Ken Russell’s Gothic

Ken Russell’s Gothic reminds me of one of those nights where you and a group of your friends all get hammered and take psychedelics together but accidentally forget to designate one amongst the group to stay sober and take care of the rest, so you all just kind of collectively lose it without a sane babysitter to steer you away from a bad trip. In this case the group of friends in question includes Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne), his doe-eyed concubine (Myriam Cyr), Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson), her poet husband (Julian Sands) and John Polidori (Timothy Spall), and if you’re even vaguely familiar with their real life literary works it wouldn’t even surprise me that the lot of them were out of their heads on all sorts of drugs. All metaphors aside this is a fantastic, warped, fever dream shock horror film that provides an abundance of perverse enjoyment, provided you have the strong stomach, deranged sensibilities and capacity for abstraction required to get perverse enjoyment out of what can only be described as really fucking weird shit. As the odd group engages in tantalizing swinger’s foreplay and picks each other’s brains, subtle supernatural things start to show up, then all hell breaks loose after they conduct an impromptu seance around a supposedly enchanted skull. This is my first Ken Russell film and I already love his work, the guy just likes to roll up his sleeves and get unapologetically bizarre for the sheer joy of it. Natasha Richardson’s Mary Shelley is the eventual main focal point of the group and both her wonderful, edgy performance and the night in question subtly suggests what past traumas and diabolical new inspirations led to the genesis idea for her iconic Frankenstein novel, while Byrne’s impossibly sleazy Byron hovers in the background, a hedonistic tornado of deviant sexual energy and debutant petulance that the actor, still early in his career, tears into with seething voracity. Russell himself is a wizard of hallucinatory panic, visual madness and disorienting, hair raising sound design, with a lot of help from a terrifically spine chilling score by the one and only Thomas Dolby. The experience is one of dementedly strange horror, with indescribable monsters lurking around every corner and edifice of Byron’s spooky mansion, a constant state of mental disarray, existential confusion and otherworldly anxiety inflicted both upon the characters and audience alike, a truly immersive realm of a film. It’s a shame this isn’t really more widely available, streaming, physical or otherwise because it’s essential for any horror fan. I watched it on YouTube with surprisingly decent picture and sound quality, I suppose that will have to do for now. Excellent film.

-Nate Hill

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