It might come as something of a surprise but Amanda Seyfried, the doyenne of sweetness and light who illuminated the screen with the likes of Mamma Mia!, Dear John and Letters To Juliet, is delighted when things get a little twisted.

It might come as something of a surprise but Amanda Seyfried, the doyenne of sweetness and light who illuminated the screen with the likes of Mamma Mia!, Dear John and Letters To Juliet, is delighted when things get a little twisted.

“It’s true,” beams the 25-year-old actor, “I don’t want to be on a straight path. I like to do things that are a bit messed up. I prefer Chuck Palahniuk over Danielle Steele, for sure,” she continues, referencing the Fight Club author. “The more twisted the better. I like it when you have to wrap your head around things. I don’t like blood and guts but I do like the messed up.”

Seyfried’s first blockbusting voyage into the twisted and messed up arrives in cinemas this month in the form of Red Riding Hood, a full-scale retelling of the fairy tale, set in medieval Europe and expanded into a full-length feature story complete with love triangles, big set pieces and an arch turn from Gary Oldman as a Van Helsing-style wolf-slayer festooned with intriguing weaponry.

“I recall the story from my childhood, when I was three or four, and it’s scary, but I guess that’s my favourite part about it,” continues Seyfried, who takes on the role of the red-cloaked wolf-teaser. “Fairy tales are so dark, and something that you wouldn’t imagine would be good for children, but they are full of lessons, that are so huge. Clearly, somebody thought it was a good idea to scare children into doing the right thing.

“I think that’s awesome. I mean, the story was sanitised over the years, and there’s a lot of sexual symbolism in the original tale, that over the years has been extracted.” She smiles. “Then we kind of put it back into our story.”

The original story that most people know is that recounted in the Brothers Grimm’s Little Red Cap, although the tale’s more popular title is drawn from the story written down by Charles Perrault. In both the Grimm and Perrault versions, the innocent girl and the grandmother are eaten up. Even when Perrault’s fairy tale collection was published in 1697, the story was ancient: the idea of children being devoured stretches as back at least as far as ancient Greek myth, where the titan Cronos gobbled up his offspring.

The Little Red Riding Hood story also deals with humankind’s uneasy relationship with the ravenous wolf. A companion to seemingly countless war gods in mythology, the wolf is a symbol of destruction, a key player in the Norse story of the end of days, and what the folklorist and Jungian scholar Marie-Louise von Franz describes as “principle evil in its highest form”. In her book Shadow And Evil In Fairy Tales, she writes: “The wolf represents that strange indiscriminate desire to eat up everybody and everything. It stands as a symbol of bitter, cold resentment because of what it never had. It wants to eat the whole world.”

Certainly the wolf incites mankind’s deepest fascinations and fears, and the film Red Riding Hood, which steps into the world of lycanthropy -- some may well compare it with Neil Jordan’s folklore-inspired The Company Of Wolves -- plays on that human unease, at least according to its director, Catherine Hardwicke. “The folk tale, or fairy tale, had all of these different origins around the world,” says Hardwicke, who also shot the first Twilight movie.

“Charles Perrault put down his version and the Brothers Grimm put their version down, but there really were versions before that had werewolves. People are so freaked out by wolves that they make them into these mythological beings. And that’s been going on for hundred of years. But David Leslie Johnson, our writer, he did expand on it. In all these stories, [the character] doesn’t have a name, and we don’t know the mother or the father or anything. He really built a whole rich world around her, with all the secrets and lies and the intrigue.”


The wolfish fairy story that we know from childhood, meanwhile, has countless interpretations. Perrault, for one, had no trouble in explaining its meaning to his readers: “From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, are wrong to listen to any sort of man.” Some more modern theories read the story as an allegory of rape, while Bruno Bettelheim, the 20th-century psychoanalyst and author of The Uses Of Enchantment: The Meaning And Importance of Fairy Tales, believes the story, “speaks of human passions, oral greediness, aggression and pubertal sexual desire”. The new film, as Seyfried intimates, deals with sexuality, although in a different way.

“The original stories of Red Riding Hood and the wolf are sexual,” agrees Hardwicke, “like in one version the wolf is in bed, and he’s trying to get her to get into bed with him. The wolf is cross-dressing! The little girl invites the wolf. She’s in touch with her sensuality. She’s out picking flowers and not staying on the path like her mum told her. She meets the wolf and the wolf says, ‘Where are you going?’ And she admits she’s going to her grandmother’s and where the house is. She’s inviting that dark side, the dangerous side, into her life. So the seeds are all there, even in the original tales.”

Indeed, of all the best-known fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood is particularly startling: whereas the horror in Hansel And Gretel, for example, stems from the witch’s plan to cook and eat the children, in the Little Red Riding Hood stories the child is actually devoured. “It’s a really dark fairy tale,” says English actor Max Irons, who plays one of Red Riding Hood’s suitors in the new movie. “A lot of people when they hear about the film are a bit funny about it. They think it’s Hollywood cashing in on fairy tales, but people forget that this is very dark, psychologically. It’s about virginity, rape and incest if you really go into it and it is dark and it is edgy. That’s reflected a bit in the tone of our film.”

The movie stands at the vanguard of a whole host of live-action fairy tale movies scheduled for release. Among the others are Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, which catches up with Hansel (played by The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) 15 years after their traumatic escapades at the gingerbread house. The siblings have become vengeful bounty hunters pledged to the extermination of witches. Disney favourite Snow White is also set for a return with two films planned. Brothers Grimm: Snow White, directed by Tarsem Singh, director of the excellent movie The Fall, with Atonement star Saoirse Ronan and Julia Roberts attached as Snow White and evil queen respectively, is set to arrive several months ahead of Snow White And The Huntsman, which will feature Twilight star Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, respectively, as the young heroine and her older nemesis.

