Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, Alan Arkin
Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup (Ve Neill, Stan Winston)
SUMMARY: During a snowstorm one evening, an old woman tells her granddaughter a story about the man who lived in the mansion outside town (in flashback). The man, known as the Inventor (Vincent Price), created a human-like man named Edward (Johnny Depp); unfortunately, the Inventor died before he could finish Edward, so he has scissors for hands. In the town at the bottom of the hill, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) is an Avon saleswoman who is desperate to make a sale, and decides to try calling at the mansion. There, she meets Edward. Due to his knife-like hands, Peg is initially very scared of Edward, but soon realizes that he is really a very gentle man. She sees that Edward has many cuts on his face, as a result of nicking himself with his hands. Peg believes that she can use her Avon products to help Edward, so she brings him home with her. Peg’s neighbors see Edward in the car, and become increasingly curious about his identity. At the Boggs house, Edward settles in with Peg, her husband Bill (Alan Arkin) and son Kevin. Peg also has a daughter, named Kim (Winona Ryder), but she is out camping with friends. When she returns, she is horrified to find that Edward has been staying in her room, and is very afraid of his hands. Kim’s boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) also dislikes Edward, partly because he senses that Edward is attracted to Kim. One day, Edward is helping Bill trim the hedges; the next time Bill checks on him, he sees that Edward has shaped the hedge into a T-rex (being isolated in the mansion, Edward has become very skilled at using his hands to shape the hedges and shrubbery). The neighbors, who have already thrown a barbecue to welcome Edward, are enthralled with his skill. Soon, Edward has created hedge animals all over town. Next, the neighbors learn that Edward is equally skilled at cutting hair. He becomes the toast of the town, although Jim and the town’s religious nut Esmerelda persist in trying to warn the others against him.
One of the neighbors, a promiscuous older woman named Joyce (Kathy Baker) encourages Edward to open a hair styling business, which she will help run. When they go to check out a location, Joyce tries to seduce Edward. Edward panics, and rushes back to the Boggs house. Meanwhile, Jim has decided to use Edward’s crush on Kim to his advantage. Jim wants money to buy a car, and plans to steal from his own father to get it. However, he knows that Edward is adept at picking locks with his hands: to take the blame off himself, Jim gets Kim to ask Edward to help them. Wanting to please Kim, Edward agrees. During the break in, the group trips the burglar alarm, which automatically locks the door to the room containing the valuables. Everyone else gets away, but Edward is trapped inside. Kim feels bad and begs Jim to go back and rescue him, but Jim refuses to do so. When the police arrive, Edward is arrested and taken into custody. A psychologist examines him, and determines that because he has lived in isolation for so long, Edward has no idea of how to live in the real world. The police believe that he poses no harm to others, and so release him. When questioned by the Boggs (and the police), Edward refuses to name anyone else involved. The townspeople believe that Edward has double-crossed them, earning their trust in order to fleece them; when Joyce tells them that Edward tried to rape her, they turn against their previously beloved Edward. The only people who remain friendly are the Boggs family, including Kim, who warms up to Edward after the robbery incident. She also begins to distance herself from Jim, who realizes what is happening. At Christmas, Edward creates a huge ice sculpture of Kim; the shavings flying off create the illusion of snow, which delights Kim. However, when Jim shows up, Edward panics and accidentally cuts Kim’s hand. Jim claims that Edward deliberately attacked Kim, which makes Edward run away. Eventually, he returns to the Boggs house, where he finds Kim alone. They share an embrace, but are broken up when Jim returns in a drunken rage. He and his friend weave down the street in their car – straight towards the unsuspecting Kevin. Edward pushes him out of the way, but cuts him in the process; the neighbors believe that he has now attacked Kevin, and call the police. On Kim’s advice, Edward returns to the mansion on the hill. She follows him there, but so does Jim, who attacks Edward. When Kim tries to stop him, Jim hits her; Edward’s anger gets the better of him, and he stabs Jim with his hand, causing him to fall out of the window. Kim kisses Edward and tells him she loves him, then leaves to confront the approaching crowd. She tells them that in the fight, Edward and Jim killed each other. The scene returns to the present, where it is now obvious that the old woman is Kim. She reveals that she never saw Edward again, but knows that he is still alive. When asked, she says she knows this because it now snows in town: the snow is created by Edward, creating ice sculptures in his mansion.
MY TAKE: This is one of the first Tim Burton – Johnny Depp collaborations, and as expected, it’s weird. It’s a little bit like a Frankenstein story, but the creation isn’t violent – and he isn’t finished. For me, the real question is why Edward has scissors for hands, instead of just stumps. If the Inventor had time to make these complex metal hands out of knives and scissors, why didn’t he just put hands on Edward? Also, why knives? Wouldn’t that sort of be asking for trouble? Aside from this obvious hole in the plot, it’s actually a pretty good movie (not nearly as stupid-weird as later Burton-Depp movies). It’s probably a criticism of suburbia and its culture, since the townspeople are so quickly fascinated, then repulsed by Edward. Frankly, it was probably a really bad idea for Peg to bring Edward home in the first place. I understand that she wants to help him, but bringing a complete stranger, with sharp blades for hands, into your house is nuts. She’s lucky she wasn’t murdered. Johnny Depp does a great job of portraying the sadness and loneliness of Edward. He also does a great job with the comedic scenes – I especially like the one where Kim comes home and startles Edward: he’s sleeping on a waterbed, and when he panics, he starts flailing his arms around – and pokes about a gazillion holes in the waterbed, which leaves him completely soaked. Essentially, the film is a message concealed by humor (and weird clothes and house paint).
RATING: Weird, but good.