John’s Horror Corner: Gothic (1986), the perverse story behind Mary’s Shelley’s Frankenstein.
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MY CALL: Perverse, intense, sensual, and just plain weird, this fictionalized historical horror about Mary Shelley and Lord Byron makes for an interesting watch loaded with before-they-were-stars. MOVIES LIKE Gothic: Along the Frankensteinian theme one may venture Victor Frankenstein (2015), The Bride (1985), Re-Animator (1985) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994).
I tend not to trust folks who stand in front of their own paintings of themselves.
This tells the fascinating story of how a modern horror legend came to be—in a heavily fictionalized sense, anyway. As we are introduced to our characters, we find their extravagant lifestyles are punctuated by hedonism, male sexual dominance and the entitlements of severe classist elitism. They are most extreme in pleasure, manor stricture, and delights.
Before her Sex and the City days.
Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne; End of Days, Stigmata) hosts his guests Shelley (Julian Sands; Warlock, Arachnophobia), the future Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson; Big Trouble in Little China) and Clair (Myriam Cyr; Species II) along with Byron’s doctor Polidori (Timothy Spall; Sweeney Todd, The Bride). The cast alone is reason enough to see this perverse film.
Like a vampire, Lord Byron breeds emotional and social intensity, drawing more than an occasional discomfort from his controlled guests. What’s more is their collective sexual nature. It’s not homoerotic nor bisexual really, but rather a sort of pansexuality; a pervasive general sensuality. Think Interview with a Vampire (1994) while being less polite about it.
They gather together and tell ghost stories with perverse tones, speak in poetic seduction of the mind and body, engage in voyeurism and orgy, and lead one another into deep creativity and hysteria. All manner of nightmare fuel accosts their minds from the ghastly nocturnal homunculus to the blinking eye-nippled woman, perhaps the most iconic scene of the film. It’s strikingly weird; even other-worldly.
Our guests descend into madness as they mesh polyamory and paranoia, erring on the side of madness. They envision everything from dead fetuses to animated disembodied heads.
And they crawl around in muddy dungeon filth.
Director Ken Russell (Altered States, The Lair of the White Worm) has a flair for melodrama. But it is deliberate and perhaps appropriate given his aims to paint our storytellers as creators; creators of their horrors within.
This film tiptoes the line separating ludicrous bad horror and brilliant mania. I recommend it to general horror fans whose taste spans all manner of quality and style, since this film is a bit hard to classify.