It was summer and I must have been about 4 or 5 at the time. My sister and I were being watched by a babysitter named Elise whose mother was one of the teachers at our school. Like most kids, I felt like anyone older than 12 years old was impossibly mature and Elise seemed like one of the coolest, most mature people there was. She had her own car and would take us all sorts of places including her video store of choice entitled Video Library.
My family were Blockbuster folks for most of my early childhood, so that was the only video store I was used to. Imagine my surprise when she agreed to take us to rent a movie or two at Video Library and I took in the cavernous building that seemed to house copies of every movie ever released on video up to that point. You could spend hours in there and still feel like you overlooked something. They seemed to have so many movies that Blockbuster didn’t – even in the children’s section I was relegated to for that afternoon. I settled on a large, white clamshell tape entitled Fairy Tale Classics. I saw that it had a version of Cinderella on it, so that was what really drew me in due to my obsession with transformation scenes. I always wanted to see how they’d handle those dramatic scenes where Cinderella turns her rags into a ballgown or how they’d handle the evil queen transforming into one of her disguises to kill Snow White. The rest of the stories weren’t as familiar to me – The Ugly Ducking, Ali Baba, The Bremen Town Musicians, and The Red Shoes.
I went home and put the tape in and was entertained, but unmoved by their Cinderella re-telling. All in all, it was by the numbers, but I kept watching and was enjoying the other stories until I got to The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, The Red Shoes is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen who gave us such uplifting tales as The Little Match Girl and the original telling of The Little Mermaid where the title character kills herself when she discovers the prince isn’t interested in her.
The Red Shoes turned out to be another super happy yarn about a poor girl named Karen who’s taken in by a devoutly religious woman after her mother dies. Karen sees a pair of red shoes in the store window and obsesses about them because they remind her of some shoes she had when she was a child. Because her new mother is colorblind, she buys them for Karen, not knowing that they’re totally inappropriate for church and a creepy old soldier has told her that, if she wears these, they’ll take over her life and make her dance until she dies.
Karen starts feeling pretty snazzy in her new shoes and does a little dance in them one day, which turns out to be a really bad idea, because this triggers the shoes to have a mind of their own and she starts flying all around the town, unable to stop dancing. She even kicks her mother in the head, injuring her badly enough to make her bedridden. She’s subdued and some townspeople rip the shoes off of her and that’s that. She never wants to dance again . After all, guilty feet have got no rhythm.
This goes alright for a while, but eventually, she can’t control herself and she brings the shoes back out of the closet for a town festival and she’s back at it again. She’s flung all over town and into the woods where she encounters the scary soldier guy again who just keeps laughing at this poor girl. She gets back home and finds out that her adoptive mother has died in the time that she was out dancing around town and she prays to God to take her instead and bring her back. The angels grant her wish, but everything turns out to be a dream and she and her new mom are cool. She takes the shoes off and locks them away for real this time. The end.
Believe it or not, but this was actually toned down from the original story where Karen is so overcome with grief over her adoptive mother’s death that she asks someone to cut off her feet and she’s forced to live as an invalid until an angel finally grants her wish of death. There was something so nightmarish about this story and the way it was presented that rubbed me the wrong way as a kid and it haunted me for so long that, in my teens, I had to order a copy of the VHS from eBay just to prove to myself that I didn’t imagine the whole thing. I’m sure the strange synth score didn’t help relieve any of the creeps I felt and that scary soldier lurking in the woods was of no comfort either.
Looking at it now, I have to laugh that something like this could freak me out as much as it did, but I do have this movie to thank for introducing me to Video Library. After that fateful trip, I convinced my family to get a membership and, every Friday for the rest of my childhood, we’d stop by there on the way back from school and rent a handful of movies – movies that were to shape me in so many wonderful ways. That place became my film school and I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the money in the world.
UNK SEZ: Folks, you can watch this version of The Red Shoes right over HERE.
ALSO: You guys remember our old pal Chris Moore, director of BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN (available on Tubi), TRIGGERED, and now… A STRANGER AMONG THE LIVING (trailer HERE & rent it HERE). I’ve seen this fine flick and can tell you that as per usual, Chris Moore has delivered something multilayered, thought-provoking and consistently unpredictable. It’s a genuinely eerie mind-bender that strikes similar psychological nightmare cords as THE TENANT, MESSIAH of EVIL, and CARNIVAL OF SOULS; so do yourself a favor and check it out if you have the time (you do).