Title: Gothic (1986)
Director: Ken Russell
Cast: Julian Sands, Gabriele Byrne, Natasha Richardson, Timothy Spall
So wow, Ken Russell’s Gothic. Where do I begin? In my search for all things horror, there is a certain film that has eluded me. I have not been able to get my hands on it for whatever reason (the freaking movie is banned from everywhere!) and my Film Connoisseur eyes are starving for it. The film I speak of is Ken Russell’s The Devils. A film that is supposedly so shocking, so offensive, so pagan, that it has not been released on dvd yet. But seeing Ken Russell’s available filmography have given me a general idea of what I can expect from The Devils. Case in point, I’m working my way through Ken Russell’s career until I finally get to see the holy grail of Ken Russell’s filmography. So anyhows, I got around to seeing Gothic. Wow, what a movie!
This film is a period piece and takes place during the 1800’s when Mary Shelly and Lord Byron would get together, take laudanum, get crazy, hallucinate, then write their masterpieces. According to the history books, this is how Frankenstein came to be. In this film, Lord Byron receives Mary Shelly, her husband and his sister Claire in his mansion. Lord Byron being the rich dude that he is has a huge mansion all to himself, except tonight he is going to share it with his friends to read ghost stories and write their own spooky tales. But this films plot isn’t too complex, basically it concerns these four individuals and the nightmarish drug induced evening that they have.
Ken Russell’s artsy fartsy. Lets get that out of the way. The guy isn’t concerned with pleasing the audience or making sure you “get” his movie. This is a guy who wants to say what he has to say through imagery, through film. At times you might even ask yourself, is this film scripted? Was any of this planned? Because sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. At times the film looses all hope of following a coherent narrative and simply dives deeply and without remorse into the abyss of the surreal and the bizarre. And guess what, I applaud this movie for it! I love movies that do this. I love films that exuberantly speak through imagery. They thrive in trying to get you to understand ideas, simply through images, no dialog, no voiceover, just imagery and music. And this movie does this so well!
The music by Thomas Dolby matches so perfectly well with the images, and gives the film a felling of grandeur and fright. One of the most cinematic scores I've heard in a while. Its a dark soundtrack, for a dark film. Russell didn't bother lighting anything too much, because he probably wanted two things: to augment the feeling of horror through out the film, and to make things more realistic. I mean, back in those days, people used mostly candles during the night. As a result we get a dimly lit picture, the film feels dark, brooding and when the time comes for insanity to appear in this picture, the dark makes things look even more nightmarish.
Speaking of nightmarish moments, this film has lots of them. Its what Ken Russell specializes in. I've noticed that in quite a few of his films, he loves to play with images through the use of collage. Scene on top of scene, images flying on top of another in a whirlwind of illusion, by the end of the trip, you should have grasped the emotion or idea that the director is trying to pull across. Sam Raimi does the same thing in some of his films. The Evil Dead and Darkman come to mind. Russell also goes deep into dream logic, by illustrating the things that each of the characters see during their hallucinatory moments, when every body is just seeing fucked up shit after fucked up shit. Speaking of strange imagery, this movie has a moment that is hands down on my top 5 freakiest moments captured on film. Russell was a genius for coming up with it. Don't want to spoil it for you guys, but you will most certainly know it when you see it. You'll say, this is the scene that that guy was talking about on his review!!
The horror element on this film is done in a very different way then your regular run of the mill horror film. Ken Russell's main concern is to completely disturb you with his images. He wants you to feel what it would be like to be hallucinating badly under the effects of a trippy drug. The film is very atmospheric, I loved that about it. Everything happens one night during a rabid thunderstorm. Thunder and Lightning are a constant on this film as well as the fog. Some scenes are completely fog filled, and what can I say, Im a fan of fog in horror movies, it makes things that much spookier.
This painting is Henry Fuseli's 'Nightmare', its the painting on wich a nightmarish sequence of the film is based on
This is a movie where humans indulge in all the excesses in life. Ken Russell likes to augment that in his movies, mans tendency to go overboard on everything. Characters in this movie eat a lot of food, have a lot of sex, do a lot of drugs and don't believe in god. Im guessing thats part of Ken Russell's tendency to go to the pagan side of things. So be ready for a movie who's characters have no moral whatsoever for a long part of the film. This comes as a result of their drug and alcohol abuse, but it also gives Ken Russell a chance to shine a light on the darker side of human behavior.
In conclusion, I say this is a very unconventional horror film, with some disturbing and unique imagery. A very rewarding one if you stick all the way to the end.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5