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The Dreadful Ten: 10 Twisted Contemporary Fairy Tales

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The line between horror and fantasy is so easily blurred that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Even children’s fairy tales, intended to be magical instead of scary, can be chill-inducing. Think of the living puppet Pinocchio, originally from Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s book. Pinocchio meets with a happy ending when he is turned into a human boy at the tale’s end. But are any of us really comfortable with inanimate objects like dolls coming to life in the first place?

No matter how magical mythical beings like the tooth fairy and Easter bunny are supposed to be, isn’t there something deeply unnerving about these strange creatures coming into our houses while we sleep? There’s nothing fantastical about the idea of something unearthly being with me in my dark bedroom in the dead of night. When I wake up at three a.m. to a strange creaking noise, I want that sound to be the plumbing, not a shadow shrouded bunny-like entity. To emphasize just how quickly fairy tale themes bleed into horror, here is a list of films for your before-bedtime enjoyment. Pleasant dreams.

 

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10. DARKNESS FALLS (2003)

First on the list is a movie that definitely monopolizes on the fear of nighttime visits by ‘magical’ beings. DARKNESS FALLS explores the age old tale of the tooth fairy. The film follows Kyle Walsh, who as a young boy glimpsed the tooth fairy when she came to collect one of his teeth. Far from a beautiful woodland creature, the fairy in this film is a deformed, growling monstrosity. Her intention turns out to be murdering her chosen victims, not collecting baby teeth.

 

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9. DEAD SILENCE

From horror master James Wan comes comes the very nightmarish version of the Pinocchio, or living doll, story. After Jamie Ashen receives a ventriloquist dummy in the mail, a gruesome murder occurs. In order to understand the violent killing, Jamie travels to his hometown of Raven Falls. He finds a children’s fable circulating, a tale of a deceased ventriloquist who has returned from the grave to seek revenge for her untimely death. The film offers the rich atmosphere and genius camera work that seems to trademark the style of James Wan.

 

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8. KRAMPUS

It turns out that St. Nicholas has a relative. That relative is a horned, demonic being from the underworld. Summoned by a lack of Christmas spirit, Krampus visits people who succumb to selfishness, greed, and meanness during the holiday season. In the film, a family which is begrudgingly hosting a rowdy bunch of in-laws finds themselves the victims of one such visit. What at first looks like the season’s worst blizzard actually turns out to be a nightmarish invasion. As Krampus and his host of evil helpers begin closing in, the family members must battle to keep their lives. KRAMPUS proves to be packed with over the top fun. There’s some thrills and some definite laughs as the family members, played in noteworthy performances by Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and David Koechner, go to war against Krampus and his army of possessed toys.

 

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7. LET ME IN

In LET ME IN, young, frequently bullied Owen befriends a supernatural creature instead of being attacked by it. But that magical creature turns out to be a vampire. Abby, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, looks like a gentle little girl. But Owen’s new friend is actually a very strong, very capable creature who needs human blood to survive. Their blossoming friendship grows more complicated as Owen discovers that Abby is far from harmless. With startlingly violent deaths clouding the warm companionship Owen and Abby find in each other, the film manages to be both touching and disturbing. The atmosphere is thick with a dangerous gloom as the story unfolds in a grim, snow covered city.

 

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6. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE

In a country ravaged by the Spanish Civil War, it seems ten year old Carlos may have found his happy ending- or at least his key to survival- in the orphanage he is brought to. Standing alone in the barren desert, the Santa Lucia School has become an orphanage for a large group of young orphan boys. Carlos soon realizes that the other boys are hiding a secret about what has befallen Santi, their peer who vanished before Carlos arrived. It isn’t long before Carlos starts seeing Santi, now dead, haunting the long dark corridors and the vast basement of the school -turned-orphanage. This film by Guillermo del Toro has an incredible amount of depth and heart. It depicts an emotionally wrenching tale while still employing a frightening ghost and a brutal villain.

