is positively wicked as Lady Claudia, the stepmother (not a witch, not a shapeshifter), who marries nobleman Frederick Hoffman (the always entertaining Sam Neill), who has a young child, Lily. There is no “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” invocation, there is no innocence in the alliance of the young girl with the forest men – hell, there isn’t even a “Snow White,” as the milky-pale, raven-haired, troubled teen is known as Lily (Monica Keena). Matter of fact, all the elements of the tale that you grew up with have morphed into more “realistic” – and therefore more horrific – elements.
Claudia gives birth to a stillborn fetus, that she retrieves from the doctor’s dead-pan and enshrines in the forest, surrounded by candles, confiding in the bloodied baby-corpse on occasion (Jesus Christ! So that’s where Rick Santorum got the idea). Claudia blames Lily for the miscarriage and orders her brother Gustav (Miroslav Taborsky) to slay Lily in the forest and bring back some of her organs. Lily escapes and Gustav kills a pig instead, bringing Claudia its organs. Claudia keeps the heart, thinking it is Lily’s, and stews the rest, eating heartily and encouraging Frederick to join her. (Jayzus Ker-rist!)
While in the forest, Lily stumbles across some old guys, doughy guys, sexpots and one dwarf. Hmm, SNOW WHITE AND THE OLD GUYS, DOUGHY GUYS, SEXPOTS AND ONE DWARF… Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily.
Lily gets it on with the leader of this band of misfits, Will (Gil Bellows, who’s been taking Dermot Mulroney lessons), while the others contemplate raping her, abandoning her, eating her, or raping her. (From BLAZING SADDLES: “You said rape twice.” “I like rape.”) Put it this way: no one here is named Dopey.
Claudia, discovering Lily’s escape, plots to kill her. Are we paying attention, parents? Note that this plot point exists even in the most prescribed children’s versions of this story!
But there’s more sauce here than in the last five horror movies you’ve watched: Claudia learns from her Mirror (remember that thing “talks” to her – and it ain’t telling fairy stories!) that her stillborn can be revived by “stealing the father’s seed and stealing his blood.” So Claudia acquires some of Frederick’s semen… wait, is she giving him an Old Fashioned? Then Claudia crucifies Frederick on a cross upside down, back-to-back with a true crucifix, aiming to bleed him. And she’s gonna spread that blood and sperm all over her darling fetid fetus in the forest! The only story with more blasphemy, occultism, murder and Satanic ritual is the Bible.
Claudia disguises herself as an old crone (in a scary, bizarre performance by Weaver), tricking Lily into biting a poisoned apple, whereupon she collapses into a coma. Here again, Lily is not simply saved by a fey prince who kisses what he believes to be a corpse (a peculiar fetish, even in the kiddie version of these tales) – no, the thief Will brings her back to consciousness by shaking her. No kisses. The Prince (David Conrad) tells Will, “I’m indebted,” fully intending to ride off with the revived Lily as his virgin prize, as he hands a bag of money to Will. Lily gives Will a look like, ‘You shouldn’t accept that money because you love me,’ which is easy for you to say, Lily, who are about to ride off to a freakin’ castle and a life of enablement. Whore.
Without taking the cash, Will follows them back to the castle where there is a confrontation with Claudia and her PET SEMATARY kid almost resurrected…
All these disturbing elements are great; movie goes out on a limb to disorient us – but it should have been handled with a bigger budget and a more talented director than Michael Cohn (WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS). And it probably shoulda had dwarfs.
As I’ve maintained since I used to fill my head with those things called “fairy tales,” they are truly tales of terror if examined with more than a passing nod as “children’s fare.” A wolf that eats a grandmother and speaks to deceive her grandchild into becoming dessert (Little Red Riding Hood); a man luring children away from a town en masse, never to be seen again (The Pied Piper of Hamelin); and I remember being terrified as a kid reading the unabridged Carlo Collodi classic The Adventures of Pinocchio. All of these tales and thousands more have somehow been filtered through cognitive dissonance – much like the Bible – and been reimagined as cute whimsy or moral lessons. How? What is whimsical about a tale of kids abandoned by their parents, who are seduced by a cannibal (Hansel and Gretel)? What is the moral lesson in ratting out one’s brothers and murdering a hungry man (The Three Billy Goats Gruff)? And let’s face it – there are NO FAIRIES in any of these tales (more appropriately called folk tales or, from the German, Märchen, wonder tales).
Once upon a time, fairy tales were considered the sustenance for kids to become responsible, moral human beings; instead, they’re more dangerous than even Disney movies in exposing impressionable kids to the worst sins a human can commit. And yet the same adults who keep exposing their kids to fairy tales will continue to blame heavy metal and violent movies for school shootings.
I’m not suggesting we rid ourselves of fairy tales; I’m suggesting we reassess exactly what they are and their influence on the human psyche, and then discern which ones to expose to our children. If we could get rid of that mindset that fairy tales are delightful dalliances for kiddies, maybe we’d all live happily ever after…