What makes a film into a horror movie? Is it intent alone? Or something more?
For many people, growing up in a pre-Internet age when television choices were limited, screenings of the 1950's German fairy tale, The Singing Ringing Tree were the stuff of nightmares.
You only have to look for reviews online and you will come across countless people saying how they were mentally scarred by this creepy tale (even the DVD case - pictured above - proudly boasts that it "haunted a generation").
I knew of this film by reputation and had seen stills, even black and white clips on YouTube, but my partner-in-horror Paul was one of that "haunted" generation and that's why he felt The Singing Ringing Tree would be an appropriate, if rather unusual, choice for one of our horror movie screenings.
He'd acquired the DVD recently, but hadn't watched the movie since he saw it as a child.
Filmed entirely in a studio, in garish Technicolor, with a minimal cast, there's immediately an otherworldliness to this very loose adaptation of a lesser-known Brothers Grimm tale, Hurleburlebutz.
A prince (Eckart Dux) rides up to a castle to court the snooty princess (Christel Bodenstein), but she says she will only marry him if he fetches her the mythical Singing Ringing Tree.
Travelling the land looking for the tree, he discovers a cave to Fairyland, where a wicked dwarf (Richard Krüger) gives him the tree, on the condition that if the princess still rejects him the prince will be enthralled to the dwarf.
|Richard Krüger as The Wicked Dwarf|
The princess, having been kidnapped by the bear, is then cursed so her features reflect her dark soul and so on.
The story of The Singing Ringing Tree is very problematic from the get-go.
The prince only seeks the princess's hand in marriage because he feels that's what he's supposed to do. He's never met her before and he hasn't been sent by his father, for instance.
Conversely, the princess is a horrible person, and not only did Paul and I both agree the prince could better, we also agreed that - by modern tastes - when her features were supposedly "cursed" she actually got better looking with her green hair!
Then there is the magical, Puckish, dwarf, who I believe is the central nightmare figure that most younger viewers were "haunted" by.
He's a bizarrely conflicted antagonist in that he immediately hands the prince the method of his (the dwarf's) own destruction when he freely gives the film's protagonist the Singing Ringing Tree initially.
Then every step along the prince's journey - when the dwarf throws obstacles in the path of the prince and princess - he is also providing them with a method to overcome part of their curse.
The dwarf would have been better served not getting involved at all. But clearly he couldn't help himself.
And it has to be said, again when viewed through the eyes of 21st Century middle-aged men, there's nothing particularly scary or disturbing about the character of the dwarf - he is simply malicious and evil.
I suspect, because society was generally more insular and not exposed to foreign films and TV as much as we are today, it was largely down to the strange appearance of the whole production (check out the heavy eye make-up on the stag-horned horse, for instance!), as much as the dwarf himself. He was just one of the more memorable characters from the 74-minute production.
The whole story is obviously designed to educate children on the benefits of bettering themselves through kindness and consideration for others, which is okay, except for the fact that the giant fish the princess saves is then left to suffocate at the bottom of a ravine when the dwarf drains the water away!
A definite product of its time,The Singing Ringing Tree is quirky and alien.
The effects are obviously dated, now more resembling a staged pantomime than a fantasy film.
I have no clue what children today would make of it (and Paul drew a line at sitting his girls down in front of it as an "experiment"), but I do think those who claim to have been scarred by it in the past should possibly revisit it and discover it really isn't the nightmare fuel their minds have moulded it into over the years.
The Stag-Horned Horse
A magical, intelligent, horse found originally in the realm of Faerie, the stag-horned horse is notable for both its golden mane (and tail) and its golden-hewed antlers.
A naturally shy creature, it will form a bond with any good-natured soul that does it a favour.
Like the unicorn, to which it is distantly related, the stag-horned horse favours virginal females, but can be persuaded to work for men as well - as long as they retain their kind souls.
AC: 0 
Atk: Hoof x 2 (1d6+1, 1d6+1)
- IMMUNITIES: The horse has a 50 per cent magic resistance, and is totally immune to any mental, mind-altering, charm, sleep etc magic.
- JUMP: When the horse charges, it is capable of executing a jump up to 10 foot in the air and over a distance of up to 30 feet (except over running water)
The Golden Fish
Another inhabitant of the realm of Faerie, the golden fish is an intelligent, giant fish (about ten or twelve foot long) that can also serve as transport to a worthy passenger (that is someone who has shown it a kindness).
It is naturally docile, and if forced to attack will do so slowly, thus always going last in a combat round.
AC: 6 
#Atk: Bite (2d4)
MV: 24 (in water)
- IMMUNITIES: The fish has a 50 per cent magic resistance, and is totally immune to any mental, mind-altering, charm, sleep etc magic.
FILMS WATCHED: 28
NEW TO ME: 21