Retelling classic fairy tales is nothing new in literature or at the cinema. Sometimes it's a modern twist, other times the tale shows the story from another character's perspective. However the story is mixed-and-matched, the recent release of Beastly -- a modern update of Beauty and the Beast -- and Red Riding Hood, plus the announcement of a new Snow White starring Julia Roberts, Kristen Stewart, and Charlize Theron, prove these twisted tales are all the rage. Here are a few of our favorite new takes on old stories, but beware, these fairy tales aren't for the kids! Warning: spoilers ahead.
Snow White – A Tale of Terror (1997)
Based on: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The tale: Lady Claudia, an evil stepmother (as they often seem to be in fairy tales) tries to have her stepdaughter, Lilli, killed. But the attempt fails when Lilli escapes, hiding in the woods. She's found, and grudgingly given refuge, by seven outcast miners. Using her mother's mirror, Lady Claudia (Sigourney Weaver, who earned an Emmy Award® nomination for her role), discovers Lilli is still alive, and, much like the familiar tale, she disguises herself as an ugly old woman and delivers that fateful, deadly apple to Lilli. Though Lilli succumbs to the poison apple, she is saved and ultimately confronts her stepmother, finally destroying the magic mirror with a knife.
How it's twisted: The title says it all. Perhaps even darker than the original Grimm brothers' tale, this gothic interpretation replaces the dwarves with the miners, who do not exactly welcome Lilli into their home. But it seems the character of Lady Claudia truly imbues the darkest nature of this adaptation. She takes evil to elevated levels, going so far as to seduce Lilli's fiancé, attempts the resurrection of her stillborn son, and scares her brother -- the man responsible for Lilli's attempted murder -- into committing suicide, and that's just what we can list here!
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Based on: Beauty and the Beast
The tale: Widely considered one of the finest fantasy films, even today, the French La Belle et la Bête tells the story most of us are familiar with: Belle offers to take her father's place as the Beast's prisoner after he takes a rose from the Beast's garden. Over time, Belle comes to look past the Beast's -- who is actually a cursed, handsome prince -- outwardly grotesque appearance, and sees him for the man behind the monster.
How it's twisted: Unlike some adaptations, this stunning black and white film actually stays very close to the original fairy tale by Leprince de Beaumont. However, director Jean Cocteau focused on the more adult, emotional aspects of the relationship between Belle and her princely Beast, envisioning a dark, though dreamy and romantic, environment.
Based on: Little Red Riding Hood
The tale: Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon), an illiterate teenager sets off to her grandmother's house … after her mother is arrested for prostitution. Before leaving, she stops to see her boyfriend, who gives her a gun to sell once she gets to her final destination. When her car breaks down along the highway, Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland) stops and offers to take her to her grandmother's house. Unknown to Vanessa, Bob is a serial killer. until he confesses and attacks her. She shoots him, and finds herself arrested, the police unconvinced of her story. She escapes from prison during transfer and finally makes her way to her grandmother's house, only to discover Bob has killed her grandmother.
How it's twisted: Though it may seem like it on the surface, this isn't a film that sets out purely to titillate. The original “Little Red Riding Hood” was a tale of warning to adolescent girls, and, while the themes of sex and violence are taken to amped up levels in this modern retelling, in many ways, it offers up the same warnings.
Into the Woods (1991)
Based on: Pretty much all of them
The tale: A group of characters venture into the woods, each seeking something they believe will improve their lives: Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but is prevented by her evil stepmother and stepsisters; Jack seeks to find a better life after his friend Milky-White the cow is sold by his wealth-hungry mother; the baker and his wife long for a child, but the witch next door claims she's cursed them, something that can only be broken with a potion made from “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.”
How it's twisted: With a veritable who's who fairy tale names comprising the characters of this story, no one and nothing is sacred. Based on Steven Sondheim's Tony Award® winning lyrics and score, and played by much of the original Broadway cast, this imagined world has Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and many more living side-by-side as neighbors. Witty dialogue and comedic displays counterbalance the dark undertones of the characters' search for that which each desires. While each ultimately gets what they wish for, the tale doesn't end with the traditionally expected happily ever after.
