Hansel & Gretel ★★

My quest to find the best of The Asylum's mockbusters has been a fraught one recently with nothing able to live up to the trifecta of Apocalypse Earth, Android Cop, and Nazis at the Center of the Earth. With few promising titles on the horizon I was beginning to lose hope that the studio was capable of much more than wonky science fiction with laughable special effects. But fortune favors the bold, and after digging through fifteen of these monstrosities I may have finally struck gold. Hansel & Gretel is, without a doubt, the best Asylum movie I've ever seen.

With most of the Asylum's mockbusters I find myself looking for extenuating circumstances: sure they're cheap and easy cash grabs, but they're made by human beings and usually there's love to be found somewhere even if the experience of watching is generally dull. Hansel & Gretel is different. It actually involved me in the world of the film enough to feel something. There's some character development and some competent writing which create a universe in which you can actually lose yourself. The emotion range is limited to dread and disgust, but it's more than the abstracted "laughing at the movie" enjoyment provided by the rest of the studio's offerings.

The opening of the film perfectly sets the stage. Someone is trapped in a dungeon trying to escape. With a sharp rock she smashes the chain holding her leg but breaks her ankle in the process. She manages to claw away the boards blocking off her exit but loses a fingernail. And though it briefly seems that she's earned her freedom, she's ultimately dragged back and cooked alive. Such is the plight of the audience, who will be subjected to various tortures caused in part by their own struggling and which all will ultimately bring them back to the furnace.

Thanks to talented lighting and practical gore effects there are a few scenes which are actually nauseating, but this isn't the film's biggest achievement. No, the true success of Hansel & Gretel is that it somehow convinced me that the characters actually believed they were eating human meat. It obviously just looks like pork chops, but the investment of the story and acting brings the dead meat to life. Three times I gut wrench, including a pitch perfect classical horror genre ending.

Granted, it's still a bad movie. The biggest flaw is that there's no real emotional core to the story. In the beginning it seems to set up the "evil step mother intruding on the family unit" routine, but then dumps it to have the local candy shop owner as the antagonist. And as is typical with these productions there's plenty of horrifyingly obvious sound effects and offensively inane dialogue.

But as a genre film it definitely delivers the level of horror and gore any sensible audience ought to expect. Dee Wallace is absolutely amazing in her role custom-built for scene stealing. The editing and cinematography actually show that some time and consideration went into the construction of the film. In a year with four Hansel & Gretel movies there was no reason this should have been the best, but somehow it manages.

I imagine that anyone that watches Hansel & Gretel with little knowledge of the Asylum's catalog will simply see it as a low budget horror b-movie, but if you're a fan of the studio you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

2013 Ranked

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