Written by Monika Bartyzel
Earlier this month, I was writing a post about fairy tales and I wondered why we don’t get many classic fairy tale horror movies. I’m not referring to reimagining familial tales into something more adult (like Dorothy and bdsm), but rather going back to the source of the fairy tale. There have been a few attempts, such as Sigourney Weaver’s Snow White: A Tale of Terror, but not nearly as many as there could be in the seas of zombie movies and Saw sequels.
What is creepier than kids, parents, evilness, sorceresses, wolves, and cannibalism? Before the stories were ripped from their horror roots, they were just right for scary, gory films. The early days of fairy tales weren’t all rosy cheeks and puckered, pouting lips; they had blood, flesh, and genuine frights. If kids of yesteryear saw the tykes of the last 50 years, I think we’d all be getting a feline-sounding name that isn’t too complimentary.
So here are seven tales perfect for scary movies. Some wouldn’t need any embellishment, while others could easily be morphed into a chilling tale that not only taps into our younger days, but also thrills our current adult lives. Take this as a dare, scary filmmakers! Look through this creepy list and whip up something to scare the pants off us. And for you non-filmmakers out there — which tale would you want to see on the big screen?
Hansel and Gretel
A family is starving, so the evil mom says: “Hey, let’s send the kids out into the forest so that we have enough food for ourselves.” But the buggers come back, because they leave a trail of pebbles that lead them back home — a reason we should never teach our children, the insidious food-stealers! So dear old mom tries again, and the kids only have breadcrumbs, so they’re stuck in the forest. They come upon a house made of bread, with sugar windows. Their little mouths begin to salivate, and they start eating the house. The old woman who owns the house takes the kids in, which seems awfully nice for a woman who just found kids eating her lovely home. That is, until she makes Gretel her servant, and fattens up Hansel so she can eat him. But then Gretel kicks her old butt into the oven, and the kids are free. They find their way home, and conveniently, their mom has since died of “evilness,” so they live happily ever after with their previously mom-whipped dad.
There’s not too much actual horror in this, beyond the burning of the old woman, but imagine her cannibalistic dreams, or the children’s evil mom’s fears about starving while they frolic. Or, maybe the old woman has done this before, and they find half-eaten children piled up in back. Who knows!?
When the tale was published by Charles Perrault, there were two parts. The first is what we’re familiar with — cute baby, gifts, a curse, the spinning wheel, sleep, and then the saucy kiss. (And believe it or not, while the X-rated version came much, much later, there was sex in the earlier tales as well.) Anyhow, not so scary. But then there’s Part 2. The Prince’s mom is a Queen who comes from Ogres, so he first keeps his ex-Sleeping paramour a secret for a few years, until he has a few kids and is going off to war. His wife and children stay with his mother while he goes off to fight.
The Queen promptly sends the three off to a secluded house. She comes to visit and demands that her steward cook the little 4-year-old named Dawn for dinner. But he wimps out, so he hides the child away with his wife, and makes the Queen a lamb. A week passes, and then the Queen gets a craving for the other kid. He kills a goat this time, and saves his butt again as he whisks the other youngster off to his wife. But this Queen is insatiable and wants her daughter-in-law, who is willing to oblige, thinking her children are dead. They keep disappearing while grandma happily eats her gourmet dinners.
But the Steward confesses, gets sneaky yet again, and all is well. That is, until the ogre Queen comes upon the hidden family and decides to cook them all in a stew pot. But the flesh-hungry Queen is foiled when her son comes home just in time. She throws herself into the stewpot and is eaten by the snakes, vipers, and creepy things she had thrown in there to cook with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Little Red Riding Hood
This is one of those fairytales that maintained a little of its horror, but still, not as much as it used to. A little girl wears a come-bite-me red hood that attracts a wolf when she ventures to grandma’s house. She stupidly tells the beast where she’s going, and he gets there first, eating grandma, and disguising himself as the old woman — who must have been very, very hairy. So he eats her too, but in the later versions of the tale, the wolf loses out when sick grandma and the girl are cut out of the wolf by a hunter, who replaces the pair with stones, which kills the wolf. Seeing that wolfy was nice enough to eat them whole and not digest them, you think the hunter could be more humane. Guess not.
