Matthew Bright’s 1996 flick FREEWAY is a hugely entertaining little film. The modern day, violent and darkly humorous take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood starring Reese Witherspoon (as Red) and Kiefer Sutherland (as the big, bad wolf) has accumulated a well-deserved cult following over the last 18 years, even spawning a sequel that nobody remembers.
It’s not surprising that the idea would be utilized again with a different fairy tale, especially in an age where the market can support both “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” on television and multiple Snow White adaptations in the theaters. The tale of the Three Little Pigs, in which there is much huffing and puffing and blowing of houses down, would seem like a natural fit for a reimagining, and Paul Morrell’s BIG BAD WOLF, filmed under the title HUFF, attempts to be such a beast.
BIG BAD WOLF stars Charlie O’Connell, probably best known as the rose-giver of season 7 of “The Bachelor” but whom I’ll always think of as a replacement for Sabrina Lloyd on a later season of “Sliders.” O’Connell acquits himself well in the role of Huff, an abusive stepfather who’s spent years drilling ill-understood Biblical “values” into the skulls of his three stepdaughters, starting with the opening scene when he tells the pre-teen girls the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah in graphic detail. (For once, at least, this is used to justify misogyny rather than homophobia, which is nice.) He’s the big bad wolf of the title, his nickname coming from the frequent hits he gets from his huffer due to his constant asthma attacks.
The remainder of the film takes place seven years later, as the girls, Shay, Styx and Brixi (Get it? Okay, we’ll move on and ignore the fact that their mother gave them names that a stripper would reject for being too ridiculous.) have endured a constant stream of abuse, both emotional and sexual, at their stepfather’s hands and other appendages. Their mother, Lorelei (Elina Madison) is powerless to do anything, with Huff just commenting, “you hitched yourself to this locomotive, you know where the door is.”
Not content to just be an abusive asshole, Huff is also a drug dealer, and apparently a particularly bad one, as his drug dealer pals use a picture of his face for target practice. His hated demeanor even extends to his mistress, Laci, and Styx’s boyfriend Woody, so it’s no wonder that he has plans to make one big drug score before getting the hell out of town so he can, presumably, be an asshole somewhere else.
His plan, however, goes sour shortly after he meets up with a drug lord played by Rance Howard. (Howard’s part is brief but great – you get the feeling he was just talked into the film by the promise of being able to hang out in a limo with a beautiful blonde woman in his arm for the day.) The ladies in his life, having had enough of his shit, have taken off with the money and Huff has to hunt them down one by one, with each hiding in a location appropriate to the story’s fairy tale origins.
There’s a good idea in BIG BAD WOLF, and O’Connell fully embraces the villainous nature of his role to the point where he’s a completely hideous monster. BIG BAD WOLF is brutal and cruel, with some moments of sadism that should get under the skin of any viewer, like one character being stripped and murdered in front of their mother.
BIG BAD WOLF doesn’t really go for the “grindhouse” aesthetic so frequent in films these days (rather a surprise, as Morrell had previously directed the entertaining TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL short), instead giving the film a lush look with bright colors. Unfortunately, this results in the tone of the film being all over the place – the sadism is undercut by the fact that the film looks like a well-made PG-13 teen horror flick, Huff’s viciousness is undercut by the fact that too many of the characters treat him like a desperate joke (which, honestly, would have been a better tactic to take – the characters in a film like FARGO do terrible things because they feel they have to like a cornered wild animal, whereas Huff just comes off like a dick) and the anti-religious aspect is undercut by being constantly referred to and yet never really explored.
We’ve certainly got nothing wrong with sadism in films here at Daily Grindhouse, but BIG BAD WOLF wants to be both sadistic and brutal and have a spurt of black humor, and while that can be done well (see the recent 100 BLOODY ACRES for an example), it’s a tough trick to pull off. BIG BAD WOLF has some genuinely suspenseful moments, a cameo from Clint Howard (who says “I do not get involved with family matters”) and the willingness to go all the way with regards to offing sympathetic characters, and Morrell certainly knows how to make a film look good, but BIG BAD WOLF just feels like a number of conceptually interesting ideas that don’t really mesh together.
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