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This is a retelling of the old tale of Hansel and Gretel, but set in England in the 1920s. To the children and staff at the orphanage, Auntie Roo is a kindly American widow who gives them a lavish Christmas party each year in her mansion, Forrest Grange. In reality, she is a severely disturbed woman, who keeps the mummified remains of her little daughter in a nursery in the attic. One Christmas, her eye falls upon a little girl who reminds her of her daughter and she imprisons her in her attic. Nobody believes her brother, Christopher, when he tells them what has happened, so he goes to rescue her. Written by
The first part is as delightful as the cakes,the sweets ,the lollipops and the gingerbread men which the good lady serves to the orphans she welcomes for her Christmas party in her Gothic desirable mansion.This mysterious woman,with a racy past ,was married to a magician (remarkable scene when the two children venture into the old house full of magic props where once more,we are told that children are not necessarily devoid of cruelty.
After a seance in the dark with a charlatan medium,Roo (Winters)is quite sure that one of the orphans is her late daughter ,who rose from the dead. She wants to keep her in her house but her brother (Mark "Oliver" Lester ) is not prepared to accept it.He tells his sister about Grimm's sinister fairytale "Hansel und Gretel" in the gingerbread house.
The first hour is brilliant:the Christmas atmosphere is perfectly captured.The crepuscular quality of the film is tangible .Few other films of the seventies offer so many associations of guarded privacy and locked rooms,in such dreamlike darkness.Shelley Winters is outstanding particularly in that short scene when she goes from tears to a good laugh.
The film obviously loses steam in the last thirty minutes.Winters begins to overact to make up for the poor third of the script which is at once repetitive ,dull and predictable.We do not need Lester's voice over to understand that the children are Hansel and Gretel in the witch's den..As Freud and Bruno Bettelheim showed,fairy tales have an hidden meaning which the children unconsciously comprehend but the demonstration is pretty low brow.
Watch it anyway:its incredible several moments make it all worthwhile.
Like this?Try these....
"Les amants criminels" François Ozon 1996
"The night of the hunter" Charles Laughton 1955
"The nanny" Holt 1965
"Bunny Lake is missing" Otto Preminger 1965
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