I have no idea how to rate this film.

Snow White: A Tale of Terror, on Showtime
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Caution: spoilers.

This is something I was probably aware of, when it aired in 1997, but I didn't get Showtime. And assuming I did know about it, I probably later forgot about it (especially after the 2001 "Snow White" TV movie on Wonderful World of Disney, which I also didn't get to see, even though I surely had access to ABC when it aired). I also don't remember how much interest I ever had in this, but it's hard for me to imagine I was disinterested. Anyway, I got it on DVD in 2023 and finally watched it. And man, was it weird. I didn't always entirely understand everything that happened, and I'm not sure how much sense it all made. The whole thing's kind of like a fever dream or something. But at least I can't really say it wasn't interesting. I'm afraid I have no idea how close it comes to the Grimms' fairy tale on which it's based, but probably a lot closer than most any other adaptation I've seen.

It begins with a medieval lord named Frederick Hoffman (Sam Neill) traveling home with his pregnant wife, Lilliana, when their carriage gets overturned and Lilliana is fatally injured, right when she was going into labor. She dies, but Frederick saves the baby, and we then flash forward to when his daughter is a young girl, named after her mother. (No one ever calls her "Snow White", just Lilliana or Lilli.) She is a mischievous girl, and is upset that her father is marrying a woman named Claudia (Sigourney Weaver). Claudia brings her mute brother, Gustav, to live with them. She seems nice enough at first, and even gives Lilli a puppy, whom Lilli names Odo (I think). Claudia also brings with her a wardrobe containing a mirror passed down from her mother. The mirror speaks to Claudia in her own image, telling her things that poison her mind against Lilli. But that may be getting ahead of myself. Maybe that didn't happen until Lilli was a young woman (or possibly a teenager). But while she was still a young girl, the mirror apparently acted on its own to kill Lilli's nursemaid, Nannau.

Most of the movie takes place nine years later. Claudia has been trying to conceive a child with Frederick all that time, and now she's finally pregnant. But their son ends up being stillborn, and according to a young doctor named Peter Gutenberg, she will never be able to conceive again. And... that makes Lilli sorry that she never got along with her stepmother, whom she sympathizes with. But while Claudia acts like she likes Lilli, she actually blames her for her son's death. I'm not sure how much that's because of the mirror's influence, but whatever. She tasks Gustav with killing Lilli, but she gets away from him and hides out in an old, dilapidated church or something. She's later found there by the place's inhabitants, seven menacing miners (only one of whom is a little person). I don't feel like we ever get to know most of them very well. But there's one, I think it was Rolf, who wanted to ransom Lilli back to Frederick, but planned to rape her first. He was stopped by Will, and they rest of the miners kick Rolf out of their group. But the rest of them are still kind of frightening to Lilli. However, over time she comes to care about them and even develops romantic feelings for Will, though I couldn't possibly tell you why. Oh, I forgot to mention that before all this happened, Lilli and Peter planned to get married. I'm not sure exactly how old either of them were, but I thought Peter looked at least a little too old for her (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I think she looked a little too young for him). But I guess that's often the way, in fairy tales. And in the middle ages.

Anyway... so much more stuff happens. Claudia uses magic to try to kill Lilli from afar, in some interesting ways, that always fail to kill the girl, but unfortunately not all of the miners are so lucky. The mirror also presents Claudia with a particularly disturbing plan that I don't even want to go into. But eventually, Claudia transforms herself into an old woman and goes to poison Lilli with an apple... which is quite disturbing, because it makes her appear dead to everyone else, while being basically paralyzed but conscious. Peter finally finds her, and realizes he can't help her. Believing her dead, he and the surviving miners start to bury her, but Will stops them and... never kisses her, which I appreciated. But he just keeps telling her to breathe, and I was a bit surprised he didn't try mouth to mouth resuscitation (though of course that wasn't even a thing, back then). Still, somehow his efforts result in her coughing up the bite of apple she had taken, and waking up. Peter then takes her home, and it turns out Will follows them, and... more stuff happens.

I feel like I've said too much, but I've also left out plenty of details. I won't say how it all ends, but then, I didn't really understand the ending, anyway. Like I said, it's a weird movie. And I have no idea whether I even liked it or not, overall. There were surely some bits I liked and some I didn't exactly like, but I wouldn't necessarily say I disliked anything. Oh, one thing I liked for sure is that while Claudia was obsessed with her own beauty, there was never really anything about her being jealous of Lilli's beauty. There was no "who's the fairest one of all" nonsense. In any event... I'm glad to have finally seen it.

horror TV movies index

Snow White adaptations
movies: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs * Sydney White * Mirror Mirror * Snow White and the Huntsman
TV: Snow White: A Tale of Terror * Snow White: The Fairest of Them All * Once Upon a Time