Movie critics called it gratuitous, "a weak story" and violent. Interestingly, horror critics were far more positive (and these guys can be pretty harsh), declaring it to be "unpretentiously entertaining". It went on to become a commercial success overseas and there is now a sequel in development.
Preview of The Witching Hour featurette (behind-the-scenes)
I know a few adults who admit this is either their favorite fairy tale as a child or the most memorable. It's clear it resonates a lot with kids (and the memories stay strong as they grow up too). I completely understand why. This is a dark, dark fairy tale - even a very sanitized version (like the Disney one in which it's clear the witch is pushed into a COLD over and is taken out and sent to jail later - ugh!) makes little eyebrows rise. I recently read one of my favorite illustrated* versions, The Diary of Hansel and Gretel ("by Gretel" and Proved to be Authentic and Real by the Authority of Kees Moerbeek) to my son's Kindergarten class. We always have question and comment time after each book and boy were there a LOT of questions! This version doesn't shy away from some hideous parenting, how dangerous the oven was and or that this witch ended up dead. Or as we said in class "dead-dead-not-pretend-dead-and-will-not-become-a-zombie-dead". They were reassured that there was no chance of this particular nasty person ever making a reappearance. (They also all - boys and girls - adored the little picture of the dead mother in the locket tucked onto the first page and completely approved of Gretel drawing a hideous scary-looking portrait to represent the awful stepmother.)
But back to the movie.
If you (like me) missed a few of the fairy tale related things about this film along the way, here are a few things you may not know:
- Norwegian filmmaker, Tommy Wirkola (who co-wrote and directed) said: "I have a strong memory from my childhood of just how dark and gruesome their tale was and I wondered what would have happened to the two of them when they grew up? They had this dark past and this intense hatred of witches. So as I thought about it, it made sense to me that of course they would be fated to become great witch hunters..."
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters - preview of "Reinventing Hansel and Gretel"
- In Wirkola's original treatment, Gretel developed an eating disorder, but that idea was dropped.
- They made some effort to not use stereotypical witch designs, instead trying to communicate the idea that they were "the spawn of the dark places of nature" and tried to have them feel "animalistic". Concept art by Ulrich Zeidler was released around the time the movie premiered. You can see that HERE - worth a look if you're writing or working with witch characters, to see some of the concepts explored here. Some of these actually DO feel they're from fairy tales from different parts of the world. (Others are just a bit ridiculous.)
I honestly wish I had more to share but clearly this film isn't meant to be anything more than an fast-paced and somewhat silly B movie (which is perfectly valid entertainment for people who like that stuff).
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters - Making of Edward Troll
The Blu-ray contains the theatrical release version, an uncut-unrated version and three featurettes: Reinventing Hansel and Gretel, The Witching Hours and Meet Edward the Troll.
I still surprised there's going to be a sequel.
* My favorite retelling remains Donna Jo Napoli's The Magic Circle. I haven't been able to think of the tale the same way since I first read it.