TWISTED HAS A DOUBLE MEANING HERE. Twisted as in disturbing and twisted as in a retelling of a fairy tale story or trope. There are many more films that belong on this list but these are ten of the most original fairy tale adaptations that twist the narrative in a way that adds depth to the original story. The Fairy Tale is both fluid and timeless. They began as oral tales, passed from town to town; tales of warning, tales of rites of passage. Tales to enable survival in a harsh and brutal land of wolves and wolf men. That essence of the fairy tale never changes. Here are some modern adaptations of these old stories that reveal new depths of depravity, magic, and bitter wisdom. Eat the apple. Drink the drink. Eat the pot brownies from the wicked witch.
The darkness awaits!
1. IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES- 1984
Film adaptation by Neil Jordan, screenplay by Angela Carter. This film is an adaptation of Angela Carter’s story of the same name. The original fairy tale, as adapted by Charles Perrault and the Brother’s Grimm, operates under the assumption that only men have animal desires. These adaptations warned nice little girls to stay away from the manbeasts who would compromise their coveted chastity. Angela Carter turns this traditional male view on its head, showing women and girls as having desires and wills of their own. This adaptation explores the feminine, while drawing from the earlier versions of this oral tale that originated among the peasantry in 17th century France. The atmosphere is haunting and fantastical, lush and sensual. This is a Red Riding Hood adaptation not to be missed. It is also a great werewolf movie, with jaw dropping horrific werewolf transformation scenes.
2. WILD AT HEART- 1990
David Lynch gets very weird in this hybrid of The Wizard of Oz and a sex fueled road movie. There is no other film on the planet like this. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are histrionic, passionate, and over the top in every way. The sex scenes are long and lingering and the chemistry between them bleeds off the screen in red neon waves. Lynch loves to unsettle and this movie definitely does that. Part soap opera, part horror film, part love story, and part Wizard of Oz on acid, this twisted fairy tale reimagining is not to be missed.
3. SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR- 1997
This adaptation of Snow White, starring Sigourney Weaver as the vain and Wicked Step Mother/Queen/Witch is as chilling as it is heartbreaking. Sigourney brings gut wrenching depth to a character that is not traditionally sympathetic. The character twists and twists into an evil and terrifying thing on screen. You cannot look away. The film is deliciously atmospheric and the dwarfs, who are a band of rough around the edges but good hearted miners, add grit and realism to this fantasy tale. This is one of the most layered adaptations of this classic tale. If you love fairy tales and you love horror, this is the tale for you.
4. HARD CANDY- 2005
Deadly and dark adaptation of Red Riding Hood starring Ellen Page as a heroine who baits a pedophile and murderer played by Patrick Wilson. She flips the script to chilling ends, leaving the viewer swimming in a soup of conflicting emotions as she takes out her revenge on him for all the victims of predators. The film is seductive, compelling, eerie, sadistic, and profoundly disturbing.
5. PAN’S LABYRINTH- 2006
This tour de force by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro interweaves harsh reality and dark fantasy into a compelling and profound tale of self exploration for Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) to find the lost Princess Moanna, whom she believes herself to be. This is a story of war and trauma and of finding the way through. This is a dark, fantastical, and beautiful journey that takes you to the core of the labyrinth of the human heart. This is a parable, merging many fairy tales and myths into a totally fresh story that is compelling as it is enchanting. This film gets to the core of the fairy tale as a genre. Fairy tales endure because they speak, through the language of metaphor, of darker truths that are sometimes too horrible to voice in the naked light of plain speech. Fairy tales are horror tales for children of all ages.
6. BLACK SWAN- 2010
“PERFECTION IS NOT JUST ABOUT CONTROL. IT IS ABOUT LETTING GO. SURPRISE YOURSELF SO YOU CAN SURPRISE THE AUDIENCE. IT IS ABOUT TRANSCENDENCE.”
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) wants to be perfect. She is the new star of the ballet troupe and she has won the role of a lifetime in the timeless ballet, Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. In this story within a story, the ballet unfolds parallel with the plot of Nina, a confused young ballerina obsessed with perfection who is trying to find the balance between her own inner darkness and light. She must play both the Black Swan and the White Swan. In embracing the role of the Black Swan, the cracks in her perfect surface begin to widen and splinter. Lily (Mila Kunis), her understudy, is everything that Nina is not. She is wild, she is free, she is fun. This surreal journey into the mind of a frightened girl trying to find herself is haunting, evocative, startling, chilling, and transcendent. This movie must be seen to be believed. It sets the bar very high. For a more in depth review of this film READ HERE.
