Tim Burton, 1990
Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Vincent Price
An old woman tells her granddaughter a fairytale about the origin of snow. Edward, a young man created by an isolated and eccentric inventor, has scissors instead of hands. The inventor dies of old age before he was able to also give Edward a pair of human hands and Edward is left to fend for himself, alone in the inventor’s gloomy mansion. Several years later, a local Avon lady from the nearby suburbs knocks on Edward’s door and insists on taking him home when she sees the state he’s in. He slowly bonds with the family and falls in love with their teenage daughter, Kim. Needing something to do, Edward begins using his scissorhands to creatively trim the neighborhood hedges and cut hair.
Things begin to go wrong when Kim’s boyfriend sets Edward up to get arrested and a local woman tries to take advantage of him, claiming rape when he rejects her in panic and confusion. Around Christmas time, the town begins to turn against him and when he accidentally cuts Kim with one of his scissors, things go from bad to worse. Edward is forced to flee back to the mansion, even though Kim confesses her love.
Made during Tim Burton’s early, most creative period, he considers this to be his most personal film and it is certainly beloved by Burton fans. Burton was able to make Edward Scissorhands after his success with Batman and worked with regular collaborators like scriptwriter Caroline Johnson and musician Danny Elfman. Burton’s influences are certainly a blend of my favorite things: Universal horror, German Expressionism, Gothic literature, and fairytales. Most of these themes continue throughout some of his best films, including Batman, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie, Beetlejuice, etc. He uses a central outcast, Gothic castles, pop art, a touch of surrealism, horror tropes, and some very obvious social commentary, which is at its most blunt and inelegant here.
While I still really enjoy this film, it’s difficult to ignore its flaws, most of which center around the script. The biggest problem is with the ending, which is plucked directly from James Whale’s Frankenstein and veers far away from the well-crafted first two acts and toward the disappointingly predictable face off between the villain (Kim’s boyfriend) and romantic hero (Edward).
This was Burton’s first collaboration with Johnny Depp, who is ethereal and wonderful here. Though he may not say much and may not appear to do much dramatically, he is the film’s core and remains to be the strongest element. Stan Winston (The Thing, Terminator 2) designed Edward’s “hands,” which look incredible and are a constant source of either humor or anxiety throughout the film, sometimes both. This is Burton’s second collaboration with Winona Ryder (after Beetlejuice), who he cast against type as the blonde, popular girl. I have to say that it doesn’t work for Ryder and this is one of her weaker roles, second only among her early films to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
A shining moment is the role of the inventor, which was specifically written for Vincent Price. Burton grew up idolizing him and even made a short film about it, Vincent. The inventor was Price’s last role in a film, which seems incredibly appropriate and certainly adds a layer of real life sadness to the inventor’s death early in the film. There are a number of other great side roles, including Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sister), who is perfect here as Edward’s surrogate mother, Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) against type as the jock and bully, Alan Arkin (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), and many more.
When they are not steeped in the Gothic or borrowing from German Expressionist horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or The Golem (both films about human-like creations gone wrong), Burton’s memorable visuals look a hell of a lot like a John Waters movie. Or what a John Waters movie would look like with a Hollywood budget. There are numerous elements that exploit the more ridiculous visual and thematic elements of the suburbs, namely the ridiculous candy colored houses.
Despite its flaws, Edward Scissorhands comes recommended, though I can’t imagine a universe in which someone reading this blog hasn’t yet seen the film. Really, all of Burton’s early films are worth revisiting and part of me loves all of them up through Ed Wood. I know some people have a soft spot for Sleepy Hollow, but that’s certainly where it takes a turn for the worst. Anyway. I’m reviewing the Anniversary Edition DVD, which has lots of nice extras, though there is also a Blu-ray.