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The screenplay of this film was a colloboration between director Neil Jordan (Interview With A Vampire, The Crying Game) and feminist author Angela Carter, and is based upon a short story by Carter from her collection of short stories 'The Bloody Chamber'. This story, in turn, is based upon the classic children's story 'Little Red Riding Hood', but is filled with dark, menacing, and sexual imagery, all of which are used in the screenplay to create this stunning piece of gothic 'horror'.
That said, I always balk when I see this film placed in the 'Horror' section of any store, and cringe whenever I read a synopsis describing this film as a story about werewolves. Both descriptions are very wide of the mark. This is a story about the transition from childhood to adulthood of a teenage girl, and the symbolism throughout the film is subtle and powerful simultaneously. As such, it pretty much goes without saying that if you are looking for a scary movie, you're probably in the wrong place.
The highlights of this movie are:- Angela Lansbury as 'Granny', who turns in a wonderful performance and really adds a touch of class to the film. Also, the set design and lighting is brilliant, evoking a truly gothic feel to the scenes. For example, most of the movie is based 'outdoors' (like in the woods or in the village), and yet you always get the feeling of an enclosed and somewhat foreboding environment. This feels exactly right given that the story is centred around the character of a young girl, whose world consists solely of the small and familiar surroundings of home, where the outside world is only known to her through the fantastic stories of her Grandmother, where men, wolves and 'straying from the path' are to be feared.
Another, and major, highlight of this movie is the wonderful soundtrack by George Fenton, which is worth having on CD itself. Combining adaptations of traditional folk music with eerie, ominous synth sounds does as much to enhance the gothic atmosphere as the visual effects and set design.
Other than that, the rest of the performances are generally pretty good, especially Neil Jordan's staple actor, Stephen Rea, as well as a fine cameo from Brian Glover and debut from the beautiful and talented Sarah Patterson as the lead charcter 'Rosaleen', who sadly hasn't done much else since as far as I know. The film is also quite famous for it's man-to-wolf scenes and an early use of animatronics. The effects, sadly, do look pretty dated now, but the context of the scenes in which they are used is untainted, and remain powerful scenes both visually and emotionally. The fact that Rosaleen, after witnessing the pain and anquish that such a transition entails, openly weeps and says 'I'm sorry, I didn't know a wolf could cry', is brilliantly emotional and indicative of her almost complete transition from unknowing child, to compassionate and knowing young adult.
The DVD is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. First of all, it's not widescreen (although oddly the title sequence at the beginning is!) which is a real shame. Also, the menu navigation is pretty tacky and amatuerish. Indeed, even the inlay and cover leave something to be desired. The tagline, which goes something like, "In the dead of night, the beast is unleashed!" is as misleading as it is cringe-worthy, and sounds like it was probably written by someone who has only seen excerpts of the movie once, as opposed to someone like me who has seen this film over 50 times! A plus for the DVD is the 'Promotional Video' which is basically an extended trailer (around 20 minutes long), and is interesting as it contains many scenes that differ slightly from the film itself. In this video, Rosaleen reveals that she is twelve and three-quarter years old, a fact that is not mentioned in the short story or the finished movie!
All in all, this is a great movie, if not a great DVD, that is so full of rich imagery and subtlety, that it promises to provide great re-watch value, and should not be considered as a 'horror-flick'... unfortunately, most stores don't have a section entitled 'Enchanting fantasy gothic adult fairytale stories'...