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Film / Snow White: A Tale of Terror

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The fairytale is over.

Snow White: A Tale of Terror is a 1997 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation of the Snow White fairytale, attempting to take the story back to its gothic and grotesque roots. It stars Sigourney Weaver, Monica Keena, Gil Bellows and Sam Neill.

The film opens with a carriage accident, fatally wounding the pregnant noblewoman Lilliana Hoffman. Her husband Lord Frederich (Neill) is forced to perform a medieval C-section to save the baby girl, who is named Lilliana after her mother. Seven years later, Lilli's father is to marry another woman, Lady Claudia (Weaver). The new stepmother is a nice woman but Lilli does not like her and turns up her nose at any attempts at friendship Claudia makes. Nine years after that, Claudia suffers a miscarriage and is rendered unable to have other children. She becomes convinced that Lilli is her enemy and tries to have her killed. Lilli escapes into the forest and hides out with seven gold miners, outcasts from the kingdom.


The film serves to deconstruct the Snow White fairy tale in quite a new way. The stepmother Claudia starts off quite willing to love her would-be daughter. But years of the girl turning away and rebuffing her advances puts a strain on their relationship. It's not until Claudia miscarries that she actually becomes the villain. Many of the more famous revisionist fairy tales likely owe something to this film. Planned for a theatrical release, it premiered on Showtime instead. Sigourney Weaver received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Claudia.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Lilli, by the end. Will and Peter aren't exactly trained fighters either, though Peter misses out on the "survivor" part.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Claudia dies because she tried to rescue her baby from the fire in the room.
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  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Played with, as Will is considered an outcast by the kingdom because he wouldn't join the Crusaders and so his family were killed in punishment.
  • All There in the Script: Apart from Rolph and Lars, who don't last long, you don't hear the names of any of the other miners until the credits roll.
  • Alto Villainess: Played with. Claudia sings in the alto range, but at this point in the film she is not the villain.
  • And I Must Scream: Claudia attempted to do this to Lilli with the apple. The apple would completely paralyze her, but give her full awareness in the "prison of her mind" as she was buried alive.
  • Animal Eye Spy: Claudia uses this trick to spy on Lilli in the forest.
  • Anti-Villain: Claudia. She is only really a villain once the miscarriage drives her mad and the enchanted mirror starts manipulating her. And then what does she want? A living child and the love of her husband, though this is eventually undercut by the fact that she is willing to brutally murder her husband to resurrect her child.
  • Attempted Rape: One of the miners, Rolf, gets as far as tearing Lilli's blouse and forcing a kiss on her before Will puts a knife to his throat and tells him to leave her be.
  • Ax-Crazy: Claudia was a bit unhinged from the beginning, but after her miscarriage, she dives into this trope with glee.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Older Lilli's first scene is her wondering what's out in the world beyond her home. Congratulations, you get nearly murdered and forced to hide out in the woods with seven outcasts.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played straight for the first half of the film. Lilli is involved in a cave-in underground and is seen with dirt all over her after they get out, but is perfectly clean the next time we see her. It's implied she washes herself in the stream. Then at the end, Claudia cuts her face with a pane of glass.
  • Berserk Button: Don't call Will a savage.
  • Betty and Veronica: Lilli's two love interests, Peter and Will. Also somewhat Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor, but money doesn't really matter because Lilli is significantly richer than both of them.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Lilli cries for the first time seconds after her mother dies. Later, Claudia's child is born dead. Claudia later seeks to reverse this, wanting to kill Friedrich to give her child life.
  • Book-Ends: The film opens and ends with a fall of snow.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Lilli, as far as Claudia's concerned. She gets better.
  • Break the Haughty: Lili starts off aloof and slightly bratty - though she's still fairly kind rather than being entirely bitchy. The haughtiness gets beaten out of her when she's forced to live in the woods.
