Director – Mario Azzopardi, Teleplay – Brook Durham, Story – Angela Mancuso, Producer – Robert Vaughn, Photography – Russ Goozee, Music – Stacey Hersh, Visual Effects Supervisor – John Furniotis, Special Effects Supervisor – Max McDonald, Prosthetic Makeup – Steve Dawley, Production Design – Gavin Mitchell. Production Company – Chesler-Perlmutter Productions/Vesuvius Productions/Shaw Media/Syfy.
Paul McGillion (Hansel), Emilie Ullerup (Ehren), Sarain Boylan (Lara), Shannen Doherty (Gretl/Zhore the Witch Queen), Jefferson Browne (Abyss), Nahanni Johnstone (Thorne), Frank J. Zupancic (Ehen’s Father)
Hansel and Lara travel the country slaying witches. They come to the aid of Ehren as witches try to abduct her during which Ehren’s father is killed. Hansel agrees to take Ehren with them. As they travel, Lara explains to Ehren that the witches were trying to abduct her because of her witch abilities. Behind all of this is the witch queen Zhore who inhabits the body of Hansel’s sister Gretl. Zhore is determined to capture them. At the same time, Hansel learns of a way to free Gretl from possession by Zhore.
Witchslayer Gretl was one of a spate of revisionist fairytales that were made during the early 2010s for the Syfy Channel. Others of these included Beauty and the Beast (2009), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Sinbad and the Minotaur (2010) and Aladdin and His Death Lamp (2012). Most of these were made on low budgets by producers Lewis Chesler and Robert Perlmutter.
Witchslayer Gretl came out not long before the theatrically released Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) and it would be reasonable to assume that this film was intended as a low-budget copycat. Whether such was the case or it was just the Syfy Channel taking advantage of the renewed interest in dark adult Fairytale adaptations that was also popular around the time with the likes of Red Riding Hood (2011), Mirror Mirror (2012) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) is a good question.
The formula for these Syfy films was to adapt the fairytale into a fantasy adventure milieu, all cheaply shot on location in Canada. All of them featured former names on the career downturn – here we get former Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-2010) star Shannen Doherty as the queen witch. The films also suffered from very cheap looking CGI effects – in particular, the CGI gargoyle that turns up. When Paul McGillion takes the gargoyle on in combat, his sword jabs and whip lashes don’t even connect up with what we see on the screen.
Witchslayer Gretl prefigures Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters in showing Hansel and Gretel having grown up and become witch hunters. When it comes down to it though, this is a film that only has nominal connections to the fairytale and essentially makes up a generic fantasy plot. Most of the film consists of people running around the woods, captured by the witch and assorted toing and froing without much more than that. The big twist on the familiar is that Gretel has now gone over to the dark side and is possessed by the witch (which is something that makes the title technically inaccurate – it is actually Hansel who does the witchslaying rather than Gretel).
Director Mario Azzopardi’s other genre films include:- the serial killer thriller Bone Daddy (1998), the time travel film Thrill Seekers (1999), the clairvoyance film Still Small Voices (2006) and Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012).
Other film versions of the Hansel and Gretel story include:– two West German versions made in 1954, Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy (1954), Cannon’s Hansel and Gretel (1987), Hansel and Gretel (2002), Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (2013), Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (2013), Tommy Wirkola’s ridiculous Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)), The Asylum’s mockbuster copy Hansel & Gretel (2013) and its sequel Hansel vs Gretel (2015), and Osgood Perkins’ remarkable adult Gretel & Hansel (2020). None of these were as astonishing as Matthew Bright’s amazing modernisation Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999). Also worth checking out is Francois Ozon’s modernised Criminal Lovers (1999), which reinterprets the fairytale as a gay love story.