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Gothic (1986)

Question: What do you get if you ask Ken Russell to direct a film about a bunch of drug-crazed writers mucking about in a mansion over one storm-lashed night?

Answer: Pretty much exactly what you deserve - a bloody great mess of a film populated by thespians a their lowest ebb (yes, even Gabriel Byrne is pretty poor in this one), spouting assorted psychoanalytical mumbo jumbo, running around like idiots and stripping off at every available opportunity.

And no, it's not as interesting as it sounds.

Byrne is the poet Byron - "mad, bad and dangerous to know", according to the modern day tour guide who's showing a bunch of tourists around the poet's old home. The next thing you know we're back in Byron's time, and Percy Shelley (the appalling Julian Sands) has turned up at the mansion with his wife Mary and their friend Claire in tow. There's also a couple of Shelley groupies knocking around, who appear to have followed the trio all the way from Geneva.

On disembarking from their tiny boat, everyone starts shouting and running around, abusing peacocks and generally acting like pillocks. They keep this up for the next 90 minutes or so as well, which becomes somewhat wearing.

Inside the house, having ditched the fan club (who probably just got fed up of their childish antics), the trio meet up with their host and another guest, Doctor Polidori (Timothy Spall, no 80s British horror film was complete without him) - who's looking pretty shifty and standing next to a goat.

At dinner they sup on vinegar (something to do with mocking the crucifixion - don't ask), and then play an impromptu game of hide-and-seek.

Polidori isn't overjoyed about this, but is threatened by Byron: "You will play… as long as you are a guest in my house… play my games."

During the game, Mary finds a snake (oo-er), servants are found milking goats (snigger) and shelling peas (kyick), and Percy discovers what appears to be an 80s - syle robotic dancer hidden away in a room (it's worth pointing out at this stage that the whole film is accompanied by the synthesised musical doodling of that most 80s of 80s performers, Thomas Dolby).

As darkness falls and the storm gets worse, Percy (apropros of nothing) decides to strip off and climb onto the roof whilst rattling on about lightning.

Once the sopping wet, shaking idiot is dragged back into the house, he says: "It is an age of dreams and nightmares!"

To which Byron replies: "Yes, and we are merely children of the age…"

Although what this has to do with risking hypothermia is anyone's guess.

As the evening progresses, the group decides to start reading old German ghost stories, illustrated by director Russell by bringing different members of the group into short vignettes of the tales themselves. Finally, after Claire is rogered by a knight in armour sporting an enormous armoured strap-on, they decide to leave the Krauts to it and write their own.

But first, Byron, Shelley, Mary and Claire get down to some torrid group sex in front of an uncomfortable-looking Polidori (and Mary seemed like such a nice girl), this charming little scene cut short by a nearby tree getting struck by lightning.

Mary then confides in Polidori that she'd give anything to bring her prematurely-born baby back to life again (can everyone else see where this is going? If not, go to the back of the class, dunderhead). The group perform a séance (an effective little scene) which culminates in Claire having a fit, and whist Percy and Mary look after her, it's implied that Byron and Polidori wander off for some back-door action. In fact, Byron appears to be insatiable - after a blow-job from Claire and the (thankfully) unseen buggering by Polidori, he still calls for a servant girl to come to his room!

Meanwhile Spall is drinking leeches (always a nice thing to see), Mary dreams of being a player in the famous "Nightmare" painting, and Percy gets scared by something he finds in a barn (what he's doing in there is anyone's guess). "It's here! Can't you smell it?" he rants, "The smell of the grave!" And goes on to explain that he suffers from narcolepsy and lives in fear that someone will mