Film review: Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), directed by Michael Cohn
Pregnant Lady Lilliana Hoffman (Joanna Roth) dies when the carriage she and her husband Friedrich (Sam Neill) travels in topples. Her unborn child, who was about to pop out anyway, is saved. A few years later, little Lilliana – Lilly (Taryn Davis) – has to put up with her father re-marrying. Lady Claudia (Sigourney Weaver) is not someone the child gets along with very well, but nothing terribly bad happens either.
The years pass, and the child grows up into a beautiful young woman – something the wicked stepmother can’t abide. Lady Claudia has finally, after nine whole years of trying, become pregnant, but when the child is born, she seems to lose the plot completely, and orders her mute brother Gustav (Miroslav Táborský) to kill her stepdaughter. Lilly (Monica Keena) is none the wiser – as far as she knows, she’s about to be married to a handsome, young doctor called Gutenberg (David Conrad), and everything is pretty great. She’s even the spitting image of her beautiful, long dead, mother!
Then she gets chased into the woods by her step-uncle out to stab her to death … and ends up meeting, what anyone familiar of the classical fairytale Snow White will know, the seven dwarves. Except only a couple or so are actually dwarves, the rest are average-heighted fellows. The gallant Will (Gil Bellows) quickly becomes Lilly’s protector. But neither Lilly nor her new, erm, allies are safe. The wicked stepmother is still out for the girl’s head, as soon as she finds out her brother tricked her into believing the girl had been disposed of …
Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that, but let’s not get too much into detail. Let’s say this isn’t one for the kids. Then again, the original stories by the Grimm brothers weren’t exactly cute either, and Snow White: A Tale of Terror is a stark reminder of that.
The performances were very good, Weaver even won an award for it, and I enjoy the autumnal feel and the woods and the castle. Well okay, aside from the apple that young Lilly plucks from a frickin’ OAK TREE in the beginning. WTF was that about?! Anyway. The costumes, especially the dresses, were beautiful.
The story itself is disturbing, but then again, that’s sort of the point – being a creepy version of a familiar fairytale. Felt sorry for Sam Neill, whose character got a rather raw deal. Some of the roles didn’t feel like they did much, they weren’t given enough time to develop into anything (Gustav and Gutenberg in particular). I wonder if Gustav was mute simply because he was played by an Eastern European who might not being able to speak English very well. Gutenberg was basically there to be a pretty face, because there was nothing there to explain why he should marry Lilly, aside from “he would like to”.
The best character of all was Will. Will had a past, and there was something to him. So much more interesting than the milksop Gutenberg, anyway. I love it when I see a character or event in a film and it makes me want to write something, and that’s what he did. He and Lilly both, actually. Which kinda rocked.
Anyway, it’s better than I remembered, but it’s not mindblowingly awesome. And it’s kinda weird that the dwarves aren’t dwarves. They are still miners, though. And the little bird inside the hourglass was cruel, even if “no animals were harmed during the making of this film”. Guess that was what the wicked stepmother was all about, at the end of the day.
3.5 out of 5 mischievous mirrors.