Based on: Alice in Wonderland
The story: Set almost 150 years after the original book, Alice (Catarina Scorsone), a woman in her 20s, finds herself literally in another world after her new boyfriend is kidnapped. She follows the van that snatched him off the street and falls through a looking glass. Captured with numerous other humans from her world, Alice manages to escape and ends up in the company of Hatter, a man who knows his way through the underworld of Wonderland. As she tries to get back home, Alice and Hatter seek to set things right, and manage to topple to towers of cards and casinos and free the humans who'd been abducted.
How it's twisted: Time has also passed in Wonderland, and not kindly. The previously skewed world of mad tea parties and off-with-your-head croquette games has morphed into a near-dystopian land of playing card-buildings and casinos, all under the cruel rule of a heartless monarch. Though many familiar characters are present -- The Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates), The Mad Hatter -- The White Rabbit is now a secret organization that works for the queen, abducting humans and forcing them to play in the casinos so their emotions can be stolen and used as a drug. One familiar concept from the original remains: Alice in a blue dress.
Tin Man (2007)
Based on: The Wizard of Oz
The tale: Though initially this mini-series seems to be merely a modern retelling, with Oz similarly updated, it becomes clear that time has passed in both worlds, and DG (Zooey Deschanel) is more than just a waitress tired of her Kansas life. Actually placed on Earth to hide, and placed in the foster care of two androids playing the part of her guardians. When the ruler of Oz finds DG and sends her soldiers through a tornado to kill her, DG escapes through the storm and finds herself in Oz. When DG learns that she was once a citizen of Oz, she sets out to learn what she can about herself and her family.
How it's twisted: How do you count the ways? Aside from some similar names, very little in this tale lines up with the original story by Frank L. Baum. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable as it reveals its own path along the -- now crumbling -- yellow brick road. Oz is O.Z., the Outer Zone, a near police-state ruled by the sorceress Azkadellia. Wyatt Cain (Neil McDonough) is a Tin Man, a law enforcement officer, encased in a tin suit for disobeying Azkadellia. He and DG join forces with Glitch (Alan Cumming), a man who's had half of his brain removed, and Raw, a “viewer” (similar to a psychic) who's people have been enslaved by Azkadellia. The final kicker is learning that DG is not Dorothy Gale, per se, but the many-great granddaughter of the “Gray Gale,” the original Dorothy of Baum's books, and the first person to “slip” between the worlds.
The Company of Wolves (1985)
Based on: Little Red Riding Hood
The tale: Taking a more gothic flourish -- with a dash of horror -- to the classic story of a little girl lost in the woods. Rosaleen, a young woman entering puberty, goes to bed and dreams her sister is killed by wolves. While her parents mourn, she is sent to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury), who knits a red cape for her granddaughter and tells her tales steeped with morals and warnings. Years later, Roseleen returns home and finds herself dealing with the advances of an amorous local boy. As per the tale, Rosaleen goes to visit her grandmother, complete with a basket of baked goods, and encounters an attractive huntsman along the way. But he's more than he appears.
How it's twisted: This tale unfolds within Rosaleen's dreams, yes, but it's more than just fairy tales taking place in a young girl's mind. The wolves are werewolves, as is the huntsman who challenges her in the woods of her dreams. Like the original version of Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf kills the grandmother and Little Red (Rosaleen) fights back, wounding the wolf/huntsman. He reverts to wolf form, injured but not dead. And Rosaleen, feeling pity for him, pets him tenderly. Rosaleen herself becomes a wolf and, to escape the other villagers. Much like the original Little Red Riding Hood, this is a tale steeped with awakening sexuality, but ending with both male and female characters in wolf form.
Faerie Tale Theatre (1982 - 1987)
Based on: Pretty much all of them
The tale: A series of classic fairy and folk tales hosted by Shelley Duvall and acted by an enviable cast of Hollywood elite (Robin Williams, Liza Minnelli, Matthew Broderick, Mick Jagger, Eric Idle, and Susan Sarandon, just to name a few) take on 26 beloved stories.
How it's twisted: Perhaps lighter fare compared to some of the other adaptations listed above, this series is no less enjoyable, if nothing else for the cast of characters who joined Shelley Duvall.
The following movies may not be adaptations of existing fairy tales, but they embrace the true spirit of storytelling, and we just couldn't leave them off the list.
The Princess Bride
These are our twisted fairy tale favorites … what are your yours? --Jill Corddry