03.08.11 12:04 AM ET
12 Sexed-Up Fairy Tales
'Little' Red Riding Hood No More
In Catherine Hardwicke's revamp of the Brothers Grimm classic, in theaters March 11, Amanda Seyfried takes a turn as a femme fatale in sheep's clothing. The doe-eyed Valerie (Seyfried), Hardwicke's fiery-caped siren, falls for a smoldering woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), despite her family's plans for her to marry Henry Lazar (Max Irons). As if the scandal doesn't raise enough eyebrows, the town is haunted by a werewolf, which further complicates her love affair. Not seduced yet? Hardwicke told Newsweek that even the wolf is a temptation, "In the traditional story, the wolf cross-dresses and lures her into bed. That’s pretty kinky right there! The wolf is the original tranny." Kinky, indeed!
Snow White's Terrifying Turn
Warning: This is not your Disney fairy tale. While director Michael Cohn's 1997 made-for-TV movie, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, stayed true to the Brothers Grimm dark aesthetic, Sigourney Weaver pumped up the sex factor as Claudia, Snow White's evil queen of a stepmother. Weaver earned Emmy and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her performance as the vain, lusty, mirror-obsessed queen, but the maturation of the tale extends beyond the sex. Claudia is out to get Snow White, otherwise known as Lilli (Monica Keena), after the stepmother catches the girl dancing with her father, Friedrich (Sam Neill), the queen's husband, at a ball. Enraged, Claudia gives birth to Friedrich's stillborn baby and, in true deranged evil stepmother form, holds Lilli accountable. She hatches a plan to kill Lilli, poisoned apple and all, and in the meantime takes to seducing Friedrich to solidify her position as the fairest in the land. If the hint at father-daughter incest isn't enough to make this Snow White unsuitable for children, when Lilli seeks solace with the dwarves, they try to rape her. Walt would roll over in his grave.
Labyrinth's May-December Romance
Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) sings about his kidnapped "babe" whose "love had gone" in
Jim Henson's 1986 cult classic, it's hard to know if he's talking about the actual baby he has, in fact, kidnapped, or 15-year-old Sarah (Jennifer Connelly). Their romance isn't explicit but is creepy nonetheless. Filled with teenage angst, Sarah has no interest in babysitting her brother, Toby, and wishes a Goblin King from the book she's reading—called
The Original Sexed-Up Riding Hood
Before Amanda Seyfried stirred the pot with her own red cape, The Company of Wolves reached an inspired level of campiness as a Little Red Riding Hood-meets-werewolves cautionary tale about staying away from strange men. On a trip to Granny's (Angela Lansbury), Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) encounters a hunter who challenges her in a race to the house. She loses, and so does Granny: The hunter is a werewolf who's been terrorizing their village and he spares no one. When Rosaleen finally arrives at the house, he seduces her. While that's accepted, what follows is not: Rosaleen catches a case of Stockholm Syndrome and transforms into a werewolf herself, to live with the hunter forever. This lusty 1984 version of the fairytale does pull a few gems from the text, including when Rosaleen comments on the hunter's physique, "My, what big arms you have," she says. "All the better to hug you with," he responds. We're not sure that's the only reason.
Lovers Reunite in The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner's 1987 adaptation of William Goldman's book of the same title is a saucy take on the tale of reunited lovers. The hunky Westley (Cary Elwes) and stunning Buttercup (Robin Wright) are two kids in love when Westley goes out in search of a fortune so they can marry—and is supposedly killed. With Westley dead, Buttercup reluctantly agrees to marry the petulant Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) but is kidnapped just before the wedding. By a stroke of luck, she's rescued by Westley, who's alive and has been searching for her, clad in a bad-boy pirate disguise. With a 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the flick packs wholesome family fun, but it also has grownup undertones. Between Buttercup's threat to commit suicide when she's recaptured by Prince Humperdinck and Westley's penchant for answering her masochistic commands with "As you wish," never before has a fairy tale seen so much co-dependency.
The Original Beauty and the Beast
Singing candelabras and dancing teapots this is not. Before Disney revamped the tale of a prince transformed into a hairy beast, Belle faced a truly harrowing "bête" in Jean Cocteau's 1946 La Belle et la Bête. While Belle and the beast get friendly in the cartoon version, Cocteau's film is an exercise in stalking. Belle (Josette Day) is forced to live with the beast (Jean Marais) as a punishment when her father is caught stealing a rose from his garden. The beast is hairy, scary, and unrelenting in his desire to marry Belle; he proposes to her every day at dinner, despite her constant rejections. Though Belle comes to like the beast, she learns that her father is ill, and is permitted to go home on the condition that she returns. Like any good fairy tale, this one has a pair of evil sisters who throw a wrench in her plan—they're jealous she lives in a mansion, despite conditions of house arrest with a beast. But Belle finds a way to get back, and like clockwork, her beast transforms from hideous to hot. Sure, it may sound like a trite story, but this grownup fairy tale made Roger Ebert's list of great movies.
