To the Cliff's Edge

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 131st installment in the series.

July 19-22, 1914: To the Cliff's Edge

After the period of “missed signals” from July 16 to 18, there was still time to avert a European disaster, provided diplomats worked fast and cooperated. Above all they had to stop Austria-Hungary from delivering its ultimatum to Serbia, or at least get it to soften the conditions enough that Serbia could comply. Once the ultimatum became public there was basically no going back: the rules of prestige forbade Austria-Hungary from “backing down” from a confrontation with a much smaller state.

Vienna Drafts Ultimatum, Berlin Approves

The window of opportunity was closing fast. On July 19, Austria-Hungary’s top leaders gathered secretly at Foreign Minister Berchtold’s home in Vienna to finalize their plans for war and draw up the text of the ultimatum to be presented to Serbia on July 23.

After a preamble accusing the Serbian government of complicity in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the ultimatum set forth eleven demands, most of which Serbia might have been able to accept, including an official disavowal of subversion directed against Austria-Hungary, removal from the Serbian army of any officers involved in subversion, and suppression of anti-Austrian propaganda in the Serbian press.

But there were two demands the Serbs could never accept: the participation of Austro-Hungarian officials in the Serbian investigation of the crime and their “collaboration” in the suppression of subversive movements within Serbia. These conditions threatened Serbia’s sovereignty and, if fulfilled, would effectively reduce it to a vassal state. Any self-respecting Serbian leaders were bound to reject them (or face a revolution) giving Austria-Hungary the pretext it needed to declare war on Serbia.

Two days later Berchtold went to see Emperor Franz Josef at his favorite resort, Bad Ischl, where he presented the draft ultimatum for the monarch’s review and outlined the plan to present it on July 23 with two days for the Serbs to respond. After Franz Josef approved the ultimatum, the text was transmitted to Berlin where German Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow also reviewed and approved the wording on the evening of July 22. Everything was ready; the plan just needed to be set in motion.

Intent to Deceive

Deception played a key role in the plan, beginning with the denial of its very existence. In order to give Austria-Hungary a free hand, Berlin would pretend it had not been consulted by Vienna about the decision to attack Serbia – so when Europe’s other Great Powers asked Germany to restrain her ally, the Germans could go through the motions and claim the Austrians were ignoring their requests. If France, Britain, and Russia believed Germany was on their side (rather than secretly egging Austria-Hungary on), hopefully it would create enough confusion and delay so that Austria-Hungary could quickly crush Serbia without anyone else getting involved.

This thinking was actually pretty naïve, as no one believed for a second that Austria-Hungary would undertake a war against Serbia without first consulting her powerful ally. It didn’t take long for the other Great Powers to figure out what was really going on. On July 21, the French ambassador to Berlin, Jules Cambon, wrote Paris warning that “when Austria makes the démarche [move] at Belgrade, which she deems necessary in consequence of the Sarajevo outrage, Germany will support her with her authority and has not any intention to play the role of mediator.”

The next day, July 22, German Foreign Secretary Jagow told Germany’s ambassador to London, Prince Lichnowsky, to tell the British, “we had no knowledge of the Austrian demands and regarded them as an internal question for Austria-Hungary in which we had no competence to intervene.” But the veteran British diplomat Eyre Crowe smelled a rat:

It is difficult to understand the attitude of the German Government. On the face of it, it does not bear the stamp of straightforwardness. If they really are anxious to see Austria kept reasonably in check, they are in the best position to speak at Vienna… They know what the Austrian Government is going to demand, they are aware that these demands will raise a grave issue, and I think with some assurance that they have expressed approval of those demands and promised support, should dangerous complications arise…

Had the British deduced this earlier, they might have been able to avert disaster by warning Berlin that Britain expected Germany to restrain Austria-Hungary and would not stand aside if Germany went to war with Russia and France. But now it was too late.

