|REVIEWS||FEO AMANTE THEATER||SCIENCE MOMENT||SCARY TOP 10||UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT|
Ken Russell's (ALTERED STATES) 1986 celluloid freak-out GOTHIC has finally been released on DVD, albeit in a rather bare bones form, from Artisan Entertainment. So how does this film measure up after a decade and a half? Let's take a look.
We've all heard the story of how Mary Shelley (still Mary
Godwin at the time), Percy Shelley and Lord Byron got together
at Byron's Swiss home-in-exile, Villa Diodati, one fateful night, a night
that resulted in the creation of not one but two classics of Romantic
literature: Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN and John Polidori's short story
THE VAMPYRE, the granddaddy of vampire literature that inspired Bram Stoker's
DRACULA by being the first to present a vampire not as a ghoul but as
an aristocratic gentleman with a hidden dark side.
Byron (Gabriel Byrne: STIGMATA, END OF DAYS, GHOST SHIP, long before he was suspected of being Keyser Söze), Percy (Julian Sands: WARLOCK, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ), Mary (Natasha Richardson: THE HANDMAID'S TALE), Mary's stepsister Claire Clairemont (Myriam Cyr: SPECIES 2) and Byron's friend and personal physician John Polidari (Timothy Spall: SWEENEY TODD) drink far too much laudanum and quickly grow tired of reading stale ghost stories to each other. Surely such talented writers could come up with their own, far better tales to tell? Seems a good and safe idea, right?
But Byron takes it one step further, suggesting they forego writing their tales of terror and actually bring those terrors to life through a séance. And that, as they say, is when the trouble starts. Have they truly raised a being from the pits of Hell to torment them, or have they simply imbibed too much laudanum?
Russell coaxes fine performances from the entire cast, though Byrne and Sands truly kick it into overdrive as the "live hard, die young" poets. Richardson's portrayal of Mary is spot on, as always; she's definitely an under appreciated talent on this side of the pond. Cyr's genuine likeability allows us to truly empathize with a character as annoyingly desperate and love-starved as Claire, and to fear for her safety when she goes over the edge. Spall's performance has just the right mix of smarm and obsequiousness to make Polidori vividly pitiful. Russell himself pulls out all the stops, making GOTHIC a feast for the eyes. Some of the hallucinatory scenes are breathtaking in their uncanniness, putting GOTHIC on visual par with his best known film, ALTERED STATES.
Though not absolutely necessary to your enjoyment of the film, it helps to know a little bit about these real-life characters beforehand: Byron had a club foot, was in love with his own sister Augusta and had a fear of leeches; Percy was a narcoleptic who feared premature burial; Polidori's story "The Vampyre" was his reaction to Byron's lothario nature; the idea for FRANKENSTEIN came to Mary in a dream where wind-up mechanical men played musical instruments.
The DVD itself is, as I mentioned, bare bones. Aside from a cute animated menu and the obligatory Scene Index, there are no extras whatsoever. The transfer looks like it was taped off the old VHS version, presented in 1.33:1 full frame format (which is okay, since the original film was a "matted" 1.85:1 widescreen, meaning you're not missing any of the picture when it's in full frame) with a rather dark picture for DVD and a few visible film scratches. In fact, this DVD is so sparse that it's almost not worth replacing your VHS. Almost, that is, except for the sound. Thomas (She Blinded Me with Science) Dolby's early electronica score roars to dissonant life on the digital soundtrack, and at last you can fully hear Stephen Volk's sometimes stilted dialogue, which was terribly muffled on the VHS version.
Fifteen years later, Russell's GOTHIC is quaintly dated, but still an enjoyable, self-indulgent romp through pretension and terror. It's not for everybody. It's a love it or hate it type of movie with strong potential to rub people the wrong way and some would say it's definitely best viewed, as Ken Russell might put it, in an Altered State.
Three Shriek Girls
|Feo Amante's Horror Home Page, Feo Amante's Horror Thriller, and feoamante.com are owned and
Copyright © 1997 - 2019 by E.C .McMullen Jr.
All images and text belong to E.C. McMullen Jr. unless otherwise noted.
All fiction stories belong to their individual authors.