(1986, dir: Ken Russell, scp: Stephen Volk, cast: Gabriel Byrne, Julian
Sands, Natasha Richardson, Miriam Cyr, Timothy Spall)
the Englishwoman Mary Godwin summered in the Villa Diodati on the shore
of Switzerland's Lake Geneva. With her were the romantic poets Percy
Bysshe Shelley (her future husband) and George Gordon Byron, her half-sister
Claire Clairmont, and Byron's physician Dr. John Polidori. At night
they invented ghost stories to pass the time. Polidori wrote The
Vampyre. Mary wrote Frankenstein.
the historic genesis of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
is well-known to horror fans, literature scholars, and feminists (Mary's
mother was an early feminist philosopher). An extensively researched
chronicle of this historic summer is related in E. Michael Jones's Monsters
From the Id: The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film. A dramatization
of these events, albeit one "inspired by history" rather than a scholarly
adhering to facts, is Ken Russell's horror-art film, Gothic.
Gothic opens as Mary, Shelley, and Claire arrive at Byron's Lake Geneva villa. Gabriel Byrne portrays Byron as an embittered bully, alternately mocking,
teasing, daring, and threatening both his guests and physician. Such
are passionate poets, ridden with angst. The passionate Shelley (Julian
Sands) celebrates a lightning storm by striding a rooftop nude. And
yes, we get it.
Mary (Natasha Richardson) may have gotten her idea
for an angst-riddden mad scientist glorifying electricity by seeing her
buff future husband (possibly) do likewise. Everyone in Gothic is
passionate and angst-ridden, their passions and angst intensifying all
through the night as they get progressively drunk and drugged.
Gothic is a loopy film, messy and pretentious. Its story is impossible to
follow because, being so intensely passionate and angst-ridden and drunk
and stoned, the characters defy motivation. Their behavior is erratic
and arbitrary. Furthermore, we never know if what they're seeing
is real or the result of their inebriation or stoned state of mind, or
Sands is unremittingly hysterical and hyperactive,
at one point whimpering that he's losing his mind, clinging to Mary for
strength and comfort. Gothic is a non-sequitur of fantasmagorical images, lurid and sordid, sensuous
and repulsive, and often just dull.
appears older that the 19-year-old Mary. Of course, people matured
faster back then, often graduating university and marrying at an age when
today's youth are still goofing off in high school. Mary would likely
have appeared a mature twentysomething to us, rather than the teenager
Spall's Dr. Polidori is oily and repulsive, played largely for cruel comic
relief. He variably snickers and giggles about leeches, plays with
maggots, and bawls like an obese baby. If Gothic is to be taken as history, Dr. Polidori was much like Renfield, and Byron
(like Dracula) drew much satisfaction from tormenting him.
Cyr's Claire Clairmont is a trollop, her chief purpose being to provide
a lewd contrast to Richardson's proper Mary. When Byron accuses Mary
of loose morals, attempting to drag her down to his level of debauchery,
Richardson justifies her "free love" with Shelley (who was then married
to another) as done in the name of love and liberty, in contrast to Byron's
wanton loveless orgies.
goes to great effort to fill Gothic with scenes of debauchery and depravity. Yet rather than shock, Gothic bores. Perhaps Byron's orgies would have shocked in 1816. Then
again, perhaps not. Napoleon had just been defeated the year before,
and the French Revolution was still fresh in everyone's mind. Female
aristocrats had been eviscerated in the streets of Paris during the Terror,
all before cheerful mobs that included gleeful women and children. If Byron's affairs "shocked" some of his English contemporaries, perhaps
they only claimed so because they thought it was the proper thing to feel.
note: Gothic portrays Shelley as a hypersensitive victim of Byron's manipulations, whereas
E. Michael Jones's research indicates that it was Shelley and Clairmont
who were attempting to manipulate Byron.
Gothic is a mess, and thus, boring. Its characters lack motivation and consistency. Its events may or may not be real or imagined. We never know if anything
we had previously seen is still valid. Mary is intended as the sane
center of the story, but the events swirling around her are as much a mystery
to her as to us. There's much talk of evil souls resurrected. There's much talk of a lot of nonsense, none of which is ever pursued or
resolved. Characters rush from room to room, hysterical about ghosts
and leeches, about gods and vampires, about injuries and suicide.
the next morning to a beautiful day. Everyone is cordial and serene. Was it all a dream?
Review copyright by Thomas
"Communist Vampires" and "CommunistVampires.com" trademarks are currently unregistered, but pending registration upon need for protection against improper use. The idea of marketing these terms as a commodity is a protected idea under the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. s 1114(1) (1994) (defining a trademark infringement claim when the plaintiff has a registered mark); 15 U.S.C. s 1125(a) (1994) (defining an action for unfair competition in the context of trademark infringement when the plaintiff holds an unregistered mark).