High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens, meanwhile, stars in Beastly, which is in cinemas later this month, a modern-day New York-set adaptation of Beauty And The Beast, based on the novel by Alex Flinn. “I always loved the fairy tale,” says Flinn, “but if you look at the story closely enough, it has plot holes. With Beauty And The Beast, what interested me was the idea of the characters’ parents. In the story, the Beast has none, so I wondered if his family abandoned him because he was a beast. Likewise, it bothered me that Beauty’s father allowed her to go and live with the Beast. It seemed like he must not be a very responsible person. And I decided to write about that.”


If Beastly is a success, the studio will no doubt hope to release the rest of Flinn’s modern retellings of classic fairy tales, like A Kiss In Time (Sleeping Beauty) and Cloaked (The Frog Prince). Hollywood, of course, has long plundered the realm of the fairy tale, but in the past, with occasional exceptions such as the post-modern The Princess Bride (1978), the sexually charged The Company of Wolves (1984) or the feminism-intoned Ever After (1998), to name but three, the plundering was primarily done by Disney. Its output declined towards the end of the 20th century, however, and when the Mouse House hit big with the Lion King in 1994, even this classic purveyor of fairy tale fare put its once upon a times on hold. It was not until the emergence of Shrek, from DreamWorks, in 2001, that the fairy tale was revitalised in animated form. In the same year the highly enjoyable The Princess Diaries and the first chapters in game-changing epics The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter hit cinemas. Adventure and fantasy were back in vogue.

With The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter both breaking the billion-dollar mark in terms of theatrical and home entertainment sales, the Hollywood studios have been looking for similar properties ever since, and their decision to revisit the world of fairy tale owes much to the third great 21st-century fantasy film franchise, Twilight, which is drawn from the bestselling vampire- and werewolf-populated novels from Stephenie Meyer.

“You know, I sometimes wonder if maybe Stephenie Meyer was inspired by the original Red Riding Hood stories with the werewolf,” says Hardwicke, who worked closely with Meyer on the film adaptation of the first Twilight book. “And I think that you can feel there are parallels with Twilight. All kinds of movies have things that we relate to. But I loved a lot of things in Red Riding Hood that gave me new things to explore. For example, in Twilight I had to convince you that a vampire could live in the real world, show up at your high school and you wouldn’t even notice. In this case, I had the chance to create a whole new world that we haven’t seen and convince you of that reality, suspend your disbelief and then urge you to escape into a fairy tale world.”

The key component of this particular fairy tale world, and no doubt a motivation behind Hardwicke’s hiring, given her experience on Twilight, is its latent sexual tension. There is no escaping the fact that one of the main reasons the Twilight books and films resonate so strongly with their predominantly teenage female audience is the manner in which they deal with sexual discovery. With many girls picking up the books on the cusp of puberty, the author teases their awakening sexual urges, but buries the threat of the actual sexual act. In her books, at least at the outset, while the hero Edward Cullen, a vampire, desires the heroine, human Bella Swann, he dare not sleep with her lest his vampiric passions come rushing to the surface and her life becomes forfeit in his arms. It’s a potent brew for the young, vamp-loving fans of the series.

The vampire, of course, does not reside in the world of fairy tale (that land is reserved for simpler creatures like giants, witches, trolls, talking animals and, indeed, wolves), although he definitely stalks the realm of folklore.

Tales of blood-draining horror have ancient origins -- whether it’s the blood let by the acolytes of Hecate, or that sucked by Lilith, Adam’s other woman, or even that shed by Attis in his self-mutilating passion for Cybele -- although, as scholar and film critic Christopher Frayling says in his book Vampyres, “attempts to trace the origins of the vampire myth have seldom been successful”. The modern-day notion of the vampire has been shaped greatly by the 1816 work of John William Polidori. The book with which he’s credited, The Vampyre, helped forge the Romantic image of the fanged blood-drinkers as pallid, ruddy lipped and invariably brimming with a powerful libido. Like the wolf, the vampire gnaws away, rousing our hidden appetites.

“Vampires are just plain sexy,” says Hardwicke. “Think of zombies, mummies or whatever; every other monster is hideously ugly, but vampires are hot, let’s be honest. They’re sexy. Don’t you want a beautiful vampire to bite your neck?”

Wolves, of course, are less sexy, unless they are anthropomorphised as werewolves. In the Twilight films, with the dreamy and rather pretty Robert Pattinson as the main vampire, and hunky, chiselled Taylor Lautner as the primary werewolf, teenage girls are given a visual feast and the box office figures get their boost. The 2010 movie The Wolfman provides a contrast. A gothic movie with an all-star cast including Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins, the film reached the $140 million mark at the worldwide box office, but that was a disappointing return on an estimated $150m budget. Without the werewolf’s sexy clothing, enormous box office results proved out of reach.

“Sexuality definitely plays a role in Red Riding Hood,” concludes Seyfried of her new movie. “I think it teaches young audiences to get in touch with their sexuality, to not fear that piece of themselves. I was very disconnected when I was a teenager and young adult, and I think that the film shows you have to be connected and always to be true to yourself, and trust yourself.”

However they are adapted, fairy tales are universal stories that explore, on different levels, our most profound fears and desires. Whether the studios will do the stories justice with its latest crop of movies remains to be seen. One thing, however, does remain certain: Hollywood, for one, is hoping that the films provide a happy ever after.

Red Riding Hood (12A) is out on April 15.