I recognize that Beauty and the Beast is not a horror story and that the film adaptations were not billed as horror movies. However, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surreal take on the story lasts, to me, as such a creepy and scary version of the fairy tale. When the Disney version came out in 1991, I was a pre-teen and a die-hard fan of the animated film. I saw it in the theatre several times and when it came out on VHS, my Mom spent a lot of money to buy it for me (this was early in the video rental days and it was expensive to buy a copy to own — I love my Mom! lol). As part of that obsession, I sought out Cocteau’s version, and I remember being thoroughly freaked out by it. During that same era of my life, I was discovering horror movies, and this one was more like a scary movie than a kid’s tale.
Did you know that Walt Disney was interested in adapting Beauty and the Beast but felt discouraged after seeing Cocteau’s version, not believing his would be as good?
The freakiest part of the movie for me was the long hallway with the hands holding the torches. It still stands out to me today as unnerving.
I was interested to learn that Jean Cocteau intentionally made the Beast a sympathetic character and his alter ego the Prince an over-sentimental and saccharine character: “My aim was to make the Beast so human, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and future; it would expose the naivete of the old fairy tale that conventional good looks are ideal.”
The contrasting approach worked. So popular was Jean Marais as the Beast, that when he was transformed at the end back to human form, Greta Garbo famously said, “Give me back my Beast!” Marlene Dietrich cried, “Where is my beautiful Beast?” And letters poured in from matrons, teenage girls and children complaining to Cocteau and Marais about the transformation.
Read more facts about Cocteau’s surreal film at IMDb Trivia: Beauty and the Beast (1946).