Before Little Red Riding Hood got a hunter savior in this tale, things were a little more messy. The wolf is a werewolf, and he feeds grandma’s blood and meat to the little girl, which leads me to wonder why fairytales were so obsessed with cannibalism. Anyhow, he makes her strip, throw her clothes in the fire, and has her come to bed. But before anything can happen, she figures things out and asks to go the bathroom so she can escape. While she still lives, there’s no getting around the tasty meal of grandma that she ate.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair so we may mate like frisky bunnies in your secluded tower where no one can hear us! Of course, sex is a big no-no, so there would be no sexy business in later incarnations of the long-haired lady. In the beginning, however, things were different. The enchantress bartered for the little girl, after she discovered that a man was stealing her rapunzel for his pregnant wife who was having some mad cravings. The price of this thievery — his soon-to-be-born daughter. At birth, the baby is given to the woman, who names her Rapunzel, and 12 years later, she’s locked in a tower. The only means of entry is her long hair, which she lets down for the enchantress to climb up. But a prince hears her singing, and she starts to let her hair down for him as well. When Rapunzel’s belly starts to swell, she tells the witch, who figures things out.
Sex can’t lead to goodness in the realms of horror, so her hair is cut and she’s cast into the forest. When the prince next climbs the hair, looking for action, he finds the enchantress instead. Thinking he’ll never see his love again, he leaps from the tower, but it doesn’t kill him. Instead, he’s blinded by thorns and wanders through the lands without sight until the one day when they’re reunited and his vision is returned. This is one of the least-gory fairytales, but has lots of suspenseful possibilities and creepy eye-torn wandering.
This little bugger is scary in his own right, a little gold-spinning demon who wants gifts of jewelry, and if not that, then a nice little baby. But the tale around him makes it all even tastier. A miller lies to the king, saying his kid can spin straw into gold. His boasting leads his daughter to be imprisoned, and she must spin up some gold for three nights, or she’ll be executed. (Although my favorite is the reference in Wikipedia that says: “she would be skewered and then frikasseed like a pig.”) There’s nothing like ego to put your “loved” ones in harms way, especially frikasseed harm.
So the girl is up sh*t’s creek until Rumpelstiltskin appears. The first night, she gives him a necklace for his help, the next time, a ring, and the last time, she’s got nothing left, so he wants her first-born. The king is impressed, so he marries her off to his son, and the baby comes along. Now she must wait for the little demon’s return. But he is way too nice when he comes to collect his baby prize — he says if she can figure out his name, she can keep her kid. She finds it out, and he savagely rips himself in two (according to the bloodiest version).
Ah, Snow White. It’s such a feel-good, family classic, isn’t it? The dwarves hi-ho, Snow White only dies/goes comatose for a teeny little bit, and ultimately, all is well in the kingdom with minimal hardship, at least for the fairest of them all.
But there have been many ways that the Queen tried to kill Snow White, and many ways that the poor, less-fair lady died herself. Along with that epic, poisoned apple, there was also a comb with poison, because I guess hair sucks up poison well, and before that, a little asphyxiation by means of a too-tight dress — that Queen, she had crafty, murderous ways. But her own tortured death was even craftier. Her doom has come in a myriad of ways, from falls, to death-by-overexertion, to the most creepy: “a pair of heated iron shoes were brought forth with tongs and placed before the Queen. She was then forced to step into these and dance until she fell down dead.” And the people of Buffy thought that dancing oneself into a cinder was scary…
The Juniper Tree
And finally, there’s a tale a little less known, but even more sinister. It starts off sort of like Snow White — a woman wants a red-like-blood, white-like-snow kid. She gives birth to a son and dies. Dad remarries, and wife #2 has a daughter named Marlinchen. Because these fairytale people are never very sane, things get messy. #2 tricks the boy, convincing him to reach into a chest. Instead of locking him in, she slams the lid on him, which decapitates him. Lovely, eh? But that’s only the beginning. She then props the boy up as if nothing has happened, tricks her daughter into boxing his ear, and Marlinchen thinks she knocked his head off.
Oh, but it gets even worse — the boy is turned into that oh-so-tasty meal of black pudding, and is fed to dad. His bones are buried at a juniper tree that a bird flies out of, collecting materials from a goldsmith, shoemaker, and miller. It flies back to the troubled home, dropping the gold chain on the father, shoes to the daughter, and a millstone on the mom, crushing her. The bird becomes the boy, and they all live happily ever after, after lots of horror and gore, of course.