The true story behind Gretel and Hansel is even darker than the horror movie. It’s not the only Grimm tale that should get the horror treatment.
Oz Perkins, the director behind the beautiful slow burner I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House and the fantastically creepy The Blackcoat’s Daughter turns his considerable talents towards the Grimm Fairy Tale Hansel and Gretel. This mostly familiar retelling of the classic tale finds a brother and sister played by Sophia Lillis(Gretel) and Samuel Leakey(Hansel) stumbling into the nexus of evil. This version focuses more on Gretel and her coming of age story. The responsibility an older sibling feels for their younger brother can be heavy especially when survival is the goal. Add in the confusion of adolescence and things become even more complex.
The story based on actual German history is just as horrific as the fantasy of a cannibalistic witch and her candy-coated cottage. In 1314 a great famine plagued Europe caused parents to abandon children and in some cases do the unthinkable. This blight lasted seven years and resulted in millions of deaths. By the time the Grim Brothers were writing their fairy tales in 1812, the story took on the famous confectionary witchy vibe.
Mothers were fed infants and desperate families dug up the dead from cemeteries and ate the rotting flesh. There were many stories that preceded the Grimm version including a, particularly nasty Romanian tale titled The Little Boy and The Wicked Stepmother. This version takes a darl story and makes it a black hole. The children are abandoned and manage to find their way home only to have the stepmother kill the little boy. The sister is then forced to prepare his body for the family meal. Hansel and Gretel from the Grimm Brothers came from Henriette Dorothea Wilde a neighbor who later became one of the brother’s wives.
The story has been retold many times from the 2013 train wreck Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters to the deliriously funny Hansel and Gretel Get Baked. Whether you like your cannibal witches ambiguous like Hagazussa or Nic Cage freak fests there seems to be one for everyone.
The fairy tales themselves were never intended to be children’s books. Rather, they were intended to continue the oral history of Germanic folklore during the Napoleonic Wars. The original works had no illustrations and were full of murders and violence. Among the stories are most of the Disney princess mainstays like Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White.
The darkest stories make for the best horror movies. Obvious choices would, of course, include the princess stories which would take on a completely different vibe. Rapunzel would let her hair down and be scalped by the weight of those climbing her hair. Her story could be revamped to include the pregnancy cravings her mother had akin to Pica that caused her to be imprisoned in the first place. In Cinderella, her stepsisters cut their toes off to fit into the glass slipper that of course belongs to Cinderella. Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by a wolf only to have the huntsman cut her from the wolf’s belly.
Lesser-known stories would be even better. The Girl Without Hands features the Devil tricking a farmer into giving up his daughter. His daughter was without sin, however, and could not be taken to Hell without cutting her own hands off. She was still innocent. When she wept on her stumps she still could not be taken. The daughter was cast out into the world to fend for herself without hands.
Trickster demons are a common trope. The girl eventually gets a happy ending but it takes a fair amount of misery to get there. The concept that you should be careful what you wish for is a classic. Fantasy Island in the ’80s capitalized on that innate belief that the grass is always greener on the other side. The horror movie version of Fantasy Island continues that thread.
Mother Holle a very moral heavy tale would fit nicely within this landscape. A mother has two daughters. One is beautiful and hardworking and the other is lazy and ugly. One day the kind daughter falls into a well and arrives in another land that is wonderful. She helps many things there and although happy wishes to return home. Mother Holle returns her covered in gold. When the nasty sister sees this she throws herself down the well and returns covers in pitch that never washes off.
A second little known fable Fitcher’s Bird would make an excellent female revenge tale. Girl power is huge right now and everyone loves to watch entitled male turds get theirs. In this creative take on Bluebeard’s Castle three sisters one up a sorcerer after he kills two of the three.
A third story Hans the Hedgehog could easily translate into a Netflix saga similar to The Witcher which does have a hedgehog/man pivotal character. In the story a childless couple is so desperate for a child they claim they would be happy with even a hedgehog son. The beast grew and became smart and resourceful. As a young adult, he comes upon two Kings who are lost. Asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for directions Hans gets tricked by the first King. The second King is honest and offers his daughter who Hans marries. In his marriage bed, he sheds his hedgehog skin and reveals an attractive man.
In The Juniper Tree, an evil stepmother kills and cooks her stepson for her husband who enjoys it so much he asks for seconds. The child gets revenge eventually but a fairy tale that starts that dark and then becomes a vehicle for victim revenge would be delightful fun.
A final story The Robber Bridegroom is a grisly tale of three women and a band of men who take things way too far at a bachelor party of sorts. One woman is tortured and killed while another hides in the home of an old crone. This poor woman is forced to drink wine until her heart bursts, is forced to remove her clothing and then has a hand mutilated by the men. They cut off a finger trying to get a gold ring. The finger flies to the air and lands in the lap of the hiding woman. The next day after the wedding the hidden survivor recounts the tale from the night before saying it was only a nightmare between each sentence until she reveals the dead woman’s finger. The bridegroom and his fellow killers are executed.
The Brothers Grimm stories are not light bedtime reading but designed as cautionary tales of vengeance and violence. Gretel and Hansel will be no different, This Friday #followthebreadcrumbs and try not to get eaten by the witch.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.