Poincaré in St. Petersburg

Germany and Austria-Hungary were also counting on disagreement and miscommunication between the members of the Triple Entente. In fact, the Germans believed the crisis offered a chance to “split” the opposing alliance by getting France and Britain to abandon Russia. The way to achieve this was making it look like Russia was the one escalating the crisis, which would give the Western members of the Entente an excuse to bail. However, the Germans overestimated their ability to “control the narrative,” while underestimating French commitment to Russia. In fact French President Raymond Poincaré, who was visiting St. Petersburg (above) along with Premier René Viviani from July 20-23, probably encouraged Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov to take a firm line against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Despite Vienna’s best efforts to sow confusion by holding the ultimatum until the evening of July 23 (when Poincaré and Viviani would be at sea again), the Austrian plans leaked thanks to the German ambassador to Rome. By the time the French leaders arrived in St. Petersburg on July 20, they and their Russian counterparts likely knew what was going on – although they later went to great lengths to cover up this fact as it could cast doubt on their claim that France was merely a passive victim of German aggression (a key factor in swaying British public opinion to their side).

Indeed, in his history The Russian Origins of the First World War, Sean McMeekin points out a number of suspicious circumstances surrounding the French visit. For one thing there are no official notes or minutes documenting what was discussed – a very strange oversight for such a high-level meeting. Especially odd was the behavior of the French ambassador to St. Petersburg, Maurice Paléologue, who failed to write a single dispatch or diary entry during the visit. And given Poincaré’s previous statements, it seems likely he encouraged the Russians to take a hard line.

Whatever they talked about, the Russians and French definitely had some idea what was coming. On July 21, the German ambassador to St. Petersburg, Friedrich Pourtalès, sent a telegram to Berlin warning Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg that Sazonov...

...told me that he had most alarming reports from London, Paris and Rome, where the attitude of Austria-Hungary was everywhere causing growing concern… If Austria-Hungary was determined to break the peace, she would have to reckon with Europe… Russia would not be able to tolerate Austria-Hungary’s using threatening language to Serbia or taking military measures.

That same day, Poincaré warned the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to St. Petersburg, Frigyes Szapáry, “With a little good will this Serbian business is easy to settle. But it can just as easily become acute. Serbia has some very warm friends in the Russian people. And Russia has an ally, France. There are plenty of complications to be feared!” After this brief exchange Poincaré told Viviani and Paléologue, “Austria has a coup de theatre [big upset] in store for us. Sazonov must be firm and we must back him up.” The following day Sazonov informed the Russian ambassador to Vienna, Nikolai Shebeko, that “France, who is greatly concerned about the turn in which Austro-Serbian relations might take, is not inclined to tolerate a humiliation of Serbia unwarranted by the circumstances.”

By July 22, the sense of looming conflict was widespread — at least in elite circles. At the banquet concluding the French state visit, the Grand Duchess Anastasia (wife of Grand Duke Nikolai, who would shortly take command of the Russian army) told Paléologue, “There’s going to be war. There’ll be nothing left of Austria. You’re going to get back Alsace and Lorraine. Our armies will meet in Berlin. Germany will be destroyed.”

Calling the “Bluff”

Unfortunately, Germany and Austria-Hungary continued to dismiss the Russian and French warnings as bluff. On July 20, a message from the charge d’affaires for the German state of Baden recorded the attitude in the imperial capital of Berlin, where “the opinion prevails that Russia is bluffing and that, if only for reasons of domestic policy, she will think well before provoking a European war, the outcome of which is doubtful.”

Meanwhile, Germany and Austria-Hungary still couldn’t agree whether to bring their supposed ally Italy on board, which would require Austria to cede its own ethnic Italian territories in the Trentino and Trieste. As the clock ticked down, Berlin became increasingly frantic – and Vienna increasingly intransigent – on the Italian issue.

