Stories often come from events that inspire the writers. And sometimes those inspirations are an adventure in and of themselves. Such is the story of Gothic.
Literary history has it that many years ago, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont and John Polidori all got together to spend time one summer. Together they would endeavor to get away from their regular lives and enjoy the restful and relaxed life. However, they found themselves stuck inside for days on end due to weather. What do the writers and poets do to kill time? They read and invent stories. From this impromptu storytelling session came Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus we all know so well. Additionally, John Polidori created The Vampyre, which helped to inspire the modern vampire lore and fiction.
Ken Russell’s Gothic endeavors to tell the story of how these five friends spent that time that inspired these classic stories of horror and fantasy. Complete with the rumored use of opioids and séances. Now, it all starts innocently enough. Well as innocent as these rowdy poets can be. The five of them gather at Villa Diodati. They spend time playing hide and seek, discussing their interests and sharing crude humor.
One day they gather around and read excerpts from a copy of Phantasmagoria Byron had recently picked up. They all decided it would be fun to hold a séance around a human skull. What? Don’t tell me this isn’t what you do when your college friends visit you. During the séance, Claire begins to have a seizure, setting a foreboding omen for the rest of their time together. From this moment on, the friends begin to hear and see things that do not seem right or of this world. They each seem to progressively lose hold of their sanity and normal behavior. And this is the wild journey that Ken Russell takes us on.
The actors in Gothic, are responsible for carrying the length of the film without a crowd of secondary characters to interact with. As such they have to be on nonstop during the film and have to really exude their characters constantly. These five, which include Vestron Video alum, Julian Sands, portray a set of highly energetic and experimental writers. Willing to give themselves over to their group exercises like the group readings and séances, they all engage in a group loss of sanity in their vacation party. The five are quite believable in these roles and their over the top actions so that the movie experience itself feels manic for the viewer.
Ken Russell for his part does a great job of setting a foreboding and confused tone throughout the movie. The surreal feeling can’t be escaped as the five become further removed from sanity and feel more over the edge. The movie stays moody throughout despite constant tonal shifts. Not without faults, the movie keeps you in the unsettling experience of the vacation.
Now there are a few minor issues with Gothic here and there. The biggest problems stem from the pacing being a bit off. Some interactions just drag on as we try to rest on that character’s delirium. Also, as the movie bounces back and forth from character to character and from tone to tone, the movie can occasionally feel unfocused. While this is likely intentional to some degree, I feel the execution is a little hit and miss at times. Despite these minor qualms, overall Gothic remains very effective in setting the mood and taking the viewer on this crazed journey.
Technical Side: 3.5/5
Probably most important to the presentation for Gothic is the audio track. The score sounds great on the DTS-HD Master Audio track. The mood of the film is inescapable with this track supporting the score underneath. The video presentation is also quite solid, but not quite as good. The image does look a little soft at times, but nothing too distracting or disappointing. The colors look good and the moody indoor tint of the film is preserved and this is the most important part of the image for this film.
Supplemental Features and Packaging: 4/5
Commentary: Lili Russell(Ken’s wife) is joined by Matthew Melia (film historian). A rather lively discussion.
Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Thomas Dolby: Michael Felsher interviews the composer Thomas Dolby with the score underneath.
The Soul of Shelley: Julian Sands sits down and discusses filming the movie with Ken Russell. He starts with telling the basic story of the weekend and how it inspired Russell’s imagination for the film.
Fear Itself with Screenwriter Stephen Volk:
One Rainy Night with Director of Photography Mike Southon: Mike talks about his time on the project including what kind of director Ken Russell is and how that affected filming. This was kind of fun to hear him reminisce.
Between the commentary and the isolated score, there is already hours of great supplements here. Add the behind the scenes with Sands, Volk, and Southon and you’ve got a great collection here. The standards of trailer, gallery and a TV spot are also tossed in for good measure. Great work here Vestron. Also, they are keeping in line with their standard slipcover packaging. Aside from the first few releases being embossed at the top, that is.
Gothic Overall: 4/5
Vestron Video brings us a really good collection for Gothic. The film itself while not being my sort of thing per se, it is rather effective at what it does. The journey of the characters is very interesting to watch in this insane vacation. The presentation of the mood is very well done and supported by a suitable transfer and audio track. The extras are great in their depth and variety. All in all, for anyone who is a fan of Gothic, this is a good pickup. It comes out on January 30th and can be ordered now from Amazon or other Blu-ray retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.