31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 1: Tim Burton’s Hansel and Gretel (1982)

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October 1st. IT BEGINS. Hallowe’en month!!

I’m sad I’m not in Salem this year, especially when we’ll get a rounded month – the Haunted Happenings parade falls today (witches and costumed locals marching as I type), and the big day itself is on a Saturday. But I’ve managed to bring some of that spooky spirit over to London. The pumpkin Febreeze is helping.

I’ve already set up my coworkers for diabetes by introducing them to Russell Stover marshmallow pumpkins, Twix ghosts, candy jelly fingers, and the holy grail of Hallowe’en sugar rush – candy corn. That last one’s kind of dividing people.

And speaking of candy, there’s an buttcanoe-load of that in today’s horror-a-thon month kicker-offer: Hansel & Gretel, a 34-minute short that Tim Burton made for the Disney Channel. It aired once at 10:30pm on Hallowe’en in 1983. Possibly on a related note, legend says he disowned it.

Tim Burton Hansel & Gretel

The film is actually pretty faithful to the original tale; our story begins with the titular twins drowning in verbal abuse from their stepmother, a burly man-woman in a bin liner and a top-knot. After hurling insults at their father, she takes the kids on a woodland walk and then dumps them there.

There’s a good 15-minutes of lead-in; awkward panto acting among various minimal sets – and then things start to get really weird, really fast.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 22.11.31Tim Burton Hansel & Gretel

Tim Burton Hansel & Gretel

The kids stumble across the gingerbread house, only it looks more like the sort of wilting, pastel ice cream topper you would craft with play-doh. And because they’re stupid kids/so trusting (I can’t tell), they start poking, licking, prodding and biting the exterior walls, which ooze several different colours of viscous liquid that I can only assume to be syrup. Gretel pulls on the wrong candy-cane-shaped thing (God, this sounds sinister), which turns out to be the famous witch’s nose.

tim burton hansel and gretel

She seems more than OK with having her candy-shaped snout molested, because she not only invites the kids in, but invites them to stay over and even tucks them into their beds. Which then both grow several candy-cane arms that grope and trap and shove Hansel into some alternate…rooms?

tim burton hansel and gretel

And this is where you can see the predecessors of every bit of stop-motion animation and visual character design of Burton’s later career – a snake clock thing that looks like Geena Davis’s ‘scare face’ from Beetlejuice; random freaky toys that bear resemblances to half the townspeople from The Nightmare Before Christmas; and deep, sunken-in eyes featured in every protagonist from Corpse Bride to Dark Shadows. I mean…look at this shit!

tim burton hansel and gretel

The set design is wonderfully, creepily minimal – these weird-as-fuck creations speak for themselves until they take over the screen (I’ve honestly never seen a candy house vomit itself into a hot puddle of death) and I’m sure I’ll have a string of beautifully horrifying little nightmares once I close this laptop lid.

Here it is in its entirety:


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