 

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5. SLEEPY HOLLOW

With Johnny Depp playing the eccentric, bumbling Ichabod Crane, this version of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is incredibly entertaining. Tim Burton spectacularly depicts the town of Sleepy Hollow as an eery, gothic village set within a sinister forest. The film follows New York detective Ichabod Crane, who arrives at Sleepy Hollow to find its inhabitants the grip of terror. The townspeople believe that within the woods lurks a headless, ghostly rider. They are convinced that the spirit is responsible for the gruesome murders plaguing the town. It isn’t long before Ichabod sees the phantom for himself and comes to believe what the townspeople already know to be true. The film brilliantly casts Christopher Walken as the headless horseman. His performance as the bloodthirsty horseman is what will remain with you once you’re in bed with the lights out.

 

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3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

The critics treated this remake brutally, but I was mesmerized by Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Freddy Krueger. In this version, Freddy Krueger- a violently demented version of the fabled sandman- is chillingly malicious. Haley’s Freddy is driven by a sadistic, icy passion that is thrilling to watch. Rooney Mara was also excellent as Nancy. The film successfully inducts its viewers into the pandemonium that its teenage cast experiences. In the film, a group of high school friends are horrified to find that they are all having nightmares about the same strange man. He comes to them in their dreams wearing a glove adorned with knives, his face horribly burnt. Horror turns to outright terror as the friends realize that if they are harmed in their dreams, they are also harmed in real life. Desperately trying to stay awake, the friends frantically scramble to find out who their aggressor is and how he can be stopped. Viewers will find themselves sharing in the characters sleep deprived, fear fueled panic.

 

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3. ANNABELLE

Even though this is the second movie on the list about a doll coming to life, ANNABELLE is remarkably different in feel and mood from DEAD SILENCE. While DEAD SILENCE was playful in a jolting, brutal way, the tension in Annabelle builds more gradually and sinks much deeper into the viewers skin. Truly unnerving, ANNABELLE follows a young couple who are viciously attacked by cult members within their own home. After surviving the ordeal, soon-to-be-mother Mia is astounded to find that she is still being preyed upon by something, although the cult members are long since gone. An invisible intruder seems to be lurking within her home. And when the couple moves to a new home, the spirit follows them. As the attacks become more vicious in nature, Mia takes it upon herself to stop the dark entity that is oppressing her family.

 

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2. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK turns the fable of the tooth fairy into one of the most creative and terrifying re-imaginings of a fairy tale to date. In this film starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, young Sally is sent to live with her father in the grand mansion he is restoring. Aching for her mother and stubbornly resisting the friendship offerings of her step mother, Sally feels hopelessly alone. One night, she hears voices drifting up to her through the air vent. The voices speak to her, telling her that they live in the basement and that they want to be her friend. The voices tell her to come down the dark stairs, into the bowels of the house, to play. The creatures that at first intrigue Sally quickly come to terrify her as they begin making nightly visits into her bedroom, once the lights are out. Wonderfully creepy and soaked in eery, gothic atmosphere, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a delightfully scary depiction of just how horrible some magical creatures can be.

 

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1. PAN’S LABYRINTH

Guillermo del Toro’s film is a masterpiece of a horror-fantasy hybrid. The film is enchanting and magical, but in an incredibly dark way. In the movie, a young girl is forced to move into the military base where her cruel stepfather, Captain Vidal, is in command. Ofelia’s only comfort comes from exploring the deep woods that surround the massive home. Out of them comes a faun, who assigns three tasks to Ofelia. If she can pass each one, she will prove herself to be the princess of a legendary underground kingdom. The tasks all involve mythical, and often gruesome, creatures, most notably a demon-like monster who feeds on human children. del Toro serves up just as much spookiness and violence as he does beauty and mystery, with the torture loving Captain Vidal adding to the strong element of evil in the film.

And now, here are some honorable mentions that unfortunately didn’t make the cut…

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART III: THE DREAM WARRIORS
BEETLEJUICE
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
RED RIDING HOOD
GREMLINS

About the author
Lexi Harrington
Lexi Harrington fell in love with horror after picking up Stephen King’s novel Carrie in middle school. Since then, she’s devoured as many horror movies and horror novels as she can. Lexi even writes about horror at Florida Atlantic University, where she is studying English. She’s also a Vinyasa yoga junky and teacher.
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