31 Days of Witch Movies #26: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

I am finally getting around to another witch film review. This entire project was suppose to end on October 31 2013 but has lingered on well into 2014.  I am making no further promises on the exact finish date other than I will reach 31 at some point in the next century.

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Getting to the review…

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) may have been one of the worst witch movies ever made. It may be one of the worst movies ever made.

The Paramount film follows in a long line of fairy-tale spin-offs that explore the darker depths of the traditional fantasy narrative (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland 2010; Snow White and the Huntsman 2012)  Unfortunately the studio missed the mark – any mark – with this one.

IMDB categorizes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters as action/horror/fantasy. That is a perfect description because the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It opens with the classic tale of two children lost in the woods. In this re-visioning the children are cast out by their parents in order to save their lives. After the classic witch encounter, the story moves into the “ever after” in which Hansel is a gritty Rambo-esque cowboy with diabetes. Gretel is the Terminator‘s Sarah Conner in a bustier and black leather who, like all good fairy tale girls, befriends a kindly woodland troll. As for the witches, they are flying magical zombies.

The film seems to have no clear self-identify. Is the film really Hansel & Gretel? Or is it Hocus Pocus (1993)? Or The Matrix (1999)? Or Shrek (2001)? The Walking Dead (2013)? Brother Where Art Thou (2000)? Or maybe the film just wanted to be Die Hard (1988) set in Bavaria? The broom chase is reminiscent of the biker chase in Return of the Jedi (1983). If that isn’t enough, the “good witch” is named Mina, a reference to Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula.

If all of these cinematic choices were referential winks for the well-worn film enthusiast, than the winking part was left out. Or maybe it was blocked by the bustier or the troll.

By the end the entire experience felt like disjointed scraps of weirdness pinned together with iron nails and covered in a black gossamer veil. Even the anachronistic elements, which could have given the film a fantastical “steampunk” aesthetic, just seem laughable.

Let me cut the filmmakers some slack. The concept was a good even if the execution failed. What does happens to Hansel and Gretel after their traumatic experience with the “evil” woodland witch? This question delves into the contemporary exploration of the underlying psychology lurking within the fairy tale itself. Nearly getting eaten by a hag in the woods must have left some type of impression or scar on the children. Unfortunately that depth of psychological discovery doesn’t lend itself to a film that can be defined as Natural Born Killers (1994) meets Witches (1990) meets World War Z (2013).  

Personally I would have liked to see the story reversed. What if the kids were terrible brats born into a culture of cruelty? They tie up their nanny and run away to find new horrific fun torturing animals in the wood. After a few hours, they get bored and lost. After spending a night scared and alone, the children stumble upon the home of a lonely crone who, long ago, escaped to this reclusive life far from the treacheries of an amoral, self-indulgent, gluttonous society. In the freedom of isolation, she adorns her cottage with whimsical color and “candy” in order to feed the forest animals. The little house is a bright spot in a dark and hateful world. When the selfish little children finally arrive at her door, they immediately begin to consume its beauty and treasures like selfish little beasts they are. After awhile the witch catches them and beckons them inside to teach a lesson….

How it is written from there depends on who’s making the movie. Does the witch win? Do the kids change and live with the witch forever? Or do the kids win and burn the crone? The answer lies in whether the movie is a dark social commentary or a hopeful one?

Hansel & Gretal: Witch Killers is worth watching if you’d like to see what not to do as a filmmaker. In order to know what’s good, you must see what is bad.  You also better see it before Paramount releases the sequel sometime in the next year.

 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)
Day #23: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
Day #24: Excalibur (Guest Reviewer: Virginia Chandler)
Day #25: Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Evaluating our Response within the Pagan Community

The current issue of Witches and Pagans Magazine contains an editorial that has unwittingly become the center of attention. Written by editor Anne Newkirk Niven, the editorial discusses the Pagan community’s reaction to bad press. Anne suggests that “a solid dose of discernment” needs to be added to our “moral outrage” when reacting to discrimination cases and negative media situations.

Anne makes a good point and one that I advise myself. Evaluate your reaction before taking action. In many of these difficult situations, we have a natural and understandably strong emotional reaction. It may be anger, moral outrage, indignation or the desire to fight and get even. This is very human.

