Since the last couple of Rewinds have featured more cheesy versions of this classic fairy tale, I thought this week we’d examine one that is a little more on the darker side of things—and is actually my favorite version of Beauty and the Beast of all time. It features a lot of differences from the original, but the kind that actually make it—dare I say—better in some aspects. And though it reflects a few staples that were going on in the international horror genre at the time, the movie still retains a timeless elegance and definitely sticks out among other BatB adaptations.
So without further ado, we’re going to travel to Europe, and look at one of the most unique takes on this story you’re probably ever going to hear about. This is Panna a Netvor, the 1978 Czech version!
Right from the get-go, you can tell that Panna is not your momma’s Beauty and the Beast movie. Filled with beautiful and haunting cinematography, this incarnation takes great strides to prove that it is as much of a spooky tale as it is a romantic one. There’s also an obvious visual style that signals that this was made in the 70’s, and it even takes a Grindhouse approach to some of its shots and editing decisions. This especially comes into play in the opening scene, where the Beast of our movie hunts down a group of villagers and tears them almost limb from limb…. (Yep, the movie goes there.)
And though the violence of this piece is certainly quite memorable, it is more of the key difference between the iconic story of Beauty and the Beast and this international retelling that clicks with audiences. Panna a Netvor (also known as The Virgin and the Monster) tells the story of a Half Bird/Half Man creature that lives in a castle. He is controlled by evil goblins that want to bring the beast out of his soul, and make him the bloodthirsty monster they wish he would be.
The rest of the plot follows the typical beasts we’ve come to know within the traditional BatB story—Beauty’s father steals the rose, and Beauty goes in his place. But that’s about where the similarities end and where the true brilliance of Panna a Netvor begins.
Our fairy tale mostly takes place inside a castle—which I’m sure you probably knew already. But unlike the prior Beast locales that had been full of grand decor and beautiful tapestries, this Beast resides inside of a dying, cracking palace, with only a fireplace and a very sad looking bed inside its damp walls. But this ultimately doesn’t scare our Beauty character, and she instead finds the charm and whimsy inside of her new damaged home.
You could say that this mindset of our leading lady relates to how she views the Beast throughout this adaptation. Unlike in other versions, Julie (Beauty, played by Zdena Studenkova) never meets Netvor until almost the end of the story. She actually falls for his voice and personality, since he remains in shadow or stands behind her. She’s convinced that Netvor is the Prince from her dreams, and doesn’t think any differently. And when the two confess their feelings towards one another, Netvor’s hands turn into human ones.
In fact, there’s a number of untraditional aspects that make Panna a Netvor probably the most mature take on the fairy tale set to film thus far. There’s a lot to be said when an already grown-up story about relationships is elevated and taken in new directions, and this version truly does that with little to no flaws.
It is hard to choose what I love the most about Panna without turning into a full-on fangirl, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d have to go with two elements, a tie.
One is Netvor’s design, who as I mentioned, is a bird rather than a lion. For a 70’s movie on probably not that large of a budget, the make-up here is incredible and still appears to have aged as well as the film itself has. When he is revealed to the audience (aided by the combination of the score and Vlastimil Harapes’ performance), Netvor becomes one of the most terrifying and also empathetic characters to be seen on screen, and is right up there with Cocteau’s Beast in being the most iconic.
The other is the music, composed by Petr Hapka. Though there are only a handful of music queues throughout its hour and 20-minute running time, the main theme of the film is absolutely haunting and stunning in every possible way. If you’re curious to hear and see a bit of the movie, I recommend clicking on the video below. Trust me, it’ll suck you right in.
But if I was to be really honest, there’s an easy way to explain why Panna will always be my favorite: it is the only version of Beauty and the Beast that evokes what I thought the fairy tale looked like in my head as a child. Granted, I never really pictured the Beast in a bird-like form, but I did always believe that the story wasn’t always as glamorous as other versions had shown it to be over the years. It feels organic, textured, and more real than any other one does (even with creepy goblin trolls all over the place), while also feeling the most magical and otherworldly. It’s special, to say the least.
With its haunting visuals and unique storytelling, Panna a Netvor is among the best and most drastically different adaptations of Beauty and the Beast to ever be produced. It’s a shame that it has become so hard to find it for viewing, but with a small cult fan base growing over time, hopefully a US/International distributor will bring it for us all to see in a proper format. Because this is truely a gem that deserves to be enjoyed by all.
So, have you ever seen Panna a Netvor? What do you think of it? Does this post make you wanna run around with a bird mask and cape? What is your favorite version of BatB? Well, if I haven’t talked about it yet, keep tuning in for the next few weeks to see which other ones I cover! Speaking of which, in the next installment in this series, we’re going to look at one of the classics – Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version, La Belle et La Bete!