[5 April 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
At first glance, Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale looks like it might be a hold over from the high-concept, historical fantasy television shows of the mid-to-late-‘90s, perhaps a bit better than Beastmaster, but not as good as Xena: Warrior Princess. Actually, that’s not too far off. Except that this show has much more of a cheesy, over-the-top B-movie vibe to it. That’s a good thing, as long as you’re aware going in that it is a campy, low-budget romp heavy on the heaving bosoms and gratuitous gore, and light on plot and continuity. This is definitely suited to a MST:3K-style bad movie night with friends and drinking, and it’s definitely not suitable for children.
Initially aired on Syfy, writer Gavin Scott’s story follows Belle, played by model-turned-actress Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes) as she tromps through the forest, collecting herbs, clad in a short skirt and leather bustier. She is rescued from a wolf attack by the mysterious Beast (Victor Parascos). Meanwhile, local baddie Count Rudolf (Rhett Giles) is scheming with the sexy sorceress, Lady Helen (Vanessa Gray) to take over the kingdom after the death of the king. The ineffectual sheriff (Tony Bellette) serves as a (presumably unintentionally) hilarious narrator. There are also several gullible villagers, a few really dumb noblemen, lots of blood-spurting severed limbs and one vicious CGI troll.
Filmed in Australia by director David Lister, Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale is quite visually enchanting, despite its obviously small-budget production values. The sets aren’t bad, and, for the most part, the costumes are pretty good. The make-up on the Beast is actually fairly impressive.
Where the film gets its high camp appeal is in the performances. None of them are exactly bad, keeping in mind the type of project this is. However, none of them are consistent, either. To begin with, the dialogue is all modern, though this is clearly meant to be taking place in some vaguely medieval time period. Add to that the fact that each character has a different accent, and you can start to see where willing suspension of disbelief becomes a problem. Once we meet the Lady Helen invoking various gods at her cauldron, the film is simply begging for comical commentary (“Oh come on! Pick a century! Pick a pantheon! Pick a bloody accent, already!”). The sooner the viewer surrenders to the incongruity, the more fun Beauty and the Beast becomes.
The tale is, of course, predictable. Belle and the Beast fall in love, the Beast is blamed for gruesome murders in the village, Count Rudolf hunts him down, etc. Throughout the cast and crew interviews on the DVD, people keep talking about how this version of the tale is dark and unusual, and a far cry from the “original” because it’s got blood and horror and sexual overtones. Clearly none of these people are familiar with the original folklore. Someone needs to tell them that the Disney version is not the original source material. Someone also needs to tell Warren that “contemporary” doesn’t mean what she seems to think it means. In addition to the interviews, the DVD includes a behind-the-scenes feature and a gallery of photos.
Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale isn’t high art, but if you like low-budget horror flicks, or you enjoy ogling scantily clad women, or if you just enjoy shouting sarcastic jokes at your TV screen, it might just be your idea of perfect entertainment.