  • Brick Joke: A dark example. When discussing Lilli's dress for the ball, Claudia politely asks Lilli's maid to cover her hair. Later on, when she poisons the soup, she grabs the maid by the hair and growls "cover your hair!" At the end, when Lilli encounters the now possessed maid, her hair has been hacked off.
  • But Not Too White: Averted given that it is Snow White. Lilli is played by fair-skinned Monica Keena and is incredibly beautiful. Though you could say it's somewhat played straight given that the original fairytale says the princess has skin white as the snow.
  • Buy Them Off: Peter's giving money to Will and the other miners for their role in protecting Lilli comes across as at least partially an attempt to bribe Will to not pursue Lilli.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Will goes after Lilli and Peter after initially walking away with the money Peter had given him for his help.
  • Compressed Hair: It's a running gag that the servant girl Ilsa keeps forgetting to tuck her mass of curls under her cap.
  • Costume Porn: Claudia's wardrobe is quite stunning. This is lampshaded by Freideric when Claudia asks why he hasn't commented on her dress - and he remarks that she's always looking splendid.
  • Creepy Ravens: Villainess Claudia's pet and familiar is a raven.
  • Daddy's Girl: In a change from the Grimm tale and the Disney film, not only does her father feature in the story, but Lilli is his pet. His not taking action to save his daughter from his wife is thoroughly justified by Claudia's manipulation and a timely injury.
  • Dances and Balls: The tension in the family comes to a head during one when Lilli enters looking almost exactly like her mother.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Will still has nightmares about the events that led to his banishment and scars.
  • Darker and Edgier: Even more so than the original fairytale.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Claudia gets some zingers. "Brought someone to keep you company" (addressed to Jesus on an inverted crucifix when she drags her husband's unconscious body into the Church).
  • Death by Childbirth: Averted, technically. Lilliana (the mother) was already dying from a wound in her chest when Lilli was born. She instructed Frederich to cut the baby out of her because it was the only way to make sure Lilli didn't die with her mother.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Peter gets pushed out a window by Claudia just to allow Will and Lilli to end up together.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Both Lilli and Claudia are deconstructions of the original fairytale characters. Claudia starts out as a loving woman who wants to bond with her new stepdaughter, but Lilli shies away from her, and that ends up leading to Claudia's Face–Heel Turn. Also, the miners aren't cheerful dwarves, but outcasts from the kingdom.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: As noted above, the earlier deconstructions of the fairy tale characters get reconstructed to allow the story to play out normally.
  • Despair Event Horizon: When Claudia both loses her child and is told she can't have more children, she snaps.
  • Disney Death: Played with. Lilli isn't actually killed by the poisoned apple; she just appears to be dead.
  • Disney Villain Death: Inverted. It's Claudia who sends Peter falling to his death.
  • Distressed Dude: Frederich towards the end.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Mostly averted. Claudia forces herself on an injured Friederich as part of a spell. He doesn't seem to mind but it still technically counts as Marital Rape License. It's also presented as a sign of Claudia's villainy and provides no Fanservice.
  • Downer Beginning: The film opens with Frederich and Liliana's carriage crashing in the snow, their driver being eaten by wolves, Liliana being mortally wounded and Frederich having to perform a C-section to save their baby daughter.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • The miners are rather mean to Lilli, not feeding her and making her the butt of their jokes, but when Rolf tries to rape her, they take him up on his suggestion that he should leave—at knifepoint.
    • Lilli herself is dismissive to Claudia, but is horrified when she hears that her stepmother is left barren after her miscarriage.
  • Everything's Precious with Puppies: Invoked by Claudia, who gives Lilli a puppy to try to win her over. Lilli is delighted...and immediately turns to show the puppy to Nannau.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Claudia's outfits get a bit more vampy after her Face–Heel Turn.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Claudia's speaking voice is notably lower than Lilli's, and her humming and singing are in the alto register.
  • Eye Scream: Lilli pokes a possessed maid in the eye with a burning candle. Incidentally, it was the same maid who never covered her hair when Claudia ordered her countless times to.