7. SLEEPING BEAUTY- 2011
Lucy (Emily Browning) needs money. Her rent is due and the job at the coffee shop is not cutting it. In desperation she accepts a job as a ‘sleeping beauty’ fetish sex worker. Her job is to sleep as men touch her. They are not allowed to penetrate her or leave marks upon her flesh, but anything else they want to do to her is fair game. Rich old men grope her, spit on her, call her horrible degrading names, and cuddle up to her, as Lucy lays limp, oblivious, and unconscious, thanks to the drugged tea that she must drink before her sessions. She is the punching bag for all their frustration and self loathing. It is a chilling sight to see. This dark twist on the classic tale is directed by Australian filmmaker Julia Leigh. It is uncomfortable, depressing, tragic, and all kinds of unsettling. If you’ve got the stomach for it, it is definitely worth the watch. You will never think of Sleeping Beauty the same again.
8. SPRING BREAKERS- 2012
Harmony Korine, screenwriter of Kids, and director of Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Ken Park, Mr. Lonely, and Trash Humpers, twists the summer party teen movie in ways that only he can do. The title of this film should be Disney Princesses Gone Wild. It stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez in key roles as the bad girl (Hudgens) and the good Christian girl in danger of being corrupted (Gomez). The plot is simple: four girlfriends want to go to Spring Break and party it up but they do not have enough money so they rob a Chicken Shack (of course) with squirt guns. This sets them off on a dark spiral of crime, drugs, drinking, and debauchery. Alien (James Franco) is the gangster with a heart of gold. He is the wolf that parents and fairy tales warn their girls about. After he busts them out of prison he takes in the team of wayward girls. James Franco is fucking hilarious as Alien. Alien is a terrible rapper with a god-awful grill to match. He is gauche and absurd yet somehow lovable. The endless party paradise of drugs and excess begins to seem more like a journey into a sort of demonic hellscape of endless keggers, coke lines, and neon bikini booties. Like the little boys in Pinocchio who get turned into donkeys while searching for fun, these girls go searching for paradise and find heartbreak, death, and loss of innocence. This film is special and unexpected. It is an addictively rewatchable sensory assault with a killer soundtrack.
9. HANSEL AND GRETEL GET BAKED- 2013
Lara Flynn Boyle plays the most unsettling witch you could imagine in this pot fueled retelling of Hansel and Gretel. The Witch lures teenagers to her home with a pot field maze and treats baked with her green goods. This movie is trippy, fun, and surprisingly terrifying.
10. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW- 2013
This indie film by Randy Moore was shot on location and without permission at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It is a Lynchian mindfuck that will forever change how you see Mickey Mouse and Disney Princesses. Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) is taking his family for a day of fun at the happiest place on earth on the day that he hears that he lost his job. An already bad day gets worse for him as he start to hallucinate while on the It’s A Small World ride. The line between illusion and reality is already a blurry thing in a place like this. This is a place designed to enable people to forget reality, at least for a day. The rabbit hole goes deep and the plot thickens as he nears his final destination. Like Lynch movies, this is about the experience and the psychological journey that the characters and the audience go through. This is not based on a classic fairy tale. It is based on the myth of the Disney empire itself. Walt Disney became the latest incarnation of the Brothers Grimm, taking stories that other people wrote, and twisting them to suit his own interests. Disney films are often what people think of now when they think of fairy tales. This film takes the Disney phenomenon and reimagines it yet again, posing more questions than answers, reawakening that childlike sense of wonder and curiosity, with a twist. This movie will forever change how you see Walt Disney World and the culture that surrounds it.
Leza Cantoral is the author of Planet Mermaid and editor of Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective. She writes a feminist column about noir film for Luna Luna Magazine called Shades of Noir and writes about pop culture for Clash Media. Her upcoming collection of short stories, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, will be coming out later this year through Bizarro Pulp Press. You can find her short stories at lezacantoralblog.wordpress.com Twitter @lezacantoral