On July 20, Italian Foreign Minister San Giuliano telegraphed Italy’s ambassador to Berlin Bollati (who was just about to leave for a spa cure), “it was to our interest that Serbia should not be crushed and that Austria-Hungary should not be territorially enlarged,” and the following day San Giuliano repeated the warning directly to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Rome, Kajetan von Mérey. But in a meeting with the German ambassador to Vienna, Tschirschky, Austrian Foreign Minister Berchtold innocently stated that Austria-Hungary had no plans to annex any Serbian territory – and therefore no obligation to “compensate” Italy. Of course the Italians weren’t going to buy this, and the Germans knew it.

“The Oppression On My Heart”

As their continent hurtled towards the brink of disaster, ordinary Europeans were distracted by sensational events. In France, July 20 marked the beginning of the murder trial of Madame Caillaux, which would dominate French newspapers even as peace began to unravel. Also on July 20, Britain’s King George V invited rival Irish factions to meet in a futile attempt to resolve the issues surrounding Irish independence; the failure of the Buckingham Palace Conference on July 24 raised the possibility of civil war in Ireland. Elsewhere, the Russian capital of St. Petersburg was paralyzed by a massive strike, while Italy was still recovering from its own “Red Week” demonstrations in June.

But some people already sensed the gathering storm. According to one observer, when Poincaré and Viviani arrived in St. Petersburg on July 20, they were greeted by protestors shouting, “We don’t want war!” and, “Down with Poincaré the warmonger!” That same day Marie van Vorst, an American living in Paris, wrote her friend:

I have the most curious spirit of unrest… I don’t know what it is, but there seems a menace over everything. What can it mean? In all my life I have never had such a strange, strained, tense feeling. Sometimes at night I can’t sleep and on several occasions I’ve gotten up and thrown open my shutters… and the most curious sense of peril seems to brood over everything in sight… There have been times when I could hardly catch my breath for the oppression on my heart.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

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The 25 Greatest Vampire Movies Ever Made

Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (1958).
Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (1958).
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Filmmakers have been making movies about vampires almost since the inception of motion pictures, and our public fascination with these creatures of the night has not yet dimmed. Throughout the decades we've seen vampire stories ranging from psychological dramas to comedies to all-out monstrous terrors, using these bloodsucking characters as metaphors for everything from wealth to sin to drug addiction to sexual taboos. Along the way, some truly great movies have come along. Here are our picks for the 25 greatest vampire films of all time (in chronological order).

1. Nosferatu (1922)

F.W. Murnau's legendary silent classic is famously a Dracula adaptation with the serial numbers filed off, but what's lasted about this gorgeous nightmare of a movie is not its reliance on the Dracula structure. Even if you've never seen it you know the image of Max Schreck as the needle-fingered, wide-eyed vampire Count Orlok, and Murnau never misses an opportunity to maximize the raw power of Schreck's performance. Even now, nearly a century after it was made, the image of Schreck simply walking into a dark bedroom at night is enough to leave you chilled.

2. Dracula (1931)

There's a reason you can ask almost anyone to do a Dracula impression and you'll still usually hear Bela Lugosi's accented, almost otherworldly cadence, and it's not just because a Sesame Street character picked it up and ran with it. While some viewers have come to prefer other versions of the Count—including the Spanish-language Dracula shot alongside the Lugosi version—the pure, spooky aura of Tod Browning's original Universal Pictures adaptation still casts a strange spell. The eerie, scoreless silence; the subtle touches of spookiness lurking around the main plot; and Lugosi's earnest power all still work all these decades later.

3. Vampyr (1932)

Carl Theodore Dreyer's moody masterpiece might move a little slowly for modern audiences, but if you let its shadowy world creep into your psyche just a little bit, it'll never leave again. Shot with minimal dialogue and often nonprofessional actors (the star is the guy who funded the movie), Dreyer makes excellent use of mood-setting visuals to convey an overall tone of dread. From shots of clouds moving behind weathervanes to the way the light hits a skull to the simple, slow turning of a key in a lock, Dreyer's film creates an atmosphere that's very similar to a nightmare that you don't quite understand until you've woken up.

