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Most people when asked about horror would describe the genre as being dark, gritty, scary, and without pity or remorse. I beg to differ. Horror is one of the few genres that can range from the absolutely absurd to the brutally realistic. The films I will be discussing today are of the absurd and fantastical quality. There are modern films and films dating back to the 1910s that could be described as dark fairy tales. Take for example the German Expressionist cinema which featured odd set designs and had an almost magical quality. The 1930s brought Universal’s horror classics (like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.), rather than dark tales of fantasy and wonder. With the upcoming release of Red Riding Hood, it would probably be good to revisit some of these modern movies that are fairy tales of terror.
One particular movie that I would prefer to get out of the way, so I don’t have to bring it up in this article again, would be the disastrous Matt Damon/Heath Ledger vehicle, The Brothers Grimm, which is all kinds of bad. That movie was an utter mess of clashing fairy tales and misguided ideas with a very artsy flair. The point being, not all horror fairy tales are good. Now, let us move on to some of the better examples of this subgenre that are pretty fantastic. The first being a film that won some Academy Awards and is a modern classic.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning work from Guillermo Del Toro. It combines horror, fantasy, and drama together in one masterful film. The story is about a young girl who is moved to her cruel stepfather’s home which has a labyrinth on the grounds. She befriends a fawn named Pan who lives in the Labyrinth, unbeknownst to her stepfather. According to Pan, she must complete three tasks in order to earn her way back into her kingdom. Blending beauty with the bizarre and drama with darkness, Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterwork for any fan of cinema and a superior example of a modern fairy tale.
The second great example I want to shed some light on is a (still) unreleased Korean horror fable titled Hansel & Gretel, which it has nothing to do with the actual fairy tale it is titled after. Hansel & Gretel is about a man, named Eun-soo, who gets in a car accident on a country road. He winds up in a mysterious, dark forest only to find a mysterious girl who takes him to her enchanted home, which houses her older brother, younger sister, and their all too nervous parents. Two days pass and Eun-soo is unable to escape the menacing forest. The parents go missing and it turns out there may be more to these children than meets the eye. Hansel & Gretel is nothing short of amazing and enchanting. It sucks you into its magical world and doesn’t let go until the credits have rolled. I really do hope this one gets an official release here sometime in the near future.
The final film I will discuss is the extremely underrated masterpiece called Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer. While the last films were risqué and daring for a child audience (that’s if you don’t mind showing Pan’s Labyrinth to a child), this movie is strictly for adults only. With a dark atmosphere and brooding story, this movie has minimal dialogue and is mostly narrated by an outside voice, which would be John Hurt. The film runs at an epic length of over two hours, but is well worth the dark journey. The story is about an emotionless man who has a remarkable sense of smell. He discovers a way to capture women’s scents to make a perfect perfume, which would grant him all the power in the world and make anyone bow to any whim he desires. Too bad this process of obtaining scents involves killing the women. This movie is dark, depraved, but so beautifully shot and well-constructed. It’s definitely for adults only, but it is a wonderful film.
Although not always “traditional,” horror does consist of macabre fairy tales; just don’t expect “happily ever after” to be part of most of them.