Gothic is the story behind the birth of 2 classic horror characters – Frankenstein and the Vampire (or Vampyr in it’s original incarnation, which preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Believe it or not, both characters emerged from the same weekend at the same place by 2 writers – Mary Shelly and Dr. John Polidori. The circumstances which led to this were as follows: Lord Byron hosts an overnight party at his house which includes guests such as Mary Shelly, Percy Shelly, John Polidori and Claire Clairmont. All of which are supposedly pretty eccentric people, at least the way the film portrays them. During the course of the party, everyone there ends up tripping on various hallucinogenic substances and during the course of their trips decide to conduct a seance and come up with ghost stories to entertain each other.
The seance goes in a bad direction as do the trips they’re all on with each of them having some horrific moments and very dark, intense personal experiences. Basically they all end up on bad trips with horror as their catalyst which turns out to not be a good way to go. This film dramatizes their experiences and the events that fueled the ideas for the birth of Frankenstein and the Vampire. There’s a lot of personal conjecture engrained in this such as Mary Shelly’s fascination with life and death due to her experience of having a miscarriage and having trouble conceiving. Polidori also has his own personal demons wrapped up in the Vampire character with his own fears of god and fascination with blood. All of this plays out in the film and the ties become more obvious as the story progresses.
The writing is well done with some very well written dialog presented in a old-world classic style incorporating very prim and proper wording. Visually, the movie is presented more like a play on film in terms of how the shots are set up and in the delivery of dialog presented by the actors, which makes this interesting to watch. The way it’s produced makes it feel like it could’ve just as easily taken place on a stage just as effectively as it plays on the screen in the mansion location this was shot in. It is a period piece and does feel dated.
The actors are top notch and include Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson, Julian Sands (Warlock, Boxing Helena) and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew from The Harry Potter films). All the actors turn in good performances even though at times it’s a bit over the top. But then again, the people they’re portraying are supposed to be pretty over the top anyway so it works. This was released in 1986 so it’s interesting to see how young all these now-established actors looked at the time.
I finished reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein right before I watched this movie which tied the whole experience together and made the book and the movie all the more interesting. I would recommend reading Frankenstein or Vampyr and then watching the movie or doing it the other way around as both books and Gothic have interesting links with each other.
reviewed by Sean McKnight