Film Torments: Rumpelstiltskin (1995)

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TORMENTS took a break for most of last month while we wrapped our heads around Keith Lemon, because that happened. We’re back with a whimper for October, which will have (unimaginatively) a Horror theme. In the first of a double-bill for this week, it’s a look at 1995’s Rumpelstiltskin.

Do you remember Leprechaun? Neither do I, and I wrote the Torment for its fourth sequel, Leprechaun 5: In the Hood (come to do no good). It starred Warwick Davis, of course, and Jennifer Aniston in a very early role. That’s about it. In the Hood had Ice-T in it, probably some hookah, more Warwick Davis, and Warwick Davis rapping. As implausible as it may seem, it’s all incredibly forgettable.

But that’s what happens when a series grinds to a (fourth) creative halt, shunning ideas and relaxing upon the chaise-lounge of tired archetypes and “contemporary” stylings. When a gimmick runs its course, the laughs have come and gone. When a gimmick drags itself out interminably, the only laughs left are those bored little chuckles you make when in dire need of levity. Leprechaun had always been a tongue-in-cheek series, to be sure, but at its core was a horror conceit, warping a traditionally benign fairy tale into, ostensibly, a slasher villain.

Rumpelstiltskin, in this regard, is the true successor to Leprechaun. Helmed by writer-director Mark Jones (who served similar duties on various Leprechaun instalments), the resemblance is immediate and obvious, down to the terrible jokes, the make-up on its titular monster and the anachronistic, fish-out-of-water remarks he makes along his merry throat-slitting way. This is about as standard as a gimmicky comedy-horror with a vertically-challenged fairy-tale creature can get and, almost a month after seeing it, the memories do not flood back.

You'd think they would.

You’d think they would.

Rumpelstiltskin starts out in the 15th century, where Rumpelstiltskin himself is sealed away inside a jade figurine having failed to steal a baby from a town of incredibly contemporary-sounding Medieval “Europeans”. Cut to the present day of 1995 and the film follows the trials and tribulations of single mother Shelly (Kim Johnston Ulrich) and her infant child.

Much of the first act revolves around Shelly reeling from her police officer husband’s recent death at the hands of a very slow carjacker. Good thing she has her insufferably single friend Hildy (Allyce Beasley) on hand, a twee little woman who never shuts up about being single and wanting to eat manflesh like an Uruk-hai. Together, they discover a jade figurine in a witchy shop that might just contain an impossibly powerful demonic presence who covets infant children. Who’da thunk.

Unfortunately, Rumpelstiltskin is not played by Robert Carlyle and his delicious demon grin for all you Once Upon a Time snarks. Here, he’s played by Max Grodénchik, best known for his role as Rom on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Warwick Davis was, presumably, busy (with Leprechaun 3). Grodénchik, for his part, delights in the part, his distinctive features twisting into wide grimaces and toothy snarls, even lending lines like “fucketh me!” some real cavalier energy.

Jones’ previous experience in cartoon-writing, including Scooby-Doo and Captain Caveman, is perhaps evident in how cartoonishly vaudevillian his antagonists are. Davis’ Leprechaun was full of snide remarks, and Grodénchik’s Rumpelstiltskin has a few himself, mostly leaning on anachronistic references to his heritage, such as his reaction to an 18-wheeler: “Must have taken a great many blacksmiths to build that.”

And a scanty few screenwriters to fuck it all up!

And a scanty few screenwriters to fuck it all up!

The tone is firmly tongue-in-cheek, as one might expect from the writer/director of Leprechaun, but the camp is embarrassing and leaden, the obvious jokes falling thuddingly flat. Beasley as Hildy is an intolerable harpy that’s mercifully killed off relatively early, but she’s replaced by an even more grating character in the form of Max Bergman (God’s Not Dead ensemble member Tommy Blaze!). A disgusting pick-up artist clad in a Hawaiian shirt and a shit-eating grin, Bergman’s death cannot come quickly enough. (And here’s a spoiler: It doesn’t come at all!)

Blaze’s performance is ear-scratchingly awful, consisting solely of making O-faces at oncoming traffic and making crude, genitalia-related quips. His eventual survival and implied meet-cute with Shelly makes me uncertain as to whether we’re supposed to loathe this scum-sucking fuck-pump or be won over by his roguish charm. If the latter, I want to punch Tommy Blaze in the face. Fortunately, our heroine Shelly does so on several occasions. To her credit, Ulrich’s performance is a solid, commendable effort; she’s strong and assured but not constantly so, and her hallucinatory encounters with her dead husband are given surprising dramatic weight.

It’s a thankless task for both Ulrich and Grodénchik. The film is a throwaway joke, capitalising on the questionable success of Leprechaun and running an already thin rind of shtick into the ground. While it might have once been fun or even entertaining to watch a diminutive creature ride a motorcycle with shades on, the boat has long since sailed. What’s left is only faint embarrassment as the camera creaks beneath the weight of fourth-wall breakage.

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