  • Fairest of Them All: Claudia isn't so much wanting to be fairest in the land as to be more beautiful than Lilli for two reasons: first, because she can surpass the shadow of Frederich's first wife, second, because her beauty is all she has left as a wife after a stillbirth leaves her barren.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Not quite as brutal as being forced to dance in red-hot shoes, but the mirror fragments fly at Claudia's face and she burns to death in her room.
  • Fallen Princess:
    • Lilli technically. She's forced to run away and try and live in the wild.
    • It's implied that Will is a Fallen Prince or nobleman. They don't make big shows of killing peasant families who refuse to join the crusades.
  • Fan Disservice: The Claudia/Frederich sex scene. Fully clothed but still icky to watch.
  • Foreshadowing: Nannau exclaims as she searches for Lilli that the girl will be the death of her. Guess how she died.
  • Gentle Giant: The biggest of the miners is uncommonly large, but he is very childlike and simple and poses the least threat to Lilli.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Technically not a queen, but Claudia is still a noblewoman.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Claudia pre-Face–Heel Turn wears her hair in various updos with hair nets and ornaments. After she becomes the villain, it's usually down.
  • Grimmification: The film opens with Snow White's mother having to have the baby cut out of her, the evil queen turns her servants into zombies and Snow White is nearly raped.
  • Heir Club for Men: Frederich is shown praying desperately for a son. It seems to be the only reason he married Claudia as he is still in love with his dead wife. Claudia, who admitted to her mirror that she really loved him, is not happy when she realizes this.
  • Held Gaze: Constantly between Lilli and Will after their kiss.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Friedrich and Lilli both fall for redheads. Later subverted by Lilli when she instead finds herself attracted to dark-haired Will.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Claudia has (what she thinks) is Lilli's heart cut up to eat in a stew. She also serves some to Frederich.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • Claudia and her brother seem very affectionate. After her miscarriage, she holds his face close to hers more like a lover would.
    • It's clear that Frederich sees his late wife in Lilli when they dance at the ball.
  • Inverse Law of Fertility: Claudia desperately wants a child, but she only carries to term/gets pregnant (the film doesn't specify which) the one time. The baby doesn't live.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • The miners mockingly call Lilli "princess" when she hides with them. Near the end, when she leaves them, one of the miners says "good journey, little princess" as a sign of affection.
    • Inverted as when Lilli is in her coma, she hears her father saying "Go away, phantom. My daughter is dead" and when she finds him again, he says just that.
  • Irony:
    • Lilli rebuffs Claudia's advances for years until the miscarriage. She tries to patch things up with her afterwards. However the miscarriage is what sends Claudia over the edge and turns her against her stepdaughter.
    • The doctor in the group is not the one who revives Lilli by performing the Heimlich maneuver and tells the one who does to leave her, convinced that she's dead.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Will isn't exactly the nicest guy, but he cares about his fellow miners and goes out of his way to protect Lilli even when there's nothing in it for him.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Claudia's mother is implied to have been one.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Claudia doesn't start wearing her hair down until after her Face–Heel Turn.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Lilli is young, virginal and innocent (if bratty). Claudia is sexual and manipulative.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Peter
  • The Lost Lenore: The first Liliana Hoffman for Freiderich.
  • The Lost Woods: Where Lilli runs away to and meets the miners.
  • Lovable Rogue: Will definitely. Lars and Scar could probably count as well.
  • Low Fantasy: Placed in a definite European setting, as there's mentions of Paris. Claudia is the only character with magic, and hers is still limited to what her mirror can give her.
  • Magic Mirror: Of course. It's also implied that the spirit inside the mirror is Claudia's mother.
  • Mama Bear: Claudia is going to protect that baby. Even though he's been dead.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Nannau's death. Death by looking into magic mirror, or just an inconveniently-timed heart attack?
  • Missing Mom: Lilli's mother dies at her birth.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Lilli, after Claudia's miscarriage.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Holy hell, has there ever been an adaptation where all the characters are given names they didn't have in the original?
