Little Red Riding Hood is the enduring tale of a young woman who learns her lesson about "straying from the path" at the claws of a rapacious wolf. First an oral account — then written and read, or acted out onstage and on film — and beloved by generations across the world in many variations, the classic Grimm Fairy Tale is undoubtedly the best-known.
The black and white short film by David Kaplan, shot 10 years ago and starring Christina Ricci, is coming to DVD for the first time on Tuesday, June 16. [click the image to enlarge it]
It is based upon my least-favorite interpretation of the cautionary yarn (that of Abruzzo's Italian folktale, entitled "The False Grandmother"). To be honest: I didn't much care for the more puerile, scatological aspects of his film, but I did find Kaplan a most interesting and enlightening interview subject.
Staci Layne Wilson / Horror.com: This is the first time Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories is on DVD. Who do you feel will be your audience? Can genre fans simply enjoy, or does having a scholarly bent help the viewer?
David Kaplan: Genre fans should definitely enjoy all three films. There is sexuality, violence, cannibalism, suspense, a talking frog, and severed thumbs!
SLW: I read that this film has been shown in classrooms, and studied for its deeper feminine message; why, in your opinion does *this* film speak to that crowd? (After all, it's not the first one to empower the protagonist, or to sexualize the story.)
Kaplan: In this variant of the story, we find a girl who is clever and resourceful, who manages to extradite herself from a tricky situation without the help of a male huntsman. It is a story of transition, exploration, and sexual experimentation. It's a take on the tale worth sharing.
SLW: Does Red know that's really not her grandmother? Why does she get into bed and then leave? Is she punishing the wolf for killing her grandma?
Kaplan: Yes, she knows. And she's willing to play along, up to a point. It's a sexual flirtation, a game. She's in control of how far she wants to go.
SLW: Was the look of the film influenced by Murnau? Guy Maddin? What were some of your thoughts while conceptualizing the short.
Kaplan: Murnau's Sunrise is one of my favorites! Other influences included Laughton's Night of the Hunter, Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, and many other films and books and paintings. The music, by Debussy, also played a big role in developing the film in my mind's eye.
SLW: What's your own favorite cinematic take on this fairy tale? I mean, there are so many; from Neil Jordan's more literal The Company of Wolves, to Matthew Bright's more vague Freeway.
Kaplan: Tex Avery's 1943 cartoon, "Red Hot Riding Hood," is my all-time favorite by far.
SLW: Why, in your opinion, do movie-going audiences still cling to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror? Is it sort of a replacement for the crutch of religion, as we ostensibly become less God-fearing? Or is it merely embraced as fun escapism?
Kaplan: I think these genres relate to dreams and tap into the collective unconscious. They explore something deep and complex. It is particularly satisfying to go into a dark cinema and enter this dream-space.
SLW: How / why did you cast Christina Ricci, and how did you know Timour Bourtasenkov?
Kaplan: Christina and I had just worked together at the Sundance Institute's directors workshop. She was absolutely perfect for the part: she has an uncanny resemblance to the famous Gustave Dor illustration of the character. She also has a sparkling intelligence in her eyes. Timour, the wolf, was one of several dancers who auditioned for the part. He was introduced to me by our choreographer. He is primarily a ballet dancer, not a film actor.
SLW: How did you decide what the look and demeanor of the wolf should be? And, aside from yours, what's the best onscreen wolf-man you can think of?
Kaplan: Since we didn't have a huge budget for special effects, I made the decision to approach the look of the wolf in a more symbolic, poetic way. Casting a dancer adds a certain physicality and sensuality to the role.
As for other werewolves, maybe An American Werewolf in London. Or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (The Wolfman makes an appearance). …Does Cat People count?
SLW: Sure! So what's on the DVD in terms of extras, and how did you approach the commentary?
Kaplan: There is commentary by Jack Zipes, author of "The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood" and many other books and essays about fairy tales. I also did commentary on all three short films. I try to explain the background of the stories and how I approached each adaptation as a writer/director.
SLW: If you could make a feature-length film, no-holds-barred, of any Grimm's Fairy Tale, what would it be, and why?
Kaplan: I have a dark, scary script of Hansel and Gretel that's ready to go. Great visual imagery in that one — the dark forest, the house of cake, the trail of bread crumbs, the witch and her oven... It would be fantastic [to make]!
SLW: Thank you, David.