If you have a teenage daughter you want to warn off boys and sex, but would prefer to do it through symbolic folklore than just telling them straight, then this in the film for you. If nothing else it’ll make them wary of any man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.
Neil Jordan’s 1984 fantasy film, based on Angela Carter’s stories, is part anthology, part tales within tales and quite often very strange. The film plays out as the dreams of a girl called Rosaleen, who’s on the threshold of womanhood. He sleeping fantasies see her living in a folklore-ish village deep in the woods. Her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) tells her stories that impress upon her that she should, “Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.” These stories within stories generally involve women falling for rather bestial men who have an extremely wolfish side, or the terrible repercussions of doing the wrong thing.
Despite her granny’s warning, Rosaleen stops to chat to a huntsman, whose eyebrows do indeed meet. While wearing her red cloak, Rosaleen agrees to a bet that the man can find her grandmother’s house before she gets there, which as we know from fairytales, doesn’t turn out too well for gran.
It’s definitely a strange concoction, sometimes perplexing, sometimes frustratingly enigmatic and sometimes so unsubtle it flirts with being ridiculous. However with its claustrophobic, Hammer Horror style woodland setting, occasional gore, werewolves and creepy atmosphere, it definitely pulls you in. The overriding theme is the loss of innocence/emergence of a budding sexuality, although it’s sometime difficult to tell what the film is trying to say about this. There’s an air of the fear of sex hanging over the piec – that men are predators and the moment a woman puts on a bit of lipstick she’s corrupted. Although the ending tries to give a more complex interpretation than that, the overall impression is that female sexuality it something troubled and troubling.
The film’s effects have definitely aged, although there are a couple of good werewolf transformations, and a few other sequences still have the power to be unsettling. However ultimately it’s a film that’s more intriguing than genuinely successful.
The Blu-ray looks good, and while there’s a little grain and the colours perhaps aren’t as pronounced as you might hope – especially given the importance of the red riding hood – it’s still a major step up from the DVD. That said, the new steelbook edition contains the film on both BD and DVD, so at least you have the choice.
Overall Verdict: A strange beast that still pulls you in 28 years after it was made, even if it remains a little too peculiar and disjointed to be a fully successful folklore treat.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac