TEN FAIRYTALES THAT SCREAM FOR THE HORROR FILM TREATMENT
by: Trevor Parker on: 2013-01-29 19:13:09
It’s no secret that Hollywood moves in cycles both repetitive and competitive, as various studios race to trump each other by offering product with similar, often identical themes. At one point, audiences were treated to a glut of age-swapping comedies. There was a time when volcano movies battled it out at the box office. Nowadays, it seems that fairytale-based movies are in vogue, with the SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN sequel and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ riff MALEFICIENT the latest to be announced. Most intriguing of these impending releases has to be DEAD SNOW director Tommy Wirkola bringing his berserk slant to breadcrumb trails and gingerbread houses with his new film HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. In that spirit of broaching the darker side of beloved and familiar fairytales, emphasizing their exploitation of primal childhood anxieties like illness, abandonment, and death, FANGORIA’s Trevor Parker presents a list of ten tales that should be made (or remade) into horror movies.
THE DEVIL AND THE THREE GOLDEN HAIRS
A lesser known chapter of the Grimm Brothers’ canon of children’s favorites, and one frequently softened in retellings by replacing ‘devil’ with ‘dragon’. It’s the story of a peasant boy sent by an evil monarch on an impossible mission to retrieve three golden hairs from the top of the Devil’s head. Aided by a ferryman who transports him over the river and into the realm of Hell, the boy meets the Devil’s grandmother (!), who takes pity on the lad and promises to help dupe her grumpy grandson and procure the precious hairs. This tale needs to be a film if only to give Hollywood’s top visual artists the chance to fire up their imaginations and design Satan’s granny for audiences to enjoy.
This fanged, goat-like imp enjoys a surge in mention and popularity every holiday season as cynics and hipsters embrace what is essentially the anti-Claus. In Bavarian legend, naughty children labor under the pall of something worse than the absence of presents on Christmas morning. Rather, the bad eggs are visited by Krampus, who breaks in through a window like a burglar and tosses the offending tykes in a sack, then spirits them away to whatever awful punishments a sugar-injected guilty conscience can conjure up. Perfect material for a grinchy Christmas classic or warped cartoon exploration.
BOOTS AND THE TROLL
Trolls are big in Scandinavian culture, and Norwegian folktales are ridden with the ugly, stinking goliaths. In one particular favorite that echoes ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (only with more beheadings and interfamilial cannibalism), a smart-ass kid named Boots is tasked with stealing a series of objects from a nearby family of trolls. Boots ends up captured by Papa troll and is pretty much doomed to end up on the dinner table with an apple in his mouth. Here’s where Boots brings the time-honored conflict resolution skills of the Viking into play: When the troll daughter worries that the keenness of her slaughtering knife isn’t up to the task of carving into Boots, he kindly proposes that he first sharpen the blade and then test it on the troll’s own hair. With the knife in one palm and a hank of greasy troll hair in the other, Boots proceeds to saw into the trusting girl’s neck and decapitate her. He then cooks her corpse, dresses in her clothes, and manages to trick Papa troll into tucking away several helpings of his own boiled and roasted daughter. Can somebody out there please entice Andre Ovredal, director of 2010’s THE TROLL HUNTER, into tackling this one next?
THE FOX SISTER
The Kumiho is a mythical Korean demon that manifests as a nine-tailed fox with an appetite for human organs. The Kumiho has appeared in films before, almost always in a modern setting, but the creature factors into the very old folktale of the Fox Sister. In it, a farmer with two sons prays that his wife will finally bear him a daughter. The farmer gets his wish, and then some. After his new daughter reaches school-age, the farmer discovers that his livestock are being mutilated in the night (with either the heart or the liver being removed and eaten, depending on the telling of the story). The daughter turns out to be a Kumiho in human guise, and she kills her own parents and one of her brothers before being defeated by her remaining sibling. Simple and bloody, with a distinctive look for the creature, (nine tails?) The Fox Sister could potentially spearhead a revival of Asian horror. (artwork by A. Heller)
THE BRASS CITY
The stories contained within the THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS or ARABIAN TALES have inspired dozens of cinematic interpretations, including ALADDIN and the rousing SINBAD movies. That leaves nine hundred and ninety-nine tales of lesser renown left to choose from; hot desert gusts populated by masked cutthroats, evil genies and parch-throated ghouls. The Brass City is one unpredictably weird NIGHTS story that sees a band of explorers happen upon an empty city hidden behind a wall of black stones. Once the high parapets are scaled, the explorers encounter spirit women who would tempt interlopers into leaping off of the wall and to their deaths, and the city itself is filled with dead bodies and an unnaturally preserved Queen with quicksilver eyes. H.P. Lovecraft said that his own worlds of the bizarre were fomented while in the grip of NIGHTS’ tale-spinner Scheherazade; let’s hope today’s filmmakers might also try drawing from that same well of inspiration.
