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‘Gothic’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 01, 1987

 


Director:
Ken Russell
Cast:
Gabriel Byrne;
Julian Sands;
Natasha Richardson;
Timothy Spall
R
Under 17 restricted


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Ever had one of those weekends when leeches sucked your face, a friend went into convulsions and the guy next door kept impaling his hand on a nail?

Ken Russell's "Gothic," which contains all of these elements and more, is for those of you who just have to have a blood-soaked sardonic yuk now and then. Russell, the man who gave the phrase "too much" new meaning, outdoes himself.

"Gothic" ostensibly is about the famous weekend at the Villa Diodati when Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, Dr. Polidori and Claire Compton went into a literary huddle and came up with "Frankenstein" and "The Vampyre." True to demented form, Russell takes that idea to the limits: In his vision, Byron and friends were a sort of 19th-century Def Leppard

-- famous young brats with nothing but devilish free time on their hands.

In "Gothic," the Shelleys and Compton visit Byron and Polidori to indulge in the ultimate sex-and-spookout slumber party. Byron (Gabriel Byrne), a dandyish, jaded rake, asks his guests to play in a kind of extended Ouija-board mind game, wherein everyone must dredge up their deepest, darkest fears (to provide mulch for the forthcoming horrors).

Things get out of hand. Four-posters squeak with sexcapades. There's perpetual thunder and lightning. Bugs scramble out of people's mouths. Women stroke snakes. And there are enough rats in the basement to send the Pied Piper back to music school. It's a Hell of a weekend.

Russell's poets romp through mud, slime and nightmare fantasies whilst dressed in the height of Romantic fashion. By movie's end, they will have purged their fears and accrued a staggering dry-cleaning bill.

Byrne plays a grim-faced, perverse Byron with great presence. Julian ("Room With a View") Sands once again bares his boyish good looks, not to mention buttocks. As a sleazy, sexually repressed Polidori, Timothy Spall seems so revoltingly convincing it makes you concerned for his family.

Beyond the carnalia (and if you're still with us), "Gothic" happens to be strikingly shot, the special effects inspired, albeit gruesome. Although he slops his signature blood 'n' cleavage across the screen, Russell makes it slick, with dynamic cutting, vivid lighting and framing. Who knows, you might spot a little humor in this hyperbolic lunacy. On the other hand, after a cinematic orgy like this, you might long for 15 minutes with an evangelist.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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