Since we had two fairy tale themed movies last night, we get one review this morning and one this evening. This morning, we were lucky enough to convince author Carole Lanham to stop by and dissect
Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Having seen her forthcoming collection The Whisper Jar, I can say for certain that she has more than a passing familiarity with the fairy tale — both the good and the wicked side.
Onions and the Color of Sigourney’s Hair
by Carole Lanham
I just finished Snow White: A Tale of Terror and I found it to be rather like flipping through a book of beautiful paintings. Every single scene is tinged with a fairytale glow. Cobwebs shimmer like wedding veils. Apples and leaves and drops of blood are all the same delicious red. At one point, Sigourney Weaver walks through a golden kitchen where auburn onions hang from the ceiling in clusters around the auburn waves of her hair. it was just lovely.
The story it’s self gets off to a wonderfully grim start by strapping you in a carriage that is hurdling end over end through a wintery wood. Things do not end well, and soon enough you’re watching as a loving husband is forced to cut his unborn child from the belly of his dead wife. I’m here to tell you, blood spilling across snow never looked so pretty.
Skip ahead a few years and we learn that the child is our Snow White. Lilli, let’s call her. And what sort of fairytale would this be without a young girl, a desperately adored father, and a highly questionable new wife? Snow White: A Tale of Terror
has all three, but in this case, I liked that the new wife seemed kind of nice, if not a bit peculiar. Lilli doesn’t want her father (Sam Neil) to remarry, of course, and she’s actually the difficult one in the beginning, making life miserable for the new step-mom, played to perfection by a slowly simmering Sigourney Weaver. Lilli quickly grows from a young black-haired, blue-eyed Taryn Davis into a teenage black-haired, blue-eyed Monica Keena, who shows up to an important party one night in her dead mother’s gown and unwittingly shocks her step-mother into giving birth to a stillborn son.
I was fully along for the ride up to this point. I really wanted to love this movie. Gosh. There’s a covered bird cage with something scary inside that you can’t quite see. There’s a big wooden cabinet with big wooden fingers that latch together whenever the door is shut, and unlatch whenever its opened. And the cabinet hides a magic mirror. But for me, things got murky after the stillborn baby.
The step-mom flips her wig and decides that she wants Lilli dead. She feeds what she believes is Lilli’s heart to her husband and then paints her throat with some left over blood and dances gleefully around her bedroom while a search party hunts for the missing girl. It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions but I was still on board for the most part, admiring the enthusiastic way Sigourney chows on the heart meat, and wondering where I can get one of those flattering mirrors for myself. It’s the guys who form that group of miners formerly known as the seven dwarves who start to make me scratch my head. They aren’t very nice (Not to mention sneezy or happy) and most of them aren’t even small. But that isn’t my beef. What gets me is the way spunky Lilli suddenly can’t seem to find the wherewithal to break away from these guys, even following them into a mine when they go to work rather than trying to find her way back home, despite being almost raped by one of them and sneered at and mistreated by the rest of them. She is afraid of them and reviled by them and then, quick as you please, decides she likes them for no better reason than the fact that the script says she does. She especially likes the cute one who has a scar on his dirty, sulky face.
For me, things went from bad to worse after this. There was still a lot of beauty to admire – a dropped cape floating away in a stream, a stained glass coffin, a windstorm of yellow leaves. There was also some very cool stuff like a bird trapped in an hour glass and a creepy baby hand. It was the story that lost its way. Like the yellow leaves, it seemed to blow around in countless directions without anything much to support it.
Sigourney Weaver got an Emmy nomination and a Screen Actors Guild nomination for her performance. The film got Emmy noms for Makeup and Costume Design. I can understand why on both counts. This was such a visually satisfying film that it was worth seeing, regardless of it’s problems. It’s cool and it’s fun and I’ve always hoped for the opportunity to watch it. It’s too bad the story is like biting into a pretty apple and finding out it’s made out of wax. If you like your fairytales gorgeous and creepy, you might want a bite all the same.
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