ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters, also known as Tom Thumb and Little Red Red Riding Hood and Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra Los Monstruos, is at once a bizarre children’s film and yet arguably the ultimate children’s film. It traces the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood, played by Maria Gracia, and Tom Thumb, played by Cesáreo Quezadas (more of him below), as they fight to save their village from the Queen of Badness, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Seriously, how did this film avoid a lawsuit from Disney?) They are assisted by a distinctly creepy-looking skunk who wants to save his master, the Big Bad Wolf, and his ogre friend from being sawed in half for having been nice to Red Riding Hood.
This film is mainly known in the United States from its English dub, which was released by the prolific children’s film producer K. Gordon Murray. Murray was well-known for releasing dubbed Mexican films for children’s matinees, as evidenced by the MST3K classic Santa Claus. As with his other dubs, the quality on this one is highly variable. The voices themselves aren’t bad, but Red Riding Hood’s singing voice is clearly dubbed by an adult woman, who also weirdly dubs Tom Thumb when he is singing. The film tries to hide that Thumb’s singing voice is female through audio distortion, but it really doesn’t work. This version also adds some out-of-place narration at the beginning about creation and warning of the “devil’s dominions.”
What most people remember from this film is its sheer bizarreness, exemplified by the monsters, who serve as the Queen of Badness’s henchmen. We are introduced to this motley crew in the first scene, in which they are gathered to try the Ogre and the Big Bad Wolf for the crime of having been nice to Red Riding Hood in a previous entry in this series. The sequence is unsettling, particularly when compared to American children’s films. The monsters – an assortment that includes Frankenstein, a vampire, “Carrot Head,” and “the Father of Hurricanes” – are unusually creepy, in part because of their low budget make up. The monsters open the trial by singing “Off with Their Heads!” while one boasts of his habit of making naughty children into broth. Even the Wolf, who is a friendly character in this one, looks rather disturbing looking in a moth-eaten suit that makes him seem like he has mange. The mask on the little person playing the skunk is best not described, and is disturbing for even adults to view.
This creepiness, however, is not entirely a bad thing. Even easily frightened children, like myself when I was younger, have a certain fascination with scary things. The monsters themselves seem like something children would come up with while playing a game, while the song about decapitation could easily appear on a school playground. Furthermore, the sheer oddness makes this film memorable and more enjoyable for an adult than something like this typically would be.
Furthermore, the film itself has the feel of a child’s game, with repeated scenes of the monsters and the children chasing each other around. Its “borrowing of characters from other media – the Queen of Badness from Snow White, a good fairy obviously based on Glinda from The Wizard of Oz – has the feeling of something a child might imagine. (Seriously, if you think this is a mash-up, as a kid I once dreamed up a cross over between Gilligan’s Island and Jaws.)
Its low budget production values might lead American viewers to assume this was a fly-by-night production. However, its cast was actually composed of well-known actors in Mexico. For example, the ogre was played by José Elías Moreno, known to weird film connoisseurs for playing the title character in another Murray release, Santa Claus. Elías Moreno was a well-known character actor in Mexico who appeared in a wide variety of films, often as a macho father-figure. Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdés, who played the Big Bad Wolf, was part of a famous family of comic actors. Magda Donato, who played the Queen of Badness’s less menacing sister, was famous not only as an actress, but also as a writer and journalist. She had fled to Mexico from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, having previously been a crusading liberal reformer. In Mexico, she became known as an author of children’s plays, a career which led her to appear in children’s films. Ofelia Guilmáin, who portrayed the Queen of Badness, was another refugee from Franco’s Spain and a popular telenovela actress.
The most notorious member of the cast has to be Cesáreo Quezadas, often known as El Pulgarcito. Quezadas was a well-known child star in Mexico, having previously appeared in a successful adaption of Tom Thumb (the English dub of which, done by Murray, unfortunately appears to be a lost film). He got his nickname from the Spanish translation of Tom Thumb. Child stars are known for having difficulties when they grow up, but Quezadas’s descent into criminality was arguably one for the record books. In the early seventies, he was arrested for trying to rob a store. After this, he appeared to go on the straight and narrow, but in the mid-2000s, he was arrested after his wife found a videotape of him sexually abusing his daughter. He currently resides in a Mexican prison having received a twenty-year sentence.