December 17, 1990 [Edward Scissorhands, Santa sangre]

Vincent Price looked poignantly frail in Edward Scissorhands--while Anthony Michael Hall was big and beefy, all traces of his Sixteen Candles goofy bravado bent into a hulking shape as ready to squash Johnny Depp as Price was eager to love him. And as good as Depp is--and how thoroughly he captures an animate existence somewhere between childhood and a clockwork doll, his eyes always almost-afraid, watchful and waiting for someone to show him where to go; and as perfectly suited is Winona Ryder to her plucky damsel in distress, her golden hair and face drawing toward Depp’s, the two of them in a Tim Burton dream (while Burton himself seems to be dreaming of Edward Gorey’s filigreed Victorianism of dark corners and sudden arrivals--when he’s not fooling with a kind of John Waters ultra-suburbia, so square and plain it becomes dioramic, its own magic in the sharp corners of little houses and neat streets leading to the haunted castle).

--Anyway: as good as all that is, I can’t stop thinking of Vincent Price and Anthony Michael Hall, the two of them utterly changed. They seem the inevitable bookends of a sad story with jolly times in between--and more than that: fairytale love in the oldest sense, a kind of Chivalry both lovers understand, the chaste sacrifice both make, unable to touch.

--And one more image rises up, a recollection of a book one of my children found at a neighbor’s house--good German Lutherans, the father looking and sounding like Kissinger--imperious at dinner, his humor dry while his German Shepherd nosed me under the table. It was a facsimile of old nursery rhymes, Gothic in their cautions against bad behavior; and one was about a man who would go about with scissors in search of thumb-sucking children--and “Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast / That both his thumbs are off at last.” I couldn’t get this out of my head throughout the picture: I knew that some punishment was to come no matter how benignly Edward’s flashing blades might cut.

--And something else: The scissors became knives and it was like the sudden drop in a funhouse coaster, in the dark one moment then plummeting across the open space the next, everyone seeing you with your mouth open until you plunge back into the funhouse—because the knives flew from Santa sangre, a bloody fable of Oedipal delirium and retribution, armless and yearning. The comparison to Psycho is difficult to resist, but this time the son becomes not simply his mother but--what? Peter Lorre in Mad Love, swooning at the keyboard while the statue waits at his back? Or a failed Invisible Man, hoping against hope that when he removes the bandages this time he will at last be gone? Or Adam wrestling with his snake as it curls from inside? Or the Mummy’s slave bidden to vengeance? Or the Zombie Brides rising from their graves? Every old monster lurches forward, Frankenstein’s Creature included: the boy himself, made by his mother--or does he make her, complete her? In the end, Fenix is not Edward, who retreats to the haunted castle: Those sharp blades at the ends of Fenix's arms become hands again and he stretches them out and up to his crimes and to the freedom that comes with surrender.


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