Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has us thinking about fractured fairy tales.
Screenwriter-turned-director Matthew Bright made his name and his reputation with the demented 1982 cult musical Forbidden Zone, a collaboration with his longtime pals and collaborators Danny and Richard Elfman of Oingo Boingo fame. He brought the same pop-culture-crazed B-movie sensibility and trash aesthetic to his 1996 directorial debut, Freeway. The instant cult classic prankishly re-imagines the timeless tale of Little Red Riding Hood as a sweaty, sleaze-saturated ’70s drive-in movie.
Reese Witherspoon illustrates some of the grit and fearlessness that would one day win her an Academy Award in the demanding lead role of a dirt-poor survivor from the mean streets of Los Angeles. She’s picked up by the film’s version of the Big Bad Wolf, a rapist and serial killer known as the “I-5 Killer,” played by Kiefer Sutherland. (In one of the film’s winking nods to its inspiration, the last name of Sutherland’s character is Wolverton.) After Witherspoon is wrongfully imprisoned, Freeway morphs from one kind of sordid B-movie to another, from a lurid, violent road flick to an even more lurid women-in-prison movie, where our strong-willed heroine befriends a heroin-addicted lesbian played by a memorably spacey Brittany Murphy.
Freeway established Bright as a true auteur of low-rent, lowbrow sleaze, a gleefully shameless provocateur who delights in pushing buttons and grubby sensationalism, but the gravity, toughness, and heart Witherspoon brings to the role elevates it beyond a mere stunt. It would be a stretch to draw comparisons between this inspired, overachieving drive-in fodder and Walk The Line, but Witherspoon illustrates boundless, soon-to-be-realized potential playing a badass Little Red Riding Hood who’s more than up to the challenge of tangling with a scary old wolf—human, animal, or otherwise.
Availability: Freeway is available on DVD from Lionsgate.