Reviewed By: Billy
If we were in the business of reviewing VHS box covers, then Gothic would get a solid five fingers. This was the box that haunted my childhood; something about the picture of a little troll-thing crouching on a sleeping woman’s chest just totally intrigued me every time I saw it in the video section of Marsh supermarket (sidenote: What the heck happened to grocery stores having their own little video rental corners? Those were the days…). You know you have a box cover like that, too – be it Night of the Demons, Sleepaway Camp 2, or maybe even Dolly Dearest (all Tower Farm favorites) – some image tantalized you from the shelf and made you want to keep renting horror.
Well…the bad news is I finally saw Gothic, and it’s terrible. OK…maybe that’s a little harsh. Let’s just say Gothic is like a super-boring Merchant Ivory film if Merchant and Ivory had dropped acid before filming. And honestly, I think that’s kind of the point. I mean, you don’t hire actors like Julian Sands and Natasha Richardson, cast them as famous historical writers, and then make them roll around in mud and have satanic orgies without hoping to shock a few uptight critics. Director Ken Russell has kind of made a career doing that, so it’s no surprise that Gothic is going to feature all kinds of weird set pieces and crazy-looking British people. Unfortunately, it’s also like one of those dreams where you’re running toward something but not actually moving anywhere.
Yeah, it’s exactly like that.
So…according to the back of the box, Gothic takes place in 1816, and attempts to recreate the stormy night on which Mary Shelley was inspired to write her novel Frankenstein and Dr. John Polidori to write his The Vampyre. Now, if you’ve ever seen the 1930s film classic The Bride of Frankenstein, then you know the first five minutes of Bride do the exact same thing that this movie stretches over 97 minutes. That must explain why Ken Russell and cast are forced to time-pad here with scenes of mud-covered orgies, stripping robots, and masturbating men poking themselves with nails.
Front and center in this circus of embarrassment are Sands and Richardson as Percy and Mary Shelley; I guess they both do a good job, although anyone’s performance looks good in fast-forward. But I am really a fan of both actors; I’ve loved Julian ever since I first saw Warlock, and Natasha Richardson was a very talented woman who manages to keep at least a modicum of dignity in this movie even when everyone else around her is totally losing it. Gabriel Byrne plays poet Lord Byron as a sort-of non-musical Phantom of the Opera, slinking around in ridiculous costumes and generally making everyone around him uncomfortable:
Speaking of uncomfortable…this brings us to our other two cast members, Timothy Spall and Myriam Cyr as Polidori and Claire Clairemont, respectively. Now, you gotta hand it to these two – they take hammy English acting to levels not seen since Samantha Eggar got sent to the loony bin in Curtains. Spall as Polidori comes off as an extremely effeminate Mr. Potato Head, spending a good chunk of the movie running around without pants and shoving his sweaty face into the camera while screaming out dialogue like, “Don’t laugh at me!” I, meanwhile, laughed so hard I snorted out an entire glass of milk while watching this scene:
By the way, for some reason Polidori appears to be sleeping in Linda’s Blair’s bedroom from The Exorcist:
Cyr as Clairemont is…well…bizarre. I think at some point she gets possessed or something, because she ends up running around naked, doing lots of creepy giggling, swinging on a gate door, and revealing that her nipples are actually eyes. This last little bit – with the wide boob eyes staring sweetly into the camera – is enough to turn any straight man gay for fear of ever meeting a woman who boasts the same feature:
Speaking of gay, Julian Sands and Gabriel Byrne spend a good portion of the movie holding hands and share a passionate makeout session at one point, none of which seems to have anything to do with the plot. For the lady-loving viewers, we get the aforementioned boob-eyes and this strange robot-thing that strips on command…again, none of which seem to have anything to do with the plot:
If you can bear to stop fast forwarding for a moment, you’ll come across confounding exchanges of dialogue that rival Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction in their incomprehensibility. For example:
PERCY: For God’s sake, Mary, we can do it! What we created with our minds, we can destroy!
MARY: Yes, like God we have created. And perhaps God, like us, wants to destroy his creatures before they destroy their creator.
PERCY: Well, God is already dead!
MARY: But haven’t we raised the dead?
Huh? Oh, well…who cares what they’re talking about? The fact of the matter is that this movie’s biggest asset is that it comes like a pretty box. So can you judge a movie by its cover? Definitely not in this case. But you can blow the cover up into a nice wall poster and sell the actual tape at a garage sale.
ONE FINGER for the movie, FIVE for the box!
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