Sunday 24 October 2010

men, maids, monsters: Ken Russell's GOTHIC

A 19th-century sojourn at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland remains one of the pivotal events in the history of horror and science fiction. As a fan of both these genres, I was understandably keen on watching this.

It was a strange mix - incredibly well-researched (the shelf from which Byron takes down Fantasmagoriana also bears a copy of Hieroglyphic Tales, a rather obscure but very appropriate work by Horace 'Otranto' Walpole) and also sensationalist in an almost puerile way at times (the orgy scene, some of the enactments of various characters' nightmares/fantasies). The imagery is over the top, but it doesn't quite have the hermetic, dreamlike feel of the imagery in, say, Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre - it's a mix of Hammer and Freud, for the most part. Horror, terror and sex. And yet, it's a gripping film, one that somehow feels true to the famous characters it imagines and that remains gripping all the way through. I also liked it a lot better than Russell's Mahler pic, which felt far less true to its subject.

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