Little Red Riding Hood (1960)

Genres - Children's/Family, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Children's Fantasy, Fairy Tales & Legends  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - Mexico   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Fred Beldin

This Mexican-made live-action adaptation of the classic fairy tale was a big hit on the "kiddie matinee" circuit, a theatrical innovation credited to the film's American distributor, K. Gordon Murray. His MO was to purchase a pre-made children's feature from South of the Border, hastily overdub a loose approximation of the dialogue in English, and book it into theaters for exclusive showings on Saturday afternoons. La Caperucita Roja was typical of Murray's library, a low-budget musical fantasy interpreted with a particularly Mexican flavor that will seem odd to American viewers. Maria Gracia plays Little Red Riding Hood as an incandescent child with rosy cheeks and a perpetual sweet smile, beloved by everyone in her little village. Woodsmen carry her on their shoulders, townsfolk celebrate her in song, and two grown men engage in a wrestling match to win a kiss from Little Red. So it's no surprise when an evil wolf from the deep forest begins stalking her, driven by the same uncontrollable desire as the rest of the cast. When several sheep disappear and a local boy is kidnapped, the villagers recall an ancient prophecy that tells of wicked magic and vicious animals causing dark days. A posse is formed to track the Wolf, but many of the brave hunters lose their strength when they come upon the lair of the beast, which is possessed by evil spirits. Because she is pure of heart, Little Red Riding Hood ends up saving the day by invoking the name of Jesus Christ and banishing the demons that haunt the woods. Meanwhile, the Wolf is captured at Grandma's house and the townspeople prepare to burn him at the stake.

While the original fairy tale is clearly an allegory to teach children about stranger danger, this version is blunt about the Wolf's resemblance to real-world pedophiles and serial killers. It's downright uncomfortable to watch the Wolf peep through windows and drool with lust over the succulent Little Red, and it becomes increasingly vague as to whether he plans to eat or seduce the nine-year-old girl. Manuel Valdes plays the Wolf in a disturbing fake fur costume with huge fangs and a distended tongue, and constant slapstick pratfalls don't help diminish his sheer creepiness. Extra characters (including a conniving skunk and a mischievous little boy named "Freckles") were added to stretch the brief story to feature length, as was the subplot of satanic spirits and the mystical "Mist Fairy." Even though it was popular during its original American release, La Caperucita Roja is weird enough to upset the very young, and will simply seem archaic and confusing to older children. However, those seeking unusual experiences in cinema will not want to miss it, or any of the slapdash K. Gordon Murray kiddie products. Director Roberto Rodriguez and producer Murray unleashed a pair of sequels featuring Gracia, Valdes, and "Stinky" the Skunk; Little Red Riding Hood and Her Friends follows the Wolf and Skunk's attempts at going straight and fitting into the village they once terrorized, and Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters pits them all against an evil witch, a vampire, a killer robot, Siamese twins, and Frankenstein's monster.