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Red Riding Hood
(1988)

Director: Adam Brooks  
Cast:
Craig T. Nelson, Isabella Rossellini, Amelia Shankley


I was a big reader when I was a child many, many years ago. Don't get me wrong, I still read quite a bit today in my adult years, though my tastes have changed as I've gotten older. Nowadays, my prime reading material has to do with movies and the motion picture industry, and most of it comes from my daily patrol of my favorite movie-related web sites. It was much different when I was younger. With no Internet available, I either had to have someone read for me, or do the work myself and read a book myself. And the subject matter that I would read or have read to me was mainly literature aimed at a young audience. When I was really, really small, some of my favorite reading material was nursery rhymes or fairy tales. I would really enjoy these offbeat tales and would read or have them read to me over and over. Of course, as I got older my tastes changed and I put those childish things away for my cerebral stories. It wasn't until I got much older that I learned that many of those tales I enjoyed as a child were in some aspects watered-down versions of tales that were originally written to be more darker. When I was in university and actually read the original Carlo Collodi Pinocchio text when doing a paper about the Disney Pinocchio movie, I discovered that the original Pinocchio did many gruesome things like kill the talking cricket that tries to have him see reason, and later bites off a cat's paw. Later, I learned about other child-unfriendly earlier versions of fairy tales. For example, the brothers Grimm version of Cinderella had the evil stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds at its ending. And in the original version of Sleeping Beauty, the prince, upon seeing the sleeping princess, had sex with her and immediately left, resulting in the sleeping princess giving birth to twins nine months later.

I think that most, if not all of you reading this review were heavily influenced by fairy tales and nursery rhymes when you were young too. Sometimes I wonder how many people like me immediately think of the words "wicked" and "ugly" when hearing or reading the words "stepmother" or "stepsister", thanks to such fairy tales like Snow White or Cinderella, for example. Anyway, with the vast majority of us being heavily influenced by fairy tales we heard or read as youngsters, it may come as a surprise, at least at first, to realize that the major Hollywood studios haven't made that many movies that are based on fairy tales. Sure, there are the Disney films, but aside from those movies that's pretty much it. However, when you think about it, it's pretty easy to deduce why Hollywood hasn't made that many fairy tales movies. One reason is that fairy tales as we know them today are aimed at children - there isn't a sizable adult audience out there that would pay to see a fairy tale movie. Also, with many movie theaters charging less of an admission price for children, it would be harder for the studios to make their money back. But there have been some efforts by non-Disney Hollywood studios over the years to make fairy tale movies. In the late '80s, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of The Cannon Group made a series of nine movies known as "Cannon Movie Tales", which concerned some of the most famous fairy tales such as Snow White and Hansel & Gretel. The plan was to release them all to theaters, but their first effort (Rumpelstiltskin) bombed so badly during its theatrical release (and was savaged by the few critics that bothered to see it) that the rest were released directly to video, at least in North America

While you may think (if you haven't seen any of these movies) that these movies were cheap knock-offs of the original tales, that wasn't entirely true. True, the movies were low budget, all filmed around the same time in Israel and recycled sets, costumes and props. But the movies managed to attract a surprising amount of talent. For example, Puss In Boots had Christopher Red Riding HoodWalken, The Emperor's New Clothes had Sid Caesar, Beauty And The Beast had John Savage and Rebecca De Mornay, Sleeping Beauty had Morgan Fairchild, and Snow White had Diana Rigg. So at some point there was some effort put into the making of each of these movies. Obviously, being a fan of the movies of Golan and Globus, it was inevitable I would sample one of their fairy tale movies to review one day, and I decided on Red Riding Hood when I came across its DVD in a local discount store. The plot: Seven years ago in some far off country, the beloved Lord Percival (Nelson, Coach) left to fight in some far off war, leaving his identical twin brother Godfrey (also Nelson) to sit on the throne. Since leaving, Percival has not been seen or heard of since, which suits Godfrey just fine, ruling with an iron fist over the poor peasants and constantly trying to court the wife (Rossellini, Blue Velvet) of his long-gone brother. Having sold his heart to the devil, Godfrey in return got Dagger (Rocco Sisto, Donnie Brasco), who can switch back and forth from being a man or a wolf, which helps in his constant spying on the peasants for any sign of rebellion. Getting indication that someone other than him has magic powers and is aiding the peasants - who is actually the elderly mother of his brother's wife - Godfrey sends out Dagger to find and eliminate this person. Dagger figures out that the best plan is to meet up with Percival's talkative daughter Linet (Shankley, Dreamchild) as she travels through the forest to deliver a basket of goodies to her grandmother.

