Deadly Doll's Choice: Rumpelstiltskin(1995): Like Rihanna, He Asks "What's My Name?"

Once again it’s time for the Deadly Doll’s pick, and this month Emily from The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense has chosen a film that she has really wanted me to see, 1995’s Rumpelstiltskin. (My choice for her was 2008’s While She Was Out.) However, before I get into the film, I want to talk a little about the story on which it’s based. The original Fairy Tale made its debut in the 1812 Brothers Grimm book Children’s and Household Tales. The origin of the tale about an impish magical figure who performs a service in trade for a child reaches back as far as the 16th century, and similar characters appear in the folklore of a number of cultures. The Brothers Grimm tale puts its focus on differing views of Paganism, how greed measures up to human life, and the power of naming things.

When you get down to it, Rumpelstiltskin, though monstrous in appearance, is one of the more sympathetic characters in the story. He keeps his end of the bargain, utters the unarguable statement, “A living thing is more dear to me than all the treasures of earth.”, and even gives the miller’s daughter, then the Queen, a chance to win her child back. Sure I assume he wants the baby to eat it, but honestly the Queen was willing to trade her child's life for her own and the King was willing to kill his betrothed if she couldn’t spin straw into gold. These are not model parents. Speaking of parents, springing from the mind of Leprechaun writer/director Mark Jones, Rumpelstiltskin (1995) dispenses with the straw, the kings, and the deals and attempts to bring the Grimm character into the nineties.

The film begins in the 1400’s with Rumpelstiltskin (Max Grodinchik) being chased by an angry mob from town who want the imp to give the baby back. (As none of the crowd seems particularly well dressed I assume they dispense with the whole King thing, and there seems to be no mention of naming.) Somehow, it’s kind of unclear, Rumpelstiltskin gets hoodooed, turned into a stone, and cursed to stay that way for 1000 years or until someone with a baby makes a tearful wish. That seems like a tall order, but jump forward five centuries to widowed wife Shelley (Kim Johnston Ulrich). Her husband, a policeman, was killed in the line of duty while she was pregnant. Nearly a year later, she goes shopping with a friend and picks up a strange and ugly little sculpture, one she holds while wishing that her husband was still alive. After making her wish come true (at least for one night), the newly freed Rumpelstiltskin picks up right where he left off and begins to come after Shelley’s baby. Shelley goes on the run eventually finding her only ally in loudmouth talk show host Max Bergman (Tommy Blaze), but Rumpelstiltskin won’t be stopped that easily once a bargain has been struck.

Unlike the miller’s daughter turned Queen in the original Fairy Tale, distressed mother Shelley didn’t make a deal as much as be sad while holding a statue she bought. The derivations from the brother’s Grimm tale don’t start or end there (unless I missed the part where Rumpy chased the Queen across the kingdom in a 16 wheeler), but I think that distinction is important to note. If you go into this film expecting a rendition of the tale which might jibe with the original tale, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However if you like Leprechaun films, then you’re in luck. Rumpelstiltskin references The A-Team (“I love it when a plan comes together”), drives motorcycles, and delivers bon mots like, “Fucketh Me.” Yeah, it’s that kind of movie, totally silly and completely fun.

Much of the film comes courtesy of Max Grodinchik. He has appeared in everything from Barton Fink and The Rocketeer to Bruce Almighty and King of California, but I know him best as the simple sounding Feringi Rom on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While Grodinchik plays the role with his tongue firmly in his cheek delivering lines like “It took many good blacksmiths to make that I imagine” before climbing in and driving off in a big rig. That’s right. He has no idea what it is, but a 15th century boggart can drive a truck. However he does imbue the character with enough menace that the events of the film don’t ever descend into complete foolishness. During the climax, Rumpy dispenses with the one-liners and actually comes off as a genuine force of evil. Though admittedly this part doesn’t last long he does want to suck the soul out of a baby, and no matter what way you look at it that doesn’t sound good. The gold standard for smart mouthed, short statured, killing machines is obviously Warwick Davis’ Leprechaun. So how does Rumpy stack up? Well, he never made it to the Hood or to Space so that should tell you something.

The film’s lead character is Shelley played by Kim Johnston Ulrich. While Ulrich gives a fair performance, she is constantly overshadowed by every other character around her. No matter if it’s her best friend (played by Moonlighting’s Allyce Beasley), an aged witch (Vera Lockwood), or her husband’s old boss (character actor Jack McGee in a small, small role), Shelley easily fades into the film’s atmosphere where she should have been an emotional center. This is never more readily illustrated than when she meets up with Morton Downey-esque talk show host Max Bergman (Tommy Blaze) while on the run from the baby bandit. Bergman’s character is briefly (and strangely) established earlier when Shelley is watching TV, but once he shows up to match Rumpy with zingers, run away from a truck in a dune buggy, and generally liven up the atmosphere, they should have just turned over the movie to him. Tommy Blaze, who was then a touring club comic (now a reformed Christian comic who surely disowns what may have been his best work ever), really nails the sleazy guy with a nice guy center role and easily is the best part of the film beyond the titular character.

Now I haven’t talked much about writer/director Mark Jones except to say that he also penned and directed Leprechaun. Now I don’t know what kind of situation erupted that precluded his taking part in Leprechaun II (1994), but it does seem like he just decided to try another variation of the short killer who is the stuff of storybooks. Working with writer/producer Joe Ruby, whose credits include episodes of Scooby Doo, The Hair Bear Bunch, and The Funky Phantom, it’s no wonder that Rumpelstiltskin has a tendency to seem like an R rated cartoon. Stylistically there is little to say about the film. There are no impressive flourishes, but rather a solid, stock treatment that delivers but doesn’t impress. The only other notably odd choice in the film was the music which sounded mostly like mid-nineties pap except for the appearance of Flock of Seagulls’ hit song “I Ran” which I’m sure now a film with this low budget could probably not afford.

The tagline of Rumpelstiltskin reads, “When the Fairy Tale ends, the nightmare begins.”, but how it should read is “When the Fairy Tale ends, there will be endless wisecracks, the 15th century baddie will have a firm grasp on both modern machinery and pop culture, the lead actress will be completely forgettable, and then the nightmare begins.” There is precious little here that was nightmarish, but there was also precious little that I didn’t enjoy watching. This is the kind of flick you want to put on when you’re feeling a little bummed, when friends are coming by, or as a double feature with Leprechaun or Troll 2. It’s a completely silly bit of legendsploitaton that I can’t thank Emily enough for recommending for our monthly swap. This has been our seventh month doing this feature, and I love it every time. It’s really been a highlight of my year and I can’t wait to see what Emily chooses for me in 2011.

Bugg Rating


  1. Fucketh me, this review brightened my day!

    Sadly my While She Was Out post will have to wait until Blogspot decides I'm not a spammer. gahhhhhhh still no word on reinstating my blog.

    But onto brighter news, so glad you got a kick out of this one! That go-kart scene is a big youtube hit and one I pull up on days like these, when I really do need a quick smile.

    And the actual story of Rumpy is pretty horrifying. I grew up with the Amy Irving TV movie and always found all the humans more horrifying.

  2. I've only seen clips of this film, but never the entire thing. It looks silly enough for an entertaining viewing. I just really wanted to comment because I loved the title of the blog post. Nice way to stay hip there, Bugg! Excellent review. I might move this up my queue now.

    By the way, Happy New Year to you and your family!


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