Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mockbusted #11: Hansel And Gretel

Recently I reviewed the action fantasy horror film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which couldn't have been more in my wheelhouse, but unfortunately failed to live up to the potential of its premise. Thankfully, the next day I was able to pick up the first Asylum mockbuster of 2013, simply titled Hansel and Gretel, and while on its own it is at best just okay, compared to the film it is banking off of, this latest example of straight to DVD thievery does so much right that its mainstream counterpart did so wrong.

Before I get into the review, I should point out that there are actually several Hansel And Gretel mockbusters floating around, more than usual it would seem, and I've been trying to track as many of them down as I can amidst a lot of confusion between them. The one I'm reviewing today is the only one I've yet seen, which is the official Asylum version starring Dee Wallace, but evidently there is at least one other one currently released called Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft with Eric Roberts and Vanessa Angel, and another coming in February 2013 called Hansel and Gretel Get Baked where the witch uses pot brownies instead of candy. Also, Wikipedia notes a SyFy Channel original film I must have missed called Witchhunter Gretl with Shannon Doherty, but it is listed as having been released in February of last year, so I'm not even sure if it counts. In any case, I'll try to get to all of these eventually, but in the meantime, I can only look at the one I managed to get.

The Asylum's Hansel And Gretel is a modern take on the classic fairytale, re-purposing the sweet old lady in the woods into a Texas Chainsaw style insane cannibal with a family of inbred hillbilly murderers to do her dirty work. All the beats are still there, two twin siblings who get lost in the woods, lured into the cabin, and kept in a dungeon and fattened up for supper, except now they are teenagers and the witch is the mom from E.T. Other than the contemporary setting, the plot is not all that different from the fairy tale, and I appreciated the more traditional take on the old story, which is sort of a staple for this company whenever they are ripping off a movie based on an established piece of literature, especially when the original story is in the public domain and nobody can sue them. It has its flaws, and a good amount of cheese, but while never quite reaching the heights of Sherlock Holmes or Nazis At The Center Of The Earth, I'd say just in terms of structure, tone, and pacing Hansel And Gretel is definitely up there with some of the Asylum's better efforts.

The two young leads seemed to start off a bit wooden, but once they get to the dark forest and the slow creeping dread of what we know is coming sets in, they both do a fine job of capturing the escalating terror of the situation. The outwardly dickish but secretly noble Hansel is the first victim, his leg gored by a bear trap before he is tricked into the old witch's basement, while Gretel is kept upstairs, to be groomed as the witch's protege and the newest member of this twisted family. If you've seen one crazy clan of cannibals in the woods movie you've seen them all, but at the very least this one presents the well trodden material well enough so that its never boring even if it is so very familiar. Dee Wallace chews the scenery like its made of gingerbread, but she looks like she's having a lot of fun as the cackling mad woman, and I always have to give points when respectable actors with real work under their belt are still willing to put in their all even when slumming it on home video.

I had two minor problems with the film, but neither one really ruined my enjoyment of the movie all that much. The first is that as soon as I get on board with the more realistic, essentially magic free take on the material, all of a sudden this old crone I'm thinking is just crazy actually has magic powers. I would have no problem with this, except that the way it is done seems to take away from the brutal benefits of the modern set-up. Up to a point, almost everything she does and says about herself concerning actual magic abilities, including a hallucinogenic powder and the notion of immortality through cannibalism, could be written off as just her being insane, but then we get a moment where blood on a piece of paper magically becomes a signature, thus validating the presence of magic in the story. I would have preferred either more magic, or none at all, as the mix does not really work here.

My other issue lies with the ending. Without giving away the twist, Hansel and Gretel ends with a character turn that not only betrays the spirit of the source material, but does so in a way that is really poorly set up before hand. I have no problem with the movie going against the story necessarily, though given how much closer it hued to it than Witch Hunters I was a little surprised and saddened by the sudden 180. The problem is the shock is not earned, as save for one line that didn't really make any sense at the time, there's no explanation for why this character would do what they do. Its an effective moment to end the film on, but it feels like something they just wanted to throw in because it would be cool, and I just wish they would have spent a little more time seeding in more justification for it throughout the rest of the movie. That being said, just before this moment we get a crazy old witch's face exploding inside a human sized oven, so I guess I can't complain too much.

Overall, The Asylum's Hansel and Gretel is by far the superior adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale out of the two I've seen so far this year. With at least three more potentially to go, it remains to be seen if any of the others will top it (though I somehow doubt the pot brownie one has a chance). If and when I can find them and review them, I'll let you know, but for now, if you like hillbilly cannibal movies and need to wash the bad taste of Witch Hunters out of your brain, go ahead and give this one a shot.
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