An anthology of dark fairy tales, all of which involve werewolves.
In preparation for the 31 Nights of Thrills series I scoured IMDb for movies that I hadn’t seen that I could use for this series. I wanted to cover the basic monsters from monster movies, but I also wanted to give people a chance to see movies they mightn’t have seen before. Many people have seen American Werewolf in London, (I dare say that might be the pinnacle of modern werewolf movies) and I, myself, had rarely gone out of my way to search for a werewolf movie. This was one that I had never heard of, but it had somewhat decent reviews, and better yet, it was directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), and was described as a fantasy horror film. Those that follow this blog are probably tired of me professing my love for the fantasy genre, but I wont stop anytime soon. Knowing little else about the film other than the details listed above, I dove in.
"Are you going to tell me a story?"
The first surprise this film held was for me was that it was an anthology film, and the whole film is framed in a dream. When the film opens, were in modern day times, and a mother and father have just arrived home; they send one of their daughters upstairs to wake their other daughter, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson, Snow White (1987)), from a nap. Rosaleen fails to rouse from her slumber, tossing and turning anxiously, and from there we enter her mind and see her first nightmare, where Rosaleen herself is the star of her dreams. The first dream is only a few minutes long, and depicts Rosaleen being chased by her toys, now oversized and sentient, through a gossamer coated forest, and after that, we cut right to a village scene, where we spend a majority of the remainder of the film. Honestly the first few minutes spent setting up the fact that this is all a dream hardly have any bearing on the rest of the feature whatsoever, so I’m not sure why they felt the need to frame the film as if it were a dream; it could’ve just as easily been told as straight fairy tale. The story from there continues pretty much as a grim retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but along the way, Rosaleen’s Granny (Angela Lansbury, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) tells Rosaleen stories, all of which have to do with the dangers of wolves. Some of the stories are a little more humorous than others; some of them are quite graphic as far as the transformation scenes. Steven Rea (V for Vendetta) plays a young married man who transforms into a wolf, and his transformation in particular is stupendously executed. The effects during the scene are all practical, and we get to watch as he pulls his skin off to reveal the muscles underneath, then his face suddenly sprouts a snout. It’s clear that the effects are done with an animatronic, and some people might say the effects look dated, but for me its all part of the charm. 80s horror films are rife with animatronics and stop motion; true they don’t look as polished as CGI, but they add a visceral, slimy, gritty feeling to the film that CGI just can’t come close to producing.
Some of the stories are a little rough; in particular the story that takes place during an Elizabethan banquet is more silly than frightening. In fact, I actually started laughing because the performance by one of the actresses was so jarring. I actually really liked the story of the wolfgirl; it was rather unconventional and actually felt more fairy-taleish than some of the other stories. A lot of the stories that Granny told could be looked at allegorically. Her stories seem to be cautionary tales she tells to her granddaughter in order to warn her off from having sex. Men, multiple times in this film, are referred to as wolves, and it’s incredibly obvious in some scenes that men are after Rosaleen’s virginity. The theme isn’t that subtle, but it’s also not so in your face that it becomes annoying. I actually liked the way they wove in the little morality tales to this film; it makes it feel more like a fable.
The best part about this film was the production design. The sets were all elaborate and beautifully gothic; haunting in just the right ways. They combine the worlds of fantasy and horror to make something that is both alluring and creepy. It’s a romantic sort of world they created, and the camera does it plenty of favors by lingering on the more extravagant designs and flourishes.
Overall this film is pretty good; I wouldn’t say it rivals American Werewolf in London, or even Dog Soldiers, but it’s a fun fantasy horror flick. Though the film is only an hour and a half long, it does tend to drag in a few places, but overall it’s worth your time. Great practical effects, atmospheric production design, and inventive storytelling make this film enjoyable, particularly for fans for gothic fantasy and horror.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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