Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gothic (1986)

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

GothicGothic [VHS]


Mr. Fiendish said...

I really like this flick. It's weird and different, much like every Ken Russell film. He's a very underrated director, in my opinion.

Y no te olvides que me debes un review del Viaje.

Franco Macabro said...

He is very underrated. Im guessing that since he is so unconventional, so "out there" and "weird" that most producers dont even know how to market his films. So he doesnt get much funding anymore.

But hey, Im really looking forward to seeing more of his films. Up next is Lair of the White Worm, which I will be reviewing in a couple of days. Cant wait to re-watch that one!

Troy Olson said...

I've not seen GOTHIC, but I can attest to the greatness that is THE DEVILS.

If you are so inclined to use some nefarious means of file-sharing, then you'll see that the film is out there to be watched (in all its uncut, VHS-sourced glory). I can point you to it, if you'd like...

Franco Macabro said...

You point to the door, I shall walk through it my friend! Gotta watch that movie, I am on a quest!

Reina said...

one of the weirdest scenes i've seenn! The eye/tit stuff! Oh my!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that scene had everybody freaking out, I love it when that happens. I live for moments like those.

Troy Olson said...

I've sent along an email about where I got it. Let me know if it works!

Manuel Marrero said...

Saw this a looooong time ago. Don't know why but the incubus has stayed engraved in my mind till this day...creepy little thing wont go away.

Dom Coccaro said...

This one was lukewarm for me. The acting is great, but it was too self-indulgent. It's been years since I've seen it, though. Ken Russell is an odd bird.

Unknown said...

You gotta love the fact that this entire film was based off such a classic picture. I haven't seen the movie itself, but now that you have brought it to my attention, I would much like to experience it for myself, for better or worse.

ATXEIN said...

Instead Gothic it´s a great film I think The devils it´s much better.
I always thought that Russell´s direction on this film was a bit less weird..

But I must admit that there´re several excellent sequences..


Franco Macabro said...

@Troy: I will check it out, thanks Troy!

@Dom: An odd bird in deed. Ken Russell tends to go over the top. Dont know if you remember the dream sequences from Altered States, but they were extremely over the top, filled with both christian and pagan imagery. Awesome dream sequences. I love Ken Russell precisely for this, its what makes him unique.

@Lisa: If you are into strange, bizarre films, then by all means indulge!

@Atxein: I agree with you, the film does take a while to take off. If you can get past the first half, and wait until the drugs take full effect, from there on in the film is a visual and emotional trip that will put your sense to the test.

Franco Macabro said...

@Manny: Im not so sure that little demon guy on top of Mary Shelly was "The Incubus". An Incubus is a demon who wants to have sex with a female human.

I think Mary Shelly was just having a fucked up nightmare, as the title of the painting that that sequence is based on suggests.

An Incubus's desire is to have sex with a female, this little booger apparently wanted to rip Mary Shellys throat off with his long finger nails.

But that little creature sure did remind me of it.

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie on VHS in the 90s and found it in a $5 bin in an HMV store in 2001; am so grateful to own a copy of this hauntingly alluring film

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, Ken Russells movies have a real re-watchability factor to them, I agree! Just the other day I was watching Tommy....wow what a trip! I need to review it soon!

SisterMidnight said...

I have re-watched that movie the other night and via imdb's external reviews i came across your review. I know i am late in the discussion but so be it. I really enjoyed your review and i also fully agree with your rating. I personally really enjoyed that movie. It has its lenghts but most of the time it works very well for me. Just like you i also enjoy movies "that exuberantly speak through imagery" and this movie just fully serves this inclination of mine. This simply isn't a narrative movie. It is more like a visual, sensual trip and i personally can dive into it and go with the flow. Brilliantly written review!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks sister Midnight, glad you enjoyed the review, I'm tempted to do an article on "visually strong films", in other words, films that speak largely through its visuals instead of its dialog.

Thanks for reading, and remember no comment is ever too late! All comments on all my reviews are welcomed! At all times!

Unknown said...

Interestingly, the eyes for nipple scene was a product of Shelley's imagination not Ken Russell's. Biographies of this group refer to Shelley having the horrors one night and imagining seeing Mary this way.

Franco Macabro said...

Cool of Russell to bring these nightmares to life, thanks for pointing that out Rachel.


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