Director – Tim Burton – 1990 – US – PG – 105 mins
An old lady tells her grandchild a story: “there once was a man who had scissors for hands.” His name was Edward (Johnny Depp), and he lived in the old mansion on the hill where an inventor (Vincent Price) was refining him into a real boy. But before the inventor could add the final touch – replacing the scissors with real hands – he died.
Meanwhile, Peg Boggs the local Avon Lady (Diane Wiest) is doing her rounds when she calls at the spooky mansion to discover the strange boy with the cut face who she makes up and brings home – to arouse the curiosity of the bored, local housewife community.
Edward soon demonstrates amazing creative abilities, carving hedges into statuesque forms and cutting hair on dogs and humans in unique styles. Housewife Joyce (Kathy Baker) is smitten with lust for Edward – with catastrophic results – while the boy himself falls hopelessly in love with Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), who is taunted by her boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall). Disastrous consequences follow.
Having delivered a Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) far more satisfactory than anyone dared hope, and taking the inevitable (after all the hype) fortune at the box office, director Tim Burton is given free rein to do whatever he wants. What the former Disney animator has come up with is in essence an old-fashioned fairytale, with a gothic castle located in an idealised, pastel-shaded American suburb where blade-laden Depp and the chorus of housewifely disapproval act out the tragedy.
Ryder doesn’t have too much to do, but Depp, made up even more heavily than in Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990), is stunning. Great pleasure is also to be had from Wiest’s optimistic Avon Lady, venturing fearlessly where others fear to tread in search of sales, and Kathy Baker’s oversexed Joyce.
It’s full of memorable images, but – much more importantly – manages a degree of charm rare in a contemporary Hollywood movie. Caroline Thompson’s imaginative script seems to furnish Burton with the structure he needs to exercise his creativity to the full, and the result is an unexpected and very genuine pleasure indeed.
Review originally published in Film And Video – The Magazine, 1991.
(See my alternative review published in What’s On In London.)