4. Dracula's Daughter (1936)

In the opening minutes of Dracula's Daughter, the title character literally sets the body of her father on fire. It's a bold statement, especially considering how much the Count would come back to Universal Pictures in later years, and the first of many daring moves in this subtly progressive sequel. Gloria Holden is mesmeric in the title role as a woman trying to free herself from her father's curse; the lesbian overtones of the story are surprisingly progressive for their time; and the film has a lot of rather compelling things to say about being part of such a horrific legacy.

5. Horror of Dracula (1958)

Tod Browning's Dracula is a moody, quiet, understated exercise in otherworldly terror, which is why Hammer Studios's first attempt to bring the bloodsucking Count to life runs in almost entirely the opposite direction. Horror of Dracula, the first of several films to star Christopher Lee in the title role and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Van Helsing, is hot in all the ways that Lugosi's Dracula is chilling. Vibrant, sexy, and led by two iconic performances, it remains a bloody good time, and inspired more than a few solid sequels.

6. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

The delicate dance of ambiguous horror can backfire on a filmmaker if the audience is eager to see genuine monsters onscreen, but John Hancock's film about a woman who retreats to a secluded country home after a traumatic event—only to find that something horrific might already be there—is an example of ambiguity going as well as it possibly can. With notes of The Turn of the Screw and Carmilla woven into its psychological terror, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is a film that manages to make you question everything while still ultimately delivering the horror goods. The scene in which the townspeople reveal the wounds on their necks remains one of the most unnerving moments in all of 1970s horror.

7. Blacula (1972)

If you haven't seen Blacula, you might be forgiven for thinking that the film is a joke based on its title alone, but it's in that very concept that the first note of brilliance comes from this exploitation classic. See, "Blacula" is a joke. It's a cruel joke told at the expense of the title character, who's made a vampire after refusing to allow slave trading to be done in association with his proud African nation. In that way, the film is much about an African leader reclaiming his personal and national pride in modern America as it is about a bloodsucking, seductive monster, and star William Marshall makes sure you walk away feeling both.

8. The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

If Dracula is the most-adapted vampire story ever, then the second most-adapted is Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu's tale of a lesbian vampire preying on a young woman. Of all the various adaptations, though, Vicente Aranda's The Blood Spattered Bride stands out as the most impactful and the most haunting. Thanks to wonderful leading performances from Maribel Martín and Alexandra Bastedo, and a series of unforgettable image choices, Aranda's film captures both the alluring, dreamlike power of the story and the bloody eroticism of some of the best '70s horror films.

9. Ganja & Hess (1973)

Ganja & Hess is a film that takes its time, building its own pace and thematic weight brick by brick until it's finally ready to unleash the full horror of its story. At its core, Bill Gunn's film uses vampirism as an addiction metaphor, telling the story of the title characters—played by the incredible Marlene Clark and Duane Jones, who is best known for his role as Ben in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead—with patient, concentrated emotional energy. It's a film capable of being so laid back at times that you almost forget the horror is about to hit, then when it does it's an unforgettable explosion of brutality, sin, and raw acting power.

10. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

The image of Max Schreck as the pale, pointy-eared monster known as Count Orlok was an indelible piece of pop culture for decades before Werner Herzog decided it was worth picking up again for his own purposes, and against all odds Herzog managed to produce a second all-out classic using Schreck and director F.W. Murnau's core cinematic concepts and pushing them just a bit further. This Nosferatu is a little sexier, a little more subtle, and propelled by magnificent performances from Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, and Bruno Ganz. Plus it's got pitch-perfect Herzog dialogue, including lines like "Time is an abyss profound as a thousand nights."