Cinderella Grows Up
If Dougray Scott were Prince Charming in every iteration of this tale, Cinderella's stepsisters really would have a reason to slice off their feet to fit into her glass slipper. Roger Ebert said director Andy Tennant's 1998 version, Ever After, " safely launched" Drew Barrymore's adult career, and adult it was. The story opens with an appearance from the Brothers Grimm, asking an elderly woman to verify the story of a cinder girl. She tells them about Danielle (Barrymore), whose father died shortly after marrying a gold-digging baroness (Angelica Houston) with two spoiled daughters. After his death, Danielle was forced to become a servant for the family, but thanks to a chance encounter, she begins a bevy of secret rendezvouses with Prince Henry (Scott), while dressed in disguise as her mother, a comtesse. Their nighttime getaways are steamy—Cinderella is all grown up, after all—until they come to an abrupt halt when Danielle's identity is revealed. Naturally, she gets her happy ending with Prince Henry, and balance is restored to the world of unrealistic love stories.
Red Riding Hood, Juvenile Delinquent
To grandmother's house she goes… with a gun and an R-rating. Of all the big-screen fairy tales, Freeway's adaptation—a term to be used loosely—might be the most deranged. Director Matthew Bright's 1996 flick stars a young Reese Witherspoon as Vanessa, a wayward teen running from a social worker after her prostitute mother is arrested. When Vanessa's car breaks down on her way to her grandmother's, she hitches a ride with—brace yourself—a serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland) who preys on women. But Vanessa's packing heat, and when the killer Bob Wolverton tries to put on the moves, she doesn't hold back one bit. Despite Wolverton's apparent violent streak, his record is clean, and Vanessa is sent to jail while he recuperates from her gunshots. In the end, the Brothers Grimm have the final say: Vanessa and Wolverton have one last showdown in—where else—her grandmother's house. While the movie sounds far-fetched, The New York Times gave it a favorable review, writing that if the Grimms were alive, "it would be no surprise to find them in Hollywood, making films like Freeway."
A Pan, a Civil War, and a Labyrinth, Oh My
What Pan's Labyrinth lacks in sex, it makes up for in skin-crawling creepiness. And, it's no wonder. From the mind that conceived Hellboy and The Devil's Backbone, Guillermo Del Toro's 2006 film about a young woman living in fascist Spain is populated by eerie creatures and a backdrop of post-civil war violence. At the instruction of Pan, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) must complete three tasks in an abandoned labyrinth to prove she is the reincarnation of a princess. But, with a paternalistic stepfather hunting Spain's rebels, and a sickly pregnant mother, she struggles to complete the tasks. The film, which won Oscars for art direction, cinematography, and makeup, borrows a page from the Grimms' tragic take on fairy tales, and Ofelia meets a bloody end. But not before she defeats the Pale Man—a child-eating monster in the labyrinth.
Alice Returns to Wonderland
Many have taken on Lewis Carroll's story of Alice's adventures, but between Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Alice never had so much eye candy in wonderland. Tim Burton's 2010 adaptation tells the story of 19-year-old Alice's (Mia Wasikowska) return to Wonderland to slay a mythical creature, the Jabberwocky, and dethrone the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who together terrorize the inhabitants down the rabbit hole. While Alice might fall short of other fairy tales' sexiness— The New York Times called her "a more convincing vision of death than of sex"—this version won at the box office. Burton's flick stormed theaters, bringing in just over $1 billion worldwide and won Oscars for art direction and costume design. She's reunited with Wonderland and it feels so good.
Jack and the Beanstalk's Adult Redux
If there's a grownup fairy tale formula, Jack the Giant Killer employs it to its fullest, but not well. With a damsel in distress, a giant, an evil magician, and a farm boy-turned-hero—not to mention a whole lot of bad claymation—the 1962 film has all the makings of campy fun, but was described as a "a gory eyeful" by The New York Times. It's not entirely a loss: The strapping Jack (Kerwin Mathews) and Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) at least provide romantic drama when Jack must rescue the princess from the grips of a giant created by an evil sorcerer (Torin Thatcher), then accompany her across the sea in the face of the sorcerer's onslaught. If this version leaves something to be desired by adult viewers, a new version directed by Bryan Singer is due in theaters in 2012.
Beastly's Teenage Fairytale
From hot blond to ugly bomb, Alex Pettyfer takes his turn as the beast in a Beauty and the Beast for the teen set. In the flick, now in theaters, the shallow Kyle (Pettyfer) is transformed into a misbegotten creature by a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) and will only change back when a woman falls for his—gasp—personality. Vanessa Hudgens plays Lindy, the Belle to Kyle's beast in Daniel Barnz's re-imagining of the "tale as old as time." Even if E! called it "another shallow teen romance," the movie at least promises some PG-13 action.
Alex Berg is an assistant video editor at The Daily Beast. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and iVillage. She holds a master's in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's from Cornell University. You can see more of her work here.