Red Riding Hood was not the first Cannon Movie Tale that I've seen. Over the years, I've managed to catch most of them playing on cable up here in Canada, so I have a good idea of what they are like. Red Riding Hood has something in common with those other Cannon Movie Tales I've seen - it is a painfully shabby-looking movie. The cheapness of the production is evident in almost every frame. For example, the throne room of Godfrey's castle has walls that look like something you would see on stage in an off-Broadway stage play, not looking the least bit like actual mason work. And the set decoration is at an absolute minimum - there's just a throne and a few large candle holders in this great space. Outside the castle, we just get to see a couple (literally just a couple, no more) of other structures, and they not only look hastily built, they look like an awkward mix of European and Middle Eastern design. But believe it or not, the cheapest-looking parts of the movie are not with any set construction, but in the scenes taking place in the wilderness. When you heard the story of Red Riding Hood as a child, how did you imagine the wilderness? That's right, you imagined a thick forest full of gigantic trees and various plant life like bushes all colored in a striking shade of green. But since this movie was filmed in Israel, no doubt to cut costs, we don't get this breathtaking backdrop. The forest in this movie looks pathetic, with trees with small trunk circumferences that are spaced out widely from each other, and with short grass of a dull shade of brown covering the entire ground. While this may be real wilderness the filmmakers shot in, it neverless drags the movie further down and makes it near impossible for the viewers to be visually interested in the surroundings of the characters.

Yes, I realize Red Riding Hood is a movie that was aimed at very young children, and young children are often forgiving of movie shortcomings like low production values. But the movie is at times so tacky that I think many young children will feel something is wrong with what they're seeing, even if they don't know the words to describe what's going in their minds as they watch the movie. Anyway, while it can be agreed that the movie is cheap, I think it could also be agreed that the movie could have been saved by having strengths in certain other areas, like having a compelling story and/or memorable characters. Unfortunately, Red Riding Hood is a movie not just lacking with its budget. First, consider the story. Yes, I know that the classic Red Riding Hood fairy tale is pretty short, and they had to add some extra story to the screenplay. But couldn't screenwriter Carole Lucia Satrina come up with something more engaging than what is here? Despite the extra characters and the addition of elements like black magic, the movie has almost no narrative thrust in it. After the situation and characters are explained in the first ten or so minutes, there is nothing in the way of plot for the next half hour. Scene after scene unfolds with no purpose except to pad out the running time that (if you also count the opening and closing credits) runs only a total of eighty-one minutes. After that half hour of nothing happening, the character of Percival shows up, and you might think that things will start cooking now. Think again. The movie makes numerous lame excuses as to why Percival can't immediately rejoin his wife and daughter, as well as subsequently band with the citizens to overthrow Godfrey - all of which just stretches out things further. By the way, if you are wondering when Red Riding Hood gets around to making the journey to deliver goodies to her grandmother, that doesn't happen until about the one hour mark. And the time that goes by between Red Riding Hood starting her journey to grandma and the subsequent "What big eyes you have, Grandma!" portion of the movie is less than ten minutes.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the actors in this movie realized that they had been given an inadquate screenplay and as a result decided that it wasn't worth giving it their all in their performances. I say this, because I've seen these actors perform well in other works the past, so I know they can act. As the evil Godfrey, Nelson (wearing a hilarious long wig) speaks with no color in is voice. When his character yells, he is still speaking in a bland tone, only louder. And as the heroic Percival, he's no better, never coming across as a leader that people would rally behind. Rossellini is equally forgettable, and while Sisto shows playfulness as the devious wolf, you never sense he's giving it his all. And he is just as bad at his co-stars when it comes to singing. Singing? Yes, like the other Cannon Movie Tales, Red Riding Hood is a musical, with seven song numbers - all of which are terrible not just because the actors can't sing. For example, all the song numbers take several minutes to explain things (padding the movie further) that could be said with just one or two spoken sentences, like, "If I get lost in the forest, I'll find my way," or "I'm good at being bad". True, many popular musicals have been guilty of this, but they made up for it by the songs being catchy and tuneful, and often aided by energetic choreography by the players. As you probably have guessed, there's none of that stuff here. The songs are slow and sluggish, not helped that the music playing in the background is cheap and simple synthesizer sounds. As for the choreography in these numbers (or, should I say, the few times when there is choreography) is both inelaborate and comes across as though the actors hadn't fully mastered their dance moves before the camera rolled. As you can see, Red Riding Hood is pretty much a complete bust, like the other Cannon Movie Tales. However, despite the uniform bad quality, this movie series has built a small cult over the years. I don't know how to explain that, but I'm pretty confident in thinking that if you are a regular reader of this web site, chances are you won't be charmed by any movie in this series.

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See also: Cinderella, Once Upon A Girl, Pinocchio In Outer Space

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