By Edward Gambichler
Red Riding Hood
“…What big eyes you have……”
Valerie ( Red Riding Hood )
In answer to the eternal question posed to fans of the series of Twilight films, “Which team are you a member of….Team Edward ( vampires ) or Team Jacob ( werewolves )….I have to place myself firmly in the latter’s corner. Not that I’m desperate to see Taylor Lautner with his shirt off anytime soon, ( although…gotta admit…the guy is buff…) I just sympathize more with the werewolf’s lot in life. It all goes back to Lon Chaney Jr.’s tragic performance as the doomed lycanthrope Larry Talbot in Universal Pictures “The Wolfman” ( released in 1941 ). Lycanthropy is more or less viewed as a curse the victim does not ask for. The human lycanthrope ( usually afflicted by the bite of another werewolf ) is unable to halt the change that comes upon it during a full moon cycle. And as depicted in pop culture ( the 1981 movie ” American Werewolf in London” and the original BBC TV series “Being Human ), this change is not without a considerable amount of physical agony. He / or she also cannot control their actions in their lycan forms nor the killing of innocent victims and must bear the guilt and horror of being the cause of their deaths. However, I mostly side with werewolves because I’m so sick and tired of vampires complaining about living forever and having abilities 10x times that of any normal human being……as well as being irresistible to women.
In literature, the Wolf is often portrayed as an antagonist to the hero or heroine. Examples can be found in stories such as “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Three Little Pigs”. The most recognizable of these stories is “Little Red Riding Hood”, made popular by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. In this fairy tale, a young red cloaked Girl, on her way to her Grandmother’s house, is confronted by a hungry Wolf. The Wolf does not want to eat her in the open, so he suggests she go pick some flowers. The Wolf then steals away to her Grandmother’s house, consumes the old lady, then dresses up in her clothes and waits for the young Girl. When she finally arrives, the Girl mistakes the Wolf for her Grandmother. However, she grows suspicious about her Grandmother’s change in appearance ( she has larger eyes, larger nose, and teeth ). Before the Wolf can pounce on the Girl, a Hunter enters the house just in time and shoots the Wolf.
In the movie “Red Riding Hood” ( directed by “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke ), this time the werewolves are given the tortured romanticized facelift. In this adaptation of the popular folktale, Valerie ( the red cloaked heroine played by Amanda Seyfried ) is in love with the woodcutter Peter ( Shiloh Fernandez ). Unfortunately for the two lovers, Valerie’s parents, Cesaire and Suzette ( played by Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen ) promised her hand in marriage to Henry Lazar ( Max Irons ) in order to pay off a debt to his wealthy father, Adrian ( Michael Shanks ). Valerie and Peter decide to run away together, but their plans are tragically cut short by the vicious killing of Valerie’s sister, Lucy. It seems that similar killings have been attributed in the past by a powerful Werewolf. However, the townspeople had reached an agreement with the beast and monthly sacrifices had been offered to it in exchange for them being spared his hunger. The men of the town form a hunting party and soon capture and kill a large grey wolf ( thinking it is the culprit ). However, the local magistrate and experienced witch hunter, Father Solomon ( played by Gary Oldman ) arrives in town with an infantry of soldiers and deduces that the real Wolf is still at large ( stating that if the grey wolf were indeed a true werewolf then he would have reverted to his “human” form once killed ). And that not only is the real Wolf still at large, but that he is actually one of the townspeople.
First off, let me begin by stating the positive aspects of this film. The cinematography is beautiful and lush and the production design is a match for it. Also, Amanda Seyfried makes for a capable lead and the camera loves her. So few of today’s actresses are as capably photographed as Miss Seyfried is by this film’s cinematographer ( with my own personal gold standard example being Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” ).
Unfortunately, as far as an adaptation of the popular folktale of Little Red Riding Hood goes, this film falls short. The “whodunit murder mystery” aspect of the film feels forced as well as obvious and the same themes of forbidden love were already explored by Hardwicke in the first Twilight movie. Nothing new is being added to the formula and not even the prestige of a brilliant actor of Gary Oldman’s class can lift this production. Also, today’s special effects teams have veered away from traditional physical makeup appliances to depict werewolves and instead rely on CGI depictions ( making the film’s Wolf look like something out of a “Big Boss” level in a PS3 video game ).
Gone are the brilliant effects that made “The Howling” and “American Werewolf in London” the classic films that they were. If you really want to see the story of Little Red Riding Hood done right, I suggest renting the movie “The Company of Wolves”starring Angela Lansbury as the Grandmother
( a 1984 film by Neil Jordan, director of “The Crying Game” ). This movie not only offers a unique take on the fairy tale but also goes deep into the folklore and myths associated with Lycanthropy. However, if you really want to treat yourself to a true “out of the box” depiction of this classic fairytale then look no further than the dementedly skewed dark comedy 1996 film “Freeway”,
starring Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland ( in the roles of the Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf characters respectively ). This re-imagining is pure genius and Sutherland’s take on the Wolf is no less inspired. It is Reese Witherspoon, however, who steals this movie and she is a revelation. Although she is known primarily today for her numerous high profile dramatic turns and rom-com roles, this earlier performance of hers just happens to be my personal favorite. I dare anyone watching this film to name another actress in recent history who could have “knocked it out of the ballpark” in the way Miss Witherspoon does in this one. She is, as they say, an absolute “hoot”!