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But… and this is a big BUT….the emotional reaction cannot define a public action. Calculated and thoughtful responses are needed in almost all cases. While the emotional response undoubtedly feels satisfying, such a response can cause more damage than good.  It can attract unwanted media attention.  It might generate a legal battle that could have been easily avoided.

Moreover, emotional responses are often disproportionate to the original offense leading to what Anne calls “touchy nerve syndrome.” Sometimes sh*$% happens and you just need to walk away, punch a pillow, vent to a confidant etc. Or do what I do… drink a glass of wine and sing along to “Do you Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables (the Original London Cast.)

Admittedly sometimes the decision on whether to act or not-to-act is tough.  And sometimes the “how-to-act” is even harder.

Getting back to the editorial, Anne did suggest that our community overreacted to the Fox News’ “trollish shenanigans.” She notes that Pagan media pundits failed to highlight the positive points of the story with the exception of the Covenant of the Goddess’ media statement. Ironically, I’m both The Wild Hunt writer who failed to focus on the positive and the CoG Public Information Officer who wrote media statement that publicly thanked Mizzou.  I’m not sure where that leaves me in all this.

113cover300Incidentally, I also wrote the Lady Liberty League article, published in the current issue of Circle Magazine, that reviews the entire two-week engagement with Fox.  Did we, as Anne suggest, overact?  No. Fox needed “corrective feedback” and the world needed to see that we do exist in force.  Most Pagan organizations did respond appropriately. However, I do agree that there were some individual reactions on social media that were a bit over-the-top. That can’t be controlled. With the internet’s wild and wide availability, these very public over-reactions, good or bad, are going to happen (in every community.)

Anne, nor I, are suggesting that we stand-by and let our rights be trampled. We just need to get a little better at evaluating our reactions before taking public action. In addition, we need to spend as much energy in celebrating the forward strides as in fighting those nasty steps backward.  This is sage advice – something to which I personally adhere and also advocate within my own work – time and time again.

Pagans & the Media: October Effect

I call October “Witch Month.”  The Media are driven to anything “witchy.”  Tis’ the season.

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On the one hand, this provides a wonderful educational opportunity to share the positive and peaceful aspects of Pagan life.  The over-exuberant Media is littered with reporters wanting to interview “real witches.”  On the other hand, October’s witch-fest can be detrimental to our cultural reputation because these same reporters latch on to any story with an Occult angle.

Consider the two cases that I presented in my last post, Progress in Small Rays of Light.  If those two stories, the pentacle carving or the church burning, had happened in October, the media response would have been drastically different.

In December, within the glory of decked-halls and pine-scented air, the Media virtually ignored the Occult ties of both cases. They focused on the sheer lunacy of the actual acts. Even when witchcraft was mentioned, the stories didn’t make it past a few local news agencies.

If these two crimes had happened in October, the Media (and audience), having been primed by the Halloween atmosphere, would have focused almost obsessively on the Occult aspects. In fact, the two events, having happened only one week apart, may have caused an avalanche of articles pondering a growing interest in the Occult.

Timing is everything in PR. Everything!  Sometimes you can plan it perfectly, using seasonal whimsy and cultural priming to your advantage. Sometimes you can’t. Shit just happens and you have to dance your way around the problems with the help of sparkles, sequins and smiles.

And, then other times, you just have to stop, drop, and thank the Great Goddess, that it wasn’t October!

Paganism in the Media: Progress in Small Rays of Light

Courtesy of C.Frank Starmer

In the weeks before Christmas, life always seems to explode in all directions both positive and negative. As a result, being in media relations, the weeks become increasingly stressful and very busy.

But, sometimes through the chaos and darkness, a glimmer of light finds its way to offer hope. Perhaps it’s a mirror to the Winter Solstice experience. Or perhaps it’s just my nature to always look towards the positive. Either way, I grab at any and all these positive rays of light. They signal change. Because change comes slowly, we must mark or even celebrate the smallest of indicators and hang on to them with all our might.

Two Recent Examples

Case #1:  The Burning Times

On December 20, 2012, a Missouri man, claiming to practice witchcraft, threatened to burn a church and shoot a pastor. He reportedly told a preacher that he was planning “to fill the seas with the blood of all Christians.” (Read original report) I cannot attest to this man’s spirituality or religious beliefs. However, I will say that his actions are in clear violation of the Wiccan Rede “An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.”  While it is true that many Pagans do speak out against evangelical preachers, I personally have never met a Pagan who would actively commit such a violent act, even as threat.

