Rather than follow the hugely successful Batman (1989) with another special effects-driven bonanza, director Tim Burton instead delivered a delightfully realised movie that was about as far from a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster as it was possible to get.
The result was Edward Scissorhands, a decidedly left-of-centre fairy tale that remains the most whimsical and touching film of Burton’s illustrious career so far.
The Edward of the title (Johnny Depp) is not a man at all, but the creation of a Dr Frankenstein-style inventor (an all-too-brief cameo appearance from the marvellous Vincent Price in his last film role).
Edward looks human enough, except for one detail – he has foot-long shears and scissors instead of hands (the inventor died before Edward was quite finished) – and he lives a solitary life in a crumbling mansion high atop a wooded mountain overlooking a neighbourhood of pastel-coloured houses.
It is only when kindly Avon lady Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) discovers his hiding place that Edward descends into the “real” world below and finds himself embraced by Peg’s neighbours when he displays his special talent for hairdressing, dog grooming and topiary (hedge shaping).
Life for the trusting and innocent Edward is complicated, however, when he falls for Peg’s cheerleader daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) and is soon coerced by her boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall) into committing a crime.
One of the many successes Burton pulls off in this delightfully odd film is to cast his various players against type in this eccentric dreamlike world.
Hall – best known for playing the nerd in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985) – succeeds in showing a far nastier side in his role as oafish boyfriend Jim. Ryder, on the other hand, devoid of the ample cynicism she displayed in Heathers (1989), brings a delicate touch to her role as the nice girl on the block.
It is Depp, however, who impresses the most, creating a character trapped by his incomplete body, conveying Edward’s frustration with few words, his pale, scarred face showing the hurt when he discovers that even his gentlest touch with his scissor hands can cause pain.
An ambitious, beautifully conceived modern-day fairy tale.
Anthony Michael Hall
Dick Anthony Williams