  • Nice to the Waiter: Lilli. Too bad she's not as nice to her stepmother.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: One of Claudia's many magic tricks.
  • Papa Wolf: Frederich goes out into the storm on his horse to find Lilli when he hears she's missing.
  • Parental Substitute: Lilli was raised by a nurse, who was an acceptable substitute for her mother. Lilli holds Nannau's death against her stepmother.
  • Past Experience Nightmare: Will has nightmares about his family being killed.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Claudia's rather spectacular dress that she wears at the ball. She is annoyed when Frederich doesn't say anything about it.
  • Pretty in Mink: A couple of Lilli's dresses have fur trims to them.
  • Prince Charming: Peter fits the personality but he's just a doctor, as opposed to a prince.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: When Claudia discovers that Gustav faked Lilli's death with a pig's heart, she uses her magic to force him to stab himself.
  • Rage Against the Reflection:
    • After her miscarriage, Claudia sees her reflection in the mirror and snaps.
    • Lilli kills Claudia by stabbing her reflection in the magic mirror.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Lilli's mother wished for her to have skin white as snow, hair black as the ebony window frame, and lips red as blood. Her beauty, and her resemblance to her late mother, are big factors into why Claudia wants her dead. Lilli's mother also counts, due to Uncanny Family Resemblance.
  • Rejected Apology: Lilli feels terrible after her stepmother's miscarriage, and apologizes for never accepting her. But it's far too late to reach Claudia now...
  • Rule of Three: Claudia does indeed try to kill Lilli three times but the first two are different from the original fairytale. She first tries to bury her in a mine cave-in and secondly by making trees fall in the forest.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Nannau's death in the prologue serves to clue the viewer in that this fairy tale truly is Darker and Edgier.
  • Sanity Slippage: Claudia was a little unstable from the beginning, but after the ball and her miscarriage, she starts to get a bit Ax-Crazy.
  • Scars Are Forever: Will has a telltale scar on his face from when his family was killed.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: A variation where it happens near the start of the film. Our first image of the older Lilli is her in a nightgown so she arrives at the ball wearing her mother's dress to the surprise of many guests.
  • Shirtless Scene: The miners work in the mine shirtless. Will also gets another later on.
  • Shower of Angst: This leads to Will and Lilli's first kiss.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Lilli wants to marry Peter, who is a kind doctor and travels the world. She ends up with Will, who is also a good man.
  • Snow Means Death: Lilli's mother dies laid out in the snow. Inverted in the end, when Lilli's father wakes up just as it starts snowing.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Rolf, to the miners. He wants to ransom Lilli back to her father, then tries to rape her, at which point the others decide it's time he left.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Lilli is certainly more badass at the end of the story than she was at the start.
  • Traumatic C-Section: We don't actually see anything, but the spreading pool of blood suggests Lilliana the elder wasn't quite dead when Fredrich was forced to cut their daughter out of her. If nothing else, it was certainly traumatic for him.
  • True Love's Kiss: Averted, in keeping with the original fairy tale. Instead, Will revives Lilliana by shaking her (which dislodges the piece of apple stuck in her throat) and repeatedly urging her to "Breathe...breathe!".
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Lilli looks so much like her mother as to be a symbol for her continued lingering presence in Frederich's heart.
  • Vain Sorceress: Like the original tale, Claudia is enamored with her physical appearance to the point that the magic mirror shows her to be beautiful in moments when she's not.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Claudia has an utterly epic one after her miscarriage.
  • The Voiceless: Gustav has functioning vocal chords, which he shows when he screams. But he never speaks.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Double subverted as Claudia is quite nice and friendly to Lilli when she arrives. Lilli's mistreatment of her as well as her miscarriage sends Claudia over the edge to become the wicked stepmother.
  • Yandere: Claudia appears to be partially motivated by feeling that Lilli is competition for Frederich's affections.
  • You Have Failed Me: Gustav realizes what his sister will do to him when she finds out Lilli escaped. His deception was an attempt to buy more time before Claudia inevitably found out.


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