Gothic (1986)

gothic poster 1986 movie
5.5 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Some good visuals and good cast

Coherent narrative of the story needs works

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Gothic

Studio:  Virgin Vision

Genre(s):  Horror

Release Date(s):  November 30, 1986 (BFI London Film Festival)/February 27, 1987 (UK)/April 10, 1987 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

gothic the nightmare henry fuseli incubus mary shelley natasha richardson

Always love real paints created in real life…but this is terrifying

Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) has invited Percy Bysshe Shelley (Julian Sands), his lover Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), and her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Myriam Cyr) to a weekend at his home.  Meeting Dr. John William Polidori (Timothy Spall), a night of horror and debauchery begins.  The horror is growing as the nightmare seems unstoppable.  In an almost hypnotic trance Byron’s guest dive into the powers of the mind and the events will change the fate of literature and horror forever.

Directed by Ken Russell, Gothic is semi-biopic horror psychological erotic thriller.  It is based on the creation of the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Vampyre by John Polidori in 1816 after a weekend of storytelling at Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.  The film was met with mixed reviews and has gained a cult following over the years.

gothic gabriel byrne lord byron miscarriage

Well that’s just…gross

Ken Russell is a tricky director that has ranged from period pieces to biopics to horror to musical performances…and Gothic seems to tape into a lot of aspects of all of these.  I can remember the cover of the movie which terrified me (an homage to the Henry Fuseli 1781 painting The Nightmare), but the story is kind of all over the place.

The film isn’t a true biographical film.  While the basis for the film is based in history, the events depicted in the film are fictional.  There are many who believe that the weekend getaway was spurred on by drugs and sex, the movie takes is as almost a bacchanalia…driven by madness.  The horror and fear almost feels at point like something like Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.  It leads to some good visuals, but it feels really clunky.

The cast is good.  Gabriel Byrne plays the head of the household and the person steering the events while his friend John Polidori played by Timothy Spall is playing his own game.  Natasha Richardson is nice as the kind and timid Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley), but Myriam Cyr as her more wild stepsister Claire has the meatier role because of her spirit and mental health issues.  Julian Sands was the pretty boy at the time and having him as the lusted after Percy Bysshe Shelley is smart.

gothic claire clairmont myriam cyr madness

Oh look…she brought us a present!

The movie is largely visual with great “phantasmagorical” horror.  The idea is that nightmares are coming to life and many of the visuals have a nightmare aspect to them.  They are supposed to all be tied to the psychological nature of the characters fears and this truly works…I just wish more story tied them together.  The film though set at Villa Diodati used Gaddesden Place at Hertfordshire, England as its shooting location.

Gothic at points is kind of a chore to watch.  The great cast helps and Ken Russell’s visionary shooting also benefits the film.  Unfortunately, it becomes almost episodic as the nightmare are revealed one-by-one and the whole movie needs to be tightened.  It feels like more balance between the reality of the birth of the Frankenstein story and the imagined horror of this film could have been found to make something a bit more powerful and coherent.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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