PENTA OF THE CUT-OFF HANDS
A case study on how distrust of females fuels fairytales of all cultures, the story of Penta is both an Italian classic and about as convoluted as a transit schedule. A windower king falls in love with Penta, who wants nothing to do with him. She asks the King what part of her he adores most, and he replies that it’s her lovely, delicate hands that so cause him his itch. In a rather drastic response, Penta then has her hands promptly hacked off. The King retaliates by ordering Penta chained into a box and dumped into the ocean. A snarl of events occur with a another King, a jealous wife, and a crew of fishermen all stepping onstage at some point; everything culminates in the second King deciding to punish the jealous wife for lying by turning her into a human candle. Standing her on a pile of kindling and slathering her with wax and tallow, the wife slow-broils and the Kingdom celebrates. Oh, and Penta survives and her hands grow back.
THE BOY WHO WENT FORTH TO LEARN FEAR
Another ghoulish entry from the Grimms, this tale has an obvious sense of humor as well as the expected passages meant to startle tiny listeners. A young man, who we can take to be not-one-hundred-percent there, feels no fear and decides to go on a quest that might cause him to “shudder”. Challenged to spend three nights alone in a haunted castle, our wandering idiot encounters ghosts, skeletons, and reanimated corpses; none of whom cause him the least bit of fright as he disposes each visitor in turn. As a madcap comedic romp in the hands of someone like, say, Sam Raimi or Joe Dante, this one could be loads of creepy fun for older kids.
Repulsive witch of Slavic lore who features in a number of Russian folktales, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a trio with her equally hideous sisters. Living out in the woods, in a hut that stands on a pair of giant chicken legs, Baba is often depicted as a benign naturalist and staunch defender of cuddly wilderness creatures—but in the interests of this article, let’s focus on her sharp teeth, cannibalistic tendencies and mostly unsuccessful efforts to trick brave Cossack heroes into her cast-iron cook pot. (artwork by Karl Grandin)
This most macabre of fairytales warns of the cost of indulging one’s curiosity and is begging for some sort of ultra-gory recounting. The story of a famously ugly serial husband who found the sword a more effective means to conclude his divorces than courts or lawyers, Bluebeard is composed more like a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode than a kids’ bedtime story. It would retain its impact set in any time period, and would also have one of literature’s most famous and ghastly ‘big reveals’ for a director to play with.
A German children’s book published in 1845 and responsible for untold numbers of soiled lederhosen by kids who were no doubt scarred for life by the pummeling of STRUWWELPETER’s lessons. The title character’s name translates as ‘Shock-headed Peter’, and he’s a rascal whose tuft of wild hair earns him scorn from the groomed townsfolk. The other tales are far crueller in their mission to demonstrate moralities and, like compatriot Krampus, inadvertently reinforce unpleasant stereotypes of Teutonic harshness. To wit: Little Suck-A-Thumb can’t keep his thumb out of his mouth, to the dismay of his concerned parents. Problem solved when a wandering tailor meets Suck-A-Thumb on the road and promptly scissors the boy’s thumbs clean off, blood flowing from the stumps as the book’s explicit illustrations make clear. The other stories are similarly direct: Sassy girl likes to play with matches? She catches fire and dies. Young Kaspar declares that he doesn’t like his soup and will no longer eat it? Starves to death. Curious kid ventures outside during a storm? Lifted by the wind and blown away to his doom. Trust us that this innocuous-looking picture book is a real horror.
(Featured image artwork: Baba Yaga by Vania Zouravliov – http://art.vniz.net/en/)