“The Company Of Wolves” (1984)
Before he revitalized vampires in the Anne Rice adaptation “Interview with the Vampire,” filmmaker Neil Jordan had his own take on the very familiar tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” While Catherine Hardwicke recently tried to reinvigorate the story with last year's "Red Riding Hood," which acted more as a costume designer’s dream come true than as anything close to a decent film, Jordan approached the tale (adapted from Angela Carter's short story collection "The Bloody Chamber") with the same sort of sexual tension and gothic horror he ferociously devoured 'Vampire' and even parts of “The Crying Game” with. It starts simply enough, with Granny (Angela Lansbury) telling her granddaughter Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) several strange and disturbing tales about innocent women falling for handsome – if hirsute – men who hold a smoldering look in their eyes. And while the film soon starts to follow the “Little Red Riding Hood” template, what Jordan and co-writer Carter craft here is a tapestry of stories that reflects on the loss of one’s innocence as young women begin to thirst for a newly acquired sense of sexuality – delving into the sexual connotations of werewolves with a fascinating feminist touch that elevates it above all other takes on the tale. This is all embodied in Sarah Patterson’s performance as Rosaleen; but curiously enough, she quickly chose to diverge from her promising career as an actress following this film, with only a role in a TV movie version of “Snow White” and a couple recent independent films to her name. “The Company of Wolves” is a fractured fairy tale turned nightmare in a Grand Guignol fashion, blending sexuality and terror in the best of ways.
Speaking to the loss of innocence, if ever there was a film that established the pure nature of its gorgeous female lead in a more grand fashion than Ridley Scott’s 1985 film “Legend,” we’ve yet to find it. Dancing within a field of constantly swirling pollen, Princess Lili (Mia Sara) is introduced as a strong symbol of innocence that will soon be consumed by Darkness – the name of a Satan-like being, played by an unrecognizable Tim Curry. When Darkness decides to rid this unearthly realm of light so that he can roam about the land freely – because you know, his name IS Darkness after all — he chooses to kill off two rare unicorns that seem to hold the spirit of light in the very horns on their foreheads. Is it silly? Yes, but as you’ll see in a moment, it’s all a fairy tale, and a particularly good one at that. Jack (a young Tom Cruise) takes Lili to see these unicorns, which leads to a moment where she makes contact with them, therefore breaking an unwritten rule of the forest. While the truth is that Darkness’ unruly gang of thieves were responsible for the death of the unicorn – and not Lili’s touch – the citizens of the forest don’t look kindly upon Jack and Lili’s relationship as their land is turned to cold and snow as the sun no longer shines, and Lili lands right in the palm of Darkness. It’s a dreamlike and not always coherent tale, but as Scott follows Jack on his quest to rescue the second unicorn from the slaughter, we’re given a muscular fairy tale experiment that also happens to be chock full of charm and whimsy. Scott’s 2002 Director’s Cut forgoes the Tangerine Dream score that was tacked on by Universal after the fact, and instead replaces it with famed composer Jerry Goldsmith’s original composition, and the results are earth-shattering. While children of the ‘80s may remember “Legend” best for those synthesized Tangerine Dreams tracks of fantasy, (along with those still-stunning Academy Award-winning make-up effects by Rob Bottin), the Goldsmith score only ups the ante. What was once a cult ‘80s gem in the vein of “The Dark Crystal” has now been granted new life thanks to its restoration to Scott’s original vision, giving it an ethereal and epic-sized quality that it lacked previously, and lending it the opportunity to be discovered by a whole new generation of “Legend” admirers.
“Pan's Labyrinth” (2006)
Representing the most recent of these fairy tales, writer-director Guillermo del Toro wastes little time in introducing his audience to the world of “Pan’s Labyrinth” – one steeped in the imagination of a young girl named Ofeilia (Ivana Baquero) during Spain’s civil war of 1944. Many fairy tale tropes have been transposed here to this rich, resonant backdrop – with Ofeila’s evil army officer stepfather Vidal (Sergi Lopez) serving as a means to crush Ofeila’s fantasy world, much in the way he’s handling his own fascist control over Spain’s military. Ofeila seeks solace in the labyrinth of a faun who, along with several enchanting creatures, believes Ofeila to be the storied Princess Moanna, who was the daughter of their king, that one day up and left everyone behind. In this other world – regardless of whether it’s imagined or real – Ofeila is free of the dangers of her own reality, right up until the horrors of the real world intrude upon her new role as Princess Moanna. It’s a fantastical but ultimately sobering fairy tale that follows in the tradition of many beloved parables – showing a young girl who’s coping with real life horrors the only way she knows how. The film was nominated for an impressive six Academy Awards – taking home honors for Makeup, Art Direction and Cinematography – but between del Toro’s masterful employment of practical effects and CGI to create the film’s fairy tale characters (with some of the most eye-catching monsters in recent years) and the film’s rich story, “Pan’s Labyrinth” in many ways transcends its modern genre contemporaries to become a whole separate beast. But it's also a measure of del Toro's skills that the "real world" segments are just as compelling as the more fantastical moments.