Edinburgh International Film Festival

Poison for the Fairies (Veneno para las hadas) (1984)

Starring: Ana Patricia Rojo, Elsa María Gutiérrez, Leonor Llausás, Carmen Stein, Anna Silvetti

Directed by: Carlos Enrique Tabaoda

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Ana Patricia Rojo and Elsa María Gutiérrez in Poison for the Fairies

Being unfamiliar with the work of Mexican director Carlos Enrique Taboada, celebrated at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival as part of the Mexico in Focus strand, I had no idea what to expect from this fey-looking '80s gothic horror flick about kiddy witches.

Let's just say that, thirty years before The Babadook warned us of the perils of neglecting to vet our bedtime reading in advance, Poison for the Fairies provided a similar cautionary tale against filling small children's heads with unsuitable stories.

Raised by her superstitious nanny and creepy, wizened grandmother after the death of her parents in an accident, schoolgirl Veronica thrives on tales of witches, spells and pacts with the devil. When a new pupil, sweet but spoilt Flavia, arrives at her school, Veronica takes her under her wing – and immediately sets about deliberately scaring the bejesus out of her with talk of Satan and black deeds. Not that Flavia's family believe in Jesus... has Veronica picked on the wrong child?

Like a tweenie prequel to Heavenly Creatures or The Craft, Poison for the Fairies offers a fascinating insight into the world of pre-teen girls, at once so charmingly innocent and so cruelly dog eat dog. In this fiercely private world of secrets and lies, adults are nothing but peripheral shadows, like Charlie Brown's teacher seen only from behind and above, a pair of be-ringed hands and a soft caress, a smouldering pipe and a stern admonishment. Alone and unsupervised, our prissy heroines skip about in marshes and cemeteries in their frilly dresses and patent Mary-Janes, hunting down the ingredients for their titular venomous potion, which becomes symbolic of the simmering tension brewing between the two.

Part sweet supernatural story, part psychological drama exploring the ghastly consequences of bullying, Poison for the Fairies is as endearing as it's alarming. That and it features cinema's most docile dog, the appropriately monikered Hippie, who plays an unexpectedly pivotal role in the plot. Poison? More a quirky, sugar-coated treat with a dark chewy centre...

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