That aside, as part of my media research, I always skim the article’s comments. I’m looking for reader reaction in order to gauge the toxicity level of the story. In this case, most of the comments were irrelevant and inconsequential to my work. But I did find this one:

I do wonder what kind of a witch this guy was. He can’t have been a wiccan as they tend to be generally peaceful and go by the general rule of “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” Satanic witch maybe, of the Anton Lavey kind?

On which news site did I find this comment? The Christian News.net. Really!? Here’s a reader who can differentiate between the different forms of witchcraft and their practice. I don’t care who this writer was or why he posted the comment. I don’t even mind that he didn’t capitalize “Wiccan.”  As a PR professional, all I see is forward progress in the dissemination of information about the various forms Paganism and/or witchcraft.

Case #2: 12-12-12

On December 12, a Texas man was arrested for carving a pentagram into his son’s back. He allegedly performed this act to mark the “holy day” 12-12-12. Based upon the reports, the man did not claim to be practicing any form of Paganism. It appears that he may have been misinterpreting aspects of the Old Testament or some other Judeo-Christian teachings. I am unclear on that point. (Read the original story)

So was the media. As I scanned the “airwaves” for any and all connections being made to Paganism, there were none. Media outlets did not use any keywords associated with any Pagan religions. In fact, they didn’t even associate the act to Satanism. This alone was a positive note. But it gets better when you read CNN’s version of the story. The authors wrote:

The pentagram has had links with many of the world’s religions and cults through the ages, including Christianity, Judaism and Paganism. It has also been used in certain forms by magicians and Satanists.

In an attempt to discover the meaning behind the man’s claim of a “holy day,” the CNN blog authors briefly discussed the pentagram itself.   Accurately and without bias, they ascribed its use to “many of the world’s religions and cults.” Additionally, the authors gave Paganism equal footing to Christianity and Judaism by using nondescript language with no emphasis on one over the other. Interestingly enough, the authors separated Paganism from Satanism, making no value judgement of either.

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These may be very small points but every positive step is notable. Mainstream media discourse and pop culture are major indicators of social change. We must watch carefully, celebrating the gains and trying very hard not to get bogged down by set backs.

 

(Sunrise Photo courtesy of C. Frank Starmer)

Wal-Mart, Pagans and Kierkegaard

Well, if this Examiner article isn’t insulting, I don’t know what is.

Before getting the writer’s thesis and point, let’s look at his headline: “Does Wal-Mart have pagan values?” Of course, it jumps out and makes you wonder if the Wal-Mart family of stores is backed by a strong Pagan presence. The idea is fascinating. Take a deep breath and let that idea go.

The article, originally written for the examiner, by Paul Jesep, focuses on Wal-Mart’s treatment of its employees and the resulting Black Friday protests. As reported, the protesters’ goal was to “spotlight poor wages, inadequate healthcare, and mistreatment of Wal-Mart associates.” Mr. Jesep goes on to report that Bill Simon, president and CEO, was unimpressed by the protests which had no effect on sales. He reports that Bill Simon repeatedly attempts to “marginalize and dismiss” the movement, claiming that Wal-Mart offers competitive salaries and benefits.

So, what does this have to do with Paganism? Let me quote Mr. Jesep’s very last paragraph:

Perhaps Mr. Simon isn’t a man of faith where the modest wages and benefits of sales associates would ordinarily prick the [conscience] of a religious person. Or if Mr. Simon is a man of faith he is what philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would describe as “play-acting” through “baptized paganism.”

OUCH!

KierkegaardMr. Jesep is equating a complete lack of ethics or concern for humanity with Pagan-values. In addition, he assumes that Pagan values are synonymous with a lack of religion, belief-structures or faith. Paganism suggests “play-acting” with no evidence of depth of character or real-intent. Holy famous philosopher, Batman!  He even references Kierkegaard who defines “paganism” as the base form of human existence.

Putting the religious philosophy aside, Mr. Jesep really needs to do some research into the definition of modern Paganism. Wal-Mart may be playing with people’s lives  The corporation may be suffocating its associates. I don’t know the specifics of the situation. However, I do know that these values or lack thereof, whether applied to Wal-Mart or not, do not apply to Paganism.