SNOW WHITE IN THE BLACK FOREST Starring Sigourney Weaver, Sam Neill. Directed by Michael Cohn. Category IIB. Golden Gateway, New York, Majestic, Queen's, Chinachem, Paris/London/New York Whereas fables are there to educate us about moral values, fairytales serve an altogether more primal function. The subtitle of this latest version of the famous Snow White story - A Tale Of Terror - sums it up quite neatly. Fairytales are a way of introducing children to the everyday horrors of life, horrors which they must encounter alone as they grow older and leave their parents' protection. In fairytales, adults are not always to be trusted and evil usually - if temporarily - has no trouble triumphing over good. People are moved to do terrible things by petty rivalries, jealousies, and irrational reasoning. In short, fairytales are about the real world. The best recent screen fairytale was Company Of Wolves, based not on a folktale but a story by Angela Carter. This really got to grips with the psychological importance of the fairytale. The director, Neil Jordan, following Carter, equated the predatory wolf who pursues the young girl in Little Red Riding Hood with the stirrings of sexual maturity in adolescent females. The wolf symbolised the powerful and fearsome physical and mental changes that were occurring, and the blood from the onset of menstruation. Michael Cohn's Snow White In The Black Forest aims for a similar degree of pyschological insight and, in parts, achieves it. Some bits of the story are effective, especially those that feature Sigourney Weaver as the evil stepmother. But Cohn fails to sustain the dark, deep psychological insights he promises in the first act. This is perhaps because the film has to achieve a certificate for 'young adults', and consequently the increasingly horrific acts have been toned down. But, to his credit, he has managed to slip in some of the cruel and sadistic scenes the story demands. As Alan Jones' production notes inform us, the story of Snow White is a lot older than Disney's famous 1937 animated version. In fact, it is even older than the Brothers Grimm version, which was published in Germany in 1812. 'The oral culture of Snow White has existed for over six centuries from the folklore of many diverse cultures,' writes Jones, who goes on to state how the Grimm brothers modified the stories 'to produce a new written form they called pre-Teutonic literature'. The upshot of this historical analysis is that Snow White In The Black Forest was conceived as a back-to-basics - though still not 100 per cent authentic - version of the story, drawing on these pre-Grimm versions of the tale. Gone are six of the seven dwarves, to be replaced by social outcasts working at a mine. Gone is the idea of Snow White as a princess - she is simply the daughter of a wealthy family. Gone is the idea that she is rescued by a Prince Charming - here a doctor and a miner attempt to come to her aid. The film begins with Frederick (Sam Neill), a wealthy Teuton lord, cutting a child from the womb of his dying wife. The child grows into the pretty Lilli (Monica Keena), who is cared for by her loyal Nannau. All goes well until Frederick marries the elegant but vain Claudia (Weaver). Claudia is a strange and insecure woman, obsessed with her own beauty and insanely jealous of the young Lilli. She also has a supernatural relationship with a spirit which lives in her mirror. This spirit plays up to her vanity and encourages her to murder the worrisome Lilli. Lilli escapes into the forest surrounding the castle, where she hooks up with some social outcasts who eke out a living by mining. Claudia, in between attempts to bring her stillborn child back to life, continues to hatch wicked plots to murder the young girl. It is a harsh tale designed to make children wary of adults, especially those bearing gifts. Claudia is the kind of person who refuses to yield to the challenge and ultimate triumph of those who are younger. She wants to hang on to her power - her beauty - at all costs. As with Alien Resurrection, the film only really comes to life when the marvellous Weaver is on the screen. Her portrayal of the psychologically challenged Claudia is harsh and bare. She creates a supple and vicious creature who is a keen symbol of adult cruelty. A scene where she mutilates Lilli with a shard of broken glass is a particularly audacious attempt to demonstrate her lunacy. When Weaver is off-screen, Snow White falters. The sequences where Lilli is in the forest with the outcasts are limp, and the characters tend to act a little more modern than they should. As a result, the spell is only fully restored when the action moves back to the castle for the final bloody act.