Plot: young woman navigates a forest full of horrors and terrors.
Little Red Riding Hood was (so far) the last of three European fairytale adaptations from California filmmaker Rene Perez. In the years before he had lensed versions of Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013). Little Red Riding Hood came five long years after Catherine Hardwicke’s big budget Red Riding Hood (2011) with Amanda Seyfried, and thus could impossibly be accused of trying to ride its coattails. It was shot back-to-back with his other moodpiece The Obsidian Curse (2016) and it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Perez wanted to briefly focus on something lighter before delving further into the Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) franchise and starting pre-production on his now infamous Death Kiss (2018). Little Red Riding Hood is a cosplaying extravaganza gone very much awry, and it’s understandable why Perez never returned to adapting fairytales after.
While the history of Little Red Riding Hood can be traced back to several 10th century European folk tales it was 17th-century French poet Charles Perrault who provided the basis for its popular and most enduring iteration with his Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. That version of the story can be found in the Histories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités or Contes de ma mère l'Oye) collection from 1697. In the 19th century German poets Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm retold the Perrault fairytale loyal to the source material, but toned down the darker themes considerably to make it more audience-friendly. Rene Perez’ adaptation of the tale keeps the basic contours of the Perrault and Grimm iterations of the story, but takes some strange twists and turns along the way. Normally there isn’t a whole of ways to bungle something as simple as Little Red Riding Hood. Alas, Perez and screenwriter Barry Massoni have managed to do just that.
Little Red Riding Hood (Irina Levadneva, as Iren Levy) is traveling through the woods to bring medicine to her “gravely ill” grandmother (Marilyn Robrahm). On the way she’s warned by an apparently dead knight (John Scuderi) that the forest is haunted by terrible horrors, and that her “pureness” will attract the agents of evil. In the castle in the deep forest the Master (Robert S. Dixon) has sensed Little Red Riding Hood’s presence, and from the dungeons below he releases the Lycanthrope (Louie Ambriz), the Blind Creature (Jason Jay Prado, as Jason Prado), and the Evil Siren (Raula Reed) into the woods. Little Red Riding Hood is chased across the forest and into the castle by the Lycanthrope. Meanwhile in the earthly dimension social media influencer Carol Marcus (Nicole Stark) is on a hikingtrip across California shooting nature pictures. Eventually she comes across a mansion in the deep woods where she’s haunted by a spectral manifestation of the Master. As Little Red Riding Hood wanders around the castle she comes across an imprisoned monk (Colin Hussey) who tells her that the Master is one of the Ancients, the last survivors of Atlantis, and that he feeds on fear. On the other side of the forest a knight (Robert Amstler) is lured into the castle by the Evil Siren in form of a beautiful gypsy (Alanna Forte). Now that they’re both imprisoned in the castle walls there’s no other way to escape but to confront the Master in any way they can, and release the spell that binds them to the castle…
To say that Little Red Riding Hood is both virtually plotless and hopelessly convoluted at the same time would be charitable. As a simple three-act story Red Riding Hood lends itself ideally for adaptations. Except that Barry Massoni and Rene Perez forgot to set up the main characters in the first act, pad the second act with meandering and endless shots of the castle interiors and the Nicole Stark subplot, only to hastily wrap everything up in what looks like an improvised ending. Then there’s also the fact that this Little Red Riding Hood has very little to do with either the Perrault or Grimm fairytale, while it does feature a girl in a red hood, a wolf, and a grandmother. The Nicole Stark subplot feels more than a little out of place, and would have fitted better in Playing with Dolls (2015), or Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Why the Nicole Stark subplot was even included is anybody’s guess. It goes nowhere, adds nothing of value, and is never brought up again once the valiant knight is introduced. More than anything it feels like a b-roll from Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Instead of introducing grandmother and setting up why it’s imperative that Little Red Riding Hood reaches her destination, a throwaway line is all motivation we get. The warrior is the closest equivalent to the woodcutter (or hunter) from the fairytale, but he will not be rescueing Little Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf, or carving him up. Not that this is the first time that Rene Perez took to adapting a European fairytale very, very liberally, Sleeping Beauty (2014), and The Snow Queen (2013) suffer from the same defects, and the latter even had the gall to introduce a para-military subplot.
On the plus side, this is a Rene Perez production which at least ensures that there will be plenty to look at. In case of Little Red Riding Hood that means we are treated to a multitude of beautifully composed shots and scenic Redwood National Park landscapes. What little production value Little Red Riding Hood has is almost entirely thanks to extensive location filming at Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. As early as The Snow Queen (2013) Perez has proven that he just as easy could make a living shooting music videos when he isn’t making movies. Just like that movie Little Red Riding Hood occassionally reverts back to an extended LARPing exercise captured on camera, but just like Rene has a good eye for locations he loves beautiful women just as much. On display here are Irina Levadneva, Nicole Stark, and Alanna Forte. Stark, and Forte are Perez regulars and would turn up in future Perez features, contrary to Levadneva who would resume modeling. Little Red Riding Hood is low on action, story, and lacking in about every department – but it works wonders as a moodpiece. If Perez should decide to revisit this fantasy direction he should probably lens a Jean Rollin erotic horror feature, or dig up the wolf-suit and helm his own Paul Naschy inspired El Hombre Lobo epic. He has the monster suits, the locations, and the actresses to do just such a thing.
Just like Sleeping Beauty (2014) had a demon that resembled the Jem'Hadar shock troops of the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) Perez has Stark playing a character named Carol Marcus and has her do the Vulcan salute, for… some reason? The least you can say is that Rene has a sense of humor about it all. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a Neil Johnson science-fiction feature, thankfully Rene would find better stuff to do for, and with, Nicole Stark in his later productions. The dialogue, when it appears and however little of it there is in the first place, is about as clunky as you’d expect. Matters are made worse by Robert Amstler’s and Irina Levadneva’s impossibly thick native accents (Austrian and Russian, respectively), hence that they were dubbed by Kristina Kennedy and Robert Koroluck. Overall, and a few beautiful composed shots notwithstanding, Little Red Riding Hood is a fairly static affair. This was before Perez really got a grip on creative camera set-ups and moving shots. Little Red Riding Hood, just like The Obsidian Curse (2016) the same year, often feels more like a technical exercise than a feature intended for general release. And that’s okay, Perez’ later productions obviously benefitted from it in the long run.