Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

snow white a tale of terror

You have no heart.” “That’s too simple.”

The Scoop: 1997 R, directed by Michael Cohn and starring Sigourney Weaver, Monica Keena, and Gil Bellows.

Tagline: The fairy tale is over.

Summary Capsule: Spoiled rich girl vs. stepmother. My money’s on Ripley.


Eunice’s rating: 3 out of 5 poisoned apples.

Eunice’s review: The first time I saw the cover for Snow White: A Tale of Terror I put it on my Not Interested list. I don’t know if I wasn’t watching the kind of movies that would’ve carried a trailer for it or if it just wasn’t promoted, but I’d never heard of it before. A couple years later I caught it on a commercial channel, and really really regretted not watching it sooner.

See, I love fairy tale movies. Sweet, fractured, or dark, they’re one of my weaknesses.

But when I finished that TV watching I wanted to rent it immediately, because obviously quite a bit had been cut…

Part I: Snow White is the best dark fairy tale movie evah!

We start out with a perfectly grim[m] (hur hur) opening with an impromptu Cesarean section and a dude getting eaten by wolves. Yeah, this ain’t no ‘Whistle While You Work’ Snow White story. Fast forward a few years, and we see that the baby has become Lilliana Hoffman, only child of a noble and stepdaughter of Claudia, who is played by Sigourney Weaver.

The first part of SW:AToT has a nice slowish pace and the tone of a character piece. Lilli’s a bit of a brat instead of perfect, and Claudia, while a little jealous, isn’t completely evil and is definitely human. The two women fight over the father’s affections, the memory of the first Mrs. Hoffman, dresses, and boys. Daddy isn’t dead, and the princess doesn’t scrub floors.

Events come to a head when Claudia loses her baby and blames Lilli. She isn’t helped by the fact that her mother (?) haunts an evil murderous bureau that speaks poison slowly driving her insane until she asks her brother Gustav to murder Lilli.

Part II: Okay. Maybe not the best, but it’s got some good points.

As soon as Lilli leaves the castle, the pacing and characters take a major hit.

Lilli ends up at some ruins occupied by criminals and outcasts, all of whom have an axe to grind with her father. Scraping out an existence in the woods and looking for a big payoff by mining, these seven guys aren’t cuddly dwarves. Well one is a dwarf, but that’s more for irony’s sake. While this could’ve been interesting, they’re unfortunately more there to pad the body count and sit around looking sad that somebody died than as actual characters. Except for Will, who is the love interest. You can tell he’s the love interest because his scars are “hot” as opposed to “disfiguring,” and, as we find out in an infodump, he has a Tragic Past™. So our dwarves are: Smexy, Rapey, Priestly, Corn Rows, Special, Dwarf, and That Guy. Six of them go from “she’s an evil noble, grr!” to “aww she’s as cute as a puppy.” in, like, a day. It’s amusing.

But weak male roles is a problem through the whole movie not just for the miners. Sam Neill isn’t much of a presence as the father and is pretty much wasted. The Prince Charming character, who I like to call Dr. Poncey Pants, is pretty much useless (Choosing between him and Will? Girl, please! No contest). While Claudia’s creepy mute brother Gustav has a better part replacing The Woodsman, he’s, well, pretty much mute.

I would say “girl power” and all, but it makes big chunks of the story rather blah when only two characters have any weight to them and even then Weaver is the one carrying the movie.

But what it loses it tries to make up for with beautiful sets and costumes, a nice soundtrack, creative visuals (some of those spells are quite nifty), turning the whole seven dwarfs/servants thing on its head, and exploring Claudia’s madness. Seriously, there’s something about watching Sigourney Weaver spinning around and laughing gleefully while holding a heart and then hacking up what she thought were human organs that warms the cockles of my heart.

Part III: Oh come on! *eye roll*

Okay, as it turned out, nothing was cut, much to my disappointment. In fact it was made for TV, doh.

In the third act the movie just plain spirals out of control. There are some pretty good stand alone moments: The tree attack in the woods, the glass coffin, the hand to hand fight between Claudia and Lilli. But it doesn’t change the fact that the end falls apart.

With the lack of character development the frowny faces over dead people comes off as goofy, those weak male characters become even more noticeable, suddenly the acting becomes wooden, and the more interesting threads are never explored, tsk.

Also, something that was really distracting for me was the complete lack of a sense of time. Is Lilli in the woods for a day? A week? A month? Did they just happen to have a stained-glass Victorian lampshade that converts into a coffin lying around in the event a pretty dead girl stopped by? Who knows.

Oh, and for once, adding zombies didn’t make it better. Not just zombies mind, black death zombies. And a hell hound. Whatever.

Epilogue: It is what it is.

When I watch SW:AToT, I always come away wishing there had been a book version that put in all the stuff that feels like it’s missing. Or maybe some sort of director’s cut with scenes added back that were cut for time. It’s imaginative with good ideas and, if you’re into fairy tale movies or a big Sigourney Weaver fan, worth a watch, but ultimately… it’s just unsatisfying.

Still not the creepiest scene in the movie…


  • I don’t think I could sleep if I had that bureau in my room.
  • Gil Bellows will always be Billy Thomas to me.
  • One of the most unappealing sex scenes ever.
  • Kissing in the rain five feet from the other miners, not awkward at all.
  • Zombies!
  • The dead baby is so spooky.

Groovy Quotes

Claudia: Oh, brother, you mustn’t feel bad. The blood you have shed is just the venom of a scheming child.

Will: Never look a raven in the eye for too long. Might steal your soul and fly away with it.

Lilli: I take it you have no manners, then.
Will: No manners then and no manners now.

Will: I was just wondering what it would take to make a princess smile.

Will: How would you have me speak?
Lilli: Like a civilized gentleman, and not some savage-
Will: That is a word I will not bear from the lips of any man or woman! The last time I heard that word spoken, it was by one of your so-called gentlemen. And there was nothing gentle about it. Or civilized.

Lars: My face, it frightens you?
Lilli: Yes.
Lars: Scares me, too.

Claudia: What’s the matter, dear? Cat got your tongue?

Claudia: You can see, and you can hear, but from inside the tomb of your mind. No breath will escape your lips, no tears your eyes. To the world, you are dead. And soon, even your precious father will forget you were ever alive. But you, my dear, you will have all eternity… to remember.

Claudia: You seem quite alive, for a little wench who’s been rotting in the ground. I felt you stir. The moment you took your first breath, it was like a knife in my heart.
Lilli: You have no heart.
Claudia: That’s too simple.

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