Gothic [1986]

Lurid, kitschy, over the top--what more does one expect from Ken Russell, director of The Devils, Tommy, and Altered States? Gothic purports to tell the story of a night that Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and the future Mary Shelley spent at a country estate and decided to write ghost stories--a night that ultimately resulted in Mary writing the novel Frankenstein. These three and a couple of friends romp around the mansion, freaking out at shadows and the sounds of a storm, getting increasingly hysterical and hallucinatory as the night progresses. Thrown into the mix are a mechanical belly dancer, nudity, walking suits of armor, an orgy, séances, grotesque masks, leeches, a pig's head, stigmata, snakes, and God-awful dialogue like "We are the gods now--we have dared to call ourselves creators!" Gabriel Byrne (Byron), Julian Sands (Shelley), and Natasha Richardson (Mary) are all terrible; it's a miracle any of their careers survived. But good or bad isn't really the point with Ken Russell, who aspires to a kind of visual delirium. Gothic isn't the masterpiece of excess that The Lair of the White Worm is, but towards the last half-hour it does achieve a creepy state of disorientation entirely suited to its subject matter. Russell isn't afraid to be trashy in the pursuit of unfettered cinematic symbolism. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. --Bret Fetzer

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