This live-action version of the children's tale closely follows the original, more sinister Grimm Brothers' tale rather than the sterilized 1937 Disney animated classic. The film premiered on the Showtime network and was subsequently released to home video.
Seven years after an accident that killed his pregnant wife and forced him to perform a crude C-section to save their baby Lilli, Frederick Hoffman (Sam Neill) prepares to marry Lady Claudia (Sigourney Weaver), a beauty-obsessed woman who converses with her devious image in a mirror. Claudia is
never able to appease young Lilli (Taryn Davis) and both remain distant until nine years later when Claudia's much-anticipated pregnancy ends in stillbirth. Her hatred for the blossoming Lilli (now played by Monica Keena) boils over. She saves her baby's corpse from incineration and, with the help
of her mute brother (Miroslav Taborsky), uses black magic in an effort to kill Lilli. Lilli, who had been planning to marry a young doctor (David Conrad), escapes into the woods and is aided by a brood of misfits. She eventually falls for their leader Will (Gil Bellows).
As the mirror conspires with Claudia to bring her baby back to life through Frederick's death, she uses magical means to kill several of Lilli's new friends. In the meantime, Frederick (injured after falling off a horse while out searching for Lilli) has been given a slow-acting poison by Claudia.
Claudia then transforms herself into a kindly old hag and offers an apple to Lilli, who apparently chokes to death on it. Before her burial, Will drags Lilli from the coffin, she coughs up the apple chunk, and they race off with the doctor to save Frederick. At the castle, Claudia advances on
Lilli, who stabs the evil mirror. Claudia dies as she is pierced by the mirror's shards; the mirror's destruction frees Frederick from her spell.
Director Michael Cohn (WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS) shows a flair for horror in this expensive production that emphasizes the disturbing elements only hinted at in Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937). The quick pacing, excellent medieval costume design, top-flight makeup effects (seen to
best effect on the faces of the misfits and the old hag), and the beautiful locations in Prague and the Czech Republic also help to sharpen this slick effort.
Scripters Tom Szollosi and Deborah Serra succeed in their attempt to put a fresh spin on an old story. In this version, the wicked stepmother is not initially evil; she seems to suffer instead from mental illness, finally succumbing to violence after her stillbirth provides her with a reason to
hate Lilli, who has never liked her in return. In addition, the misshapen characters Lilli encounters in the woods are far from Disney's happy-go-lucky dwarves. Here, they are depicted as individuals who have become outcasts from society due to their physical abnormality (only one of them is a
dwarf); unlike Disney's dwarves, these characters often menace Lilli--in fact, one even atttempts to rape her. Performances are uniformly strong, with Weaver delivering a nicely detailed turn as the villain of the piece. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: R
- Review: This live-action version of the children's tale closely follows the original, more sinister Grimm Brothers' tale rather than the sterilized 1937 Disney animated classic. The film premiered on the Showtime network and was subsequently released to home video… (more)