Underground filmmaker David Kaplan met 16-year old star Christina Ricci at the Sundance Institute’s Directors Workshop in 1996. The pair hit it off and Kaplan enlisted the actress to star in his most famous and provocative work. An adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood.
Little Red Riding Hood as seen through the eyes of David Kaplan is a lyrical art-piece. Almost a direct descendant of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête drug through the Lower East Side transgressive stylings of New York’s underground film scene. The gorgeous black and white photography and the expressionistic set design, make for a truly stunning and surrealistic short film.
Inspired by two books on the subject: Jack Zipes, “The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood” and Robert Darnton, “The Great Cat Massacre” Kaplan’s film takes it’s story from the original folklore and not directly from what most would consider the definitive version of the fairy tale, that is, Charles Perrault’s 1697 tale “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge”. The film features Ricci as Red Riding Hood on her way to Grandmother’s house, when she encounters the wolf (played by Russian ballet dancer Timour Bourtasenkov). After telling the wolf of her plans, the wolf too makes his way to the woodland home and murders the Grandmother. From that point, the film spins off the axis that most people will remember from their youth – addressing instead some of the original tale’s more obscure elements, specifically cannibalization and the notion that Red Riding Hood uses the need to relieve her bowels as the catalyst for escaping the wolf’s clutches.
Little Red Riding Hood is, like so many other sagas, a cautionary tale. However, in adaptations as broad as 1984’s The Company of Wolves, 1996’s Freeway and the recent film Hard Candy, the cinema has explored the inherent sexual undertones that exist in the story. Kaplan puts those undertones front and center in his film, making the viewer almost a voyeuristic intruder behind the doors of Granny’s house – and the film exploits that unease in slow takes of the wolf’s clawed fingers tracing Ricci’s cherubic face. The film also plays loose with the dialogue, which is narrated by the late Quentin Crisp (Orlando), giving viewers familiar with Crisp’s legacy a clear idea of what the Director had in mind with this short.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film festival in January 1997 before completing a hugely successful festival run. But, before now, it’s general release on video has been non-existent. The DVD arrives along with two additional shorts by Kaplan which also feature the filmmakers obsession with grim fairy tales. The first supplimentary short is 1992’s Little Suck-a-Thumb about a man-child (Cork Hubbert, Legend) who is told if he does not stop sucking his thumbs “The Tailor” will visit and cut them off. The second is a 1994 black and white production titled The Frog King – about a little girl (Eden Riegel, Year One) who promises a frog that he can come home with her if he retrieves the doll she has dropped down a well. The Frog King, like Little Red Riding Hood also toys in its final moments with the somewhat disturbing sexual nature of seemingly innocuous fairy tales.
Kaplan left the world of short films behind in 2007 to helm his first feature Year of the Fish a rotoscope-animation version of Cinderella and he’s currently in production on the Nosferatu tale 7 to the Palace. But, despite moving onto the world of feature films, his legacy may always remain the twistedly beautiful nightmare that is Little Red Riding Hood.