Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gone Goth

Another one for the Halloween season, Gothic (1986), Ken Russell's insane take on that rainy night in Switzerland when Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), Percy Shelley (Julian Sands), Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) and crew got together to take laudanum and tell ghost stories.

The movie starts with a group of Victorian tourists peering at Byron's villa through a telescope, discussing his scandals. Meanwhile, Shelley and Mary with Mary's half-sister and Bryon's lover Claire (Myriam Cyre) are rowing over - they arrive in a rainstorm, and Shelley is ambushed by amorous teenaged girls. This establishes our crew as famous, scandalous sex objects, especially the men.

So, they settle down to drink laudanum, and play games. Dr. Polidori (Timothy Spall) is also at the party - a grinning buffoon with a comic accent whose virtuous Catholicism covers some very kinky urges. Our crew wanders about the spooky villa reading scary stories to each other, and generally getting cranked up. Bryon is a jerk to everyone except Shelley, who he is sexy towards. He beats his lover Claire, who loves it. Shelley gets weirder the more laudanum he takes (a lot). Mary is the normal one, but has her own quirks - she is haunted by the ghost of her and Shelley's dead baby.

Mary Godwin (she won't be able to take Shelley's name until he gets rid of his current wife) is perhaps the problem with this movie. She is portrayed as rather norma - she is a fan of free love, but only so she can sleep with Shelley. She was famously inspired to write Frankenstein on this trip, but Russell can't quite make the case.

Also, as the horror and hallucinations build, we can't forget that everyone in this movie lives out the weekend - the body count will be zero. Of course, all but Mary wind up tragically dead at an early age, but not in this movie.

Still, it's full of beautiful compositions, many based on Gothic paintings (like Fuesslie's "Nightmare", see on the bedroom wall and reproduced in the bed). Lots of atmospheric lighting and weird angles. I'd say this is Ken Russell at his peak. So if you like Russell, check it out.

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