11. The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger is one of the sexiest, most stylish vampire films ever made. It's so distinct in its costuming, pacing, and cinematography that there's a temptation to place style over substance when talking about Tony Scott's dark romance. But look beyond the beautiful visuals and you'll see that Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon are actually weaving a devastatingly beautiful tale of fading love, regret, and loss. It's a story about an eternally young woman who would rather hide her past away than confront it, and it's that thematic core that takes the film from sexy supernatural drama to all-out horror in the final minutes.

12. Fright Night (1985)

Just as the Hammer Dracula films took everything pop culture had learned about vampires from the 1920s onward and poured it into films made for a new audience, Fright Night took everything pop culture had learned about vampires since the Hammer era and poured it into one endlessly entertaining movie about the vampire next door. It's basically a film about a kid who has grown up watching all of those vampire movies on television, only to find that a creature from one of them has walked off the screen and into his life. It's got all the things you want from a classic period vampire flick—a little comedy, a little seduction, some amazing creature effects, even a washed up vampire hunter character—but it puts them all in the house next door to great effect. It also has Chris Sarandon, and honestly what more do you need?

13. The Lost Boys (1987)

Lots of vampire stories focus on the monster entering an otherwise peaceful community and slowly consuming. The Lost Boys, directed with wit and visual power by the late Joel Schumacher, flips that convention to instead tell the story of a family who moves to a seemingly peaceful beach town, only to find that the monsters are actually sort of running the place. The result is a film that's funny, fierce, and a perfect metaphor for the often horrifying challenges of adolescence. Plus, it's the film that features the internet's favorite saxophone player.

14. Near Dark (1987)

The legend of the vampire is so cemented in popular culture that it can function as a kind of shorthand for just about any viewer, which means some of the best films in the subgenre are the ones that take it as a given that you know the basic rules, then go out of their way to reinvent them. Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark is a masterclass in vampiric reinvention. You know the basic idea, the movie knows you know, and so you're plunged immediately into a dark Western dreamscape where a lonely young man is pulled into a world of hyperviolent predation lurking just beneath the sleepy surface of the land he thought he knew. Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen give all-time great performances, and the film still packs some of the most memorable visuals any vampire movie has ever delivered.

15. Vampire's Kiss (1989)

Many of the greatest vampire stories ever told lean heavily on the metaphor of aristocracy as vampirism, of the upper class literally and figuratively sucking the life out lower classes. So it's no surprise that in the 1980s someone had the idea to take that metaphor and apply to rich single white dudes living the executive life in New York City. Vampire's Kiss, led by Nicolas Cage in one of the all-time great scenery-chewing Cage performances, is about both the sneering apathy of the wealthy in 1980s America and about the scourge of toxic masculinity in office spaces across the country, all with a black comedy twist. And if that doesn't do it for you, it's got Cage reciting the alphabet like a lunatic.

16. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The last Dracula adaptation on this list is one that hoped to take the familiar pop cultural aura of Bram Stoker's story and twist it in ways no one had ever seen on the big screen before, and the result is what might be the least subtle Dracula adaptation ever made—we mean that in a very good way. Francis Ford Coppola's take on the Count (played with relentless intensity by Gary Oldman) is soaked through with the kind of voracious appetites the legendary vampire himself would appreciate. This film is hungry for sex, hungry for stylized violence, hungry for lavish costumes, hungry for practical effects, for accents, for melodrama, for all of it. It's a film that invites you to drink deep, and the result is something unforgettable.

17. Cronos (1993)

Guillermo del Toro's feature directorial debut is already packed with many of his eventual hallmarks. The story of an antiques dealer who stumbles upon a mysterious device that induces vampirism, it's packed with memorable visual choices, a beautiful design for the central McGuffin, and of course, aching sympathy and even love for the central monster. In del Toro's hands, the legend of the vampire becomes a powerful, singular meditation on faith, love, and mortality that only he could deliver.

18. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

The first film adaptation of Anne Rice's legendary Vampire Chronicles novels remains a classic thanks to Neil Jordan's sumptuous direction and blistering lead performances from Tom Cruise (who Rice famously thought was miscast until she saw the film), Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas. Rice's stories often focus on the existential dread not of the humans surrounding the vampire, but of the vampire itself, living as an outsider in a world they once thought they understood. Jordan's film is thick with the emotional and thematic weight of that metaphor, but he and Cruise also ensure that the narrative around it never stops being a blast to watch.

19. The Addiction (1995)

Abel Ferrara's black-and-white film about a graduate student who becomes a vampire is a masterclass in how to absolutely pack 90 minutes of genre filmmaking with meaning while never letting go of the horror. Lili Taylor is stunning in the lead role, holding our eyes as Ferrara builds out the metaphors of the titular addiction, the philosophical underpinnings of each decision that drives the plot, and the slow-burn build to a literal blood feast at the end. It's a gritty, visceral gem of a film with a crystal clear understanding of what it wants to do with the vampire myth.

20. Blade (1998)

Blade is a film that begins with a shower system in an underground club raining blood down on dozens of dancing bodies, and that's pretty much all it needs to make this list. Seriously, though, Stephen Norrington's big-screen version of the Marvel Comics character of the same name, played with undeniable swagger by Wesley Snipes, is a supernatural action film that also manages to get vampires right. They could be disposable monsters for Blade to swipe at. Instead, they become a diverse array of characters who are often frightening, sometimes sympathetic, and always compelling.

21. Let the Right One In (2008)

"What if you were the one who got to be close to a vampire?" was done before Let The Right One In, but it was never done so beautifully before Tomas Alfredson's film about a lonely boy and his budding friendship with a strange new neighbor. From the way the camera sits, often distantly, to watch a child on a playground alone to the way the film is able to pivot from emotionally devastating scenes of isolation to sudden explosions of violence, it's a masterclass in tone, pacing, and feeling that's often as heartwarming as it is harrowing.

22. Thirst (2009)

No one on Earth shoots violence quite like Park Chan-wook, which means no one has ever made a vampire film quite as brutal and unpredictable as Thirst. But, as with all of his films, the violence is only part of the story. With the thematic weight of sin at the heart of this story of a priest who indulges in an affair around the same time as he's indulging his thirst for blood, Chan-wook anchors the film in the beautiful performances given by Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin (credited here as Kim Ok-vin) to deliver a tragic, often strangely funny, tale of love gone wrong. The final act of this film is one of the most powerful and brutal of any vampire story you're ever likely to see.

23. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to deliver one of the most straightforwardly gorgeous, deceptively simple takes on vampirism as loneliness, even when it's the story of who you get to share that loneliness with. Starring the relentlessly bewitching duo of Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, with unforgettable work by the great John Hurt thrown in for good measure, Only Lovers Left Alive works as an intimate, perfectly focused study of eternal love amid a changing world that's passed you by.

24. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

The prevalence of vampire stories across pop culture means that spoofs were always inevitable, and the popularity of mockumentaries means that someone was probably bound to do one like this eventually. What sets What We Do in the Shadows apart, and takes it beyond its goofy premise into the realm of classics, is the sense of sincerity that hovers over the whole thing. The film doesn't attempt to poke holes in vampire tropes we love, and it earnestly avoids any sense of "Isn't this stupid?" mean-spiritedness. There's something so genuine about the whole thing, and that makes everything from the performances to the plot work so much better as not just a good comedy, but a good vampire movie, full stop. (We'd be remiss not to make mention of its TV series spinoff, which follows a different group of vampires living in New York.)

25. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an unnerving, sensuous dream of light and shadow, anchored by a spellbinding performance from Sheila Vand in the title role. Rather than attempt to anchor her film to a clear sense of time and place, Amirpour's tale of a lonely vampire prowling a fictional city instead exists in its own, unmoored bubble, like a vampire who's forgotten how old they are or how far they've wondered. The result is a film that's as magical as it is unsettling—a fairy tale with fangs.