SEPTEMBER 9, 2012
I'm always excited to see genre hybrids; even if they don't work, at least it shows some ambition, and paves the way for someone to get it right later. So once I realized Red Riding Hood was a combination of Giallo and Killer Kid movie, I got a bit giddy, hoping it would just get more awesome as it went. But alas, this will have to be the one the next guy uses to see what went wrong and make sure he doesn't make the same mistakes.
A big problem is that the twist is far too apparent, to the extent where I wasn't sure it was even supposed to be a surprise until they "reveal" it in the film's climax. I mean, I'm sure there's SOMEONE who was blown away by the fact that the killer George, our precocious main character's giant best friend who rides a bike and wears a goat mask, was actually just in her imagination and that SHE was the one actually killing everyone... but that person was not me. I mean, if they were trying to hide it they did a pretty terrible job - at one point she "sics" George on someone in a tunnel, and she noticeably disappears from the background as George advances on the victim. You'd think the director would have been careful about things like that if he was trying to preserve his secret.
It's also unfocused, as the movie spends far too much time on the rather ridiculous notion that our little girl "heroine" could not only live on her own in Italy (her stepmother abandoned her with loads of cash) but control her grandmother, who has come for a visit. At one point she yells at the poor woman and throws a bunch of tourist guides in her face, telling her she can go explore by herself - and this grown woman more or less agrees without a fuss. Smack the girl across the face! I mean, if they're going for absurdist humor, fine, but it doesn't quite gel with the horror plot of a girl killing people she deems unworthy (thieves and adulterers, mostly). Maybe it's because this stuff feels a bit like Saw (George even resembles the Pig-man getup that characters would use when carrying out some of Jigsaw's plans - and please note that this film is older than Saw), but it felt like two movies rammed together; one a strange "horror vigilante" movie, the other a Misery-esque psychological horror about a dysfunctional grandmother/granddaughter pair.
So it fails as a cohesive film, but there are a number of inspired moments to keep it more or less entertaining, particularly the gory murders carried out by a 12 year old girl. The best is when she catches her married dentist banging his assistant, so she tracks them to a hotel and kills them both with a nailgun - not sure how that translates to their crime (earlier victims were attacked in a justified manner; i.e. a thief got his hands cut off), but it's certainly an enjoyably splattery setpiece - especially if you see past the "George" thing and realize it's a little girl doing all of this. There's also a nice allusion to "Don Quixote" running through the film (she's reading the book for her home-schooling), as they're both about someone who seems deranged but is possibly the last one that is sane as they try to make the world a better place. And she's the one reading it more or less on her own, so it's a lot better than the usual thing where a teacher drones on about some literary classic that foreshadows what will happen later.
Oh, and there's a theme song, which is a big band type thing where the singer cheerfully explains the girl's terrible home life ("Mom's a hooker, Daddy left and Grandma's no looker" or something like that). Even better, it's an in-movie song, as at one point she turns it off! That's even better than the "Quixote" stuff - she even found a SONG that mirrors what's happening in her own life! Of course, this just adds to the overall problem of the film, that it's hard to tell if we're supposed to be taking any of this seriously, but hey, theme songs are rare these days, so I'll take it.
I won't take the obnoxious, confusing ending, however (more, less obvious spoilers ahead!). It's a few months later, and the little girl is in an institute. She looks out the window and sees someone who offended her near the top of the film, so she goes outside to finish the job - only for George to reappear. Now this would have been fine, but they keep going, as she demands to know who George is and it's revealed to be... her zombie dad? They then sing "Que Sera, Sera" and the movie ends. It's like the screenwriter wrote himself into a hole and decided to shrug a "fuck you" to the audience rather than come up with something that made sense. Still, it's not as baffling as the end credits, which play out normally and then we keep listening to the song for an extra three minutes over a blank screen. What a weird little movie.
The movie was produced and co-written (under a pseudonym) by Ovidio G. Assonitis, best known around these parts for writing/directing the immortal Beyond The Door. He was also the guy who meddled with James Cameron on Piranha II and eventually had him fired, so thank him for whatever Cameron has done since. Sadly this seems to be his swan song; he worked pretty steadily over the years but hasn't had a credit in any capacity since his work here. He'll never top his 70s work (he was also behind Tentacles!), but I really miss these guys, and Italian horror in general. I keep hoping there will be a revival and a whole new crop of guys will start making nutty ripoffs of our movies, but then again I guess we'd have to make some good flicks for them to copy first. Not like anyone's going to do a bunch of sleazy knockoffs of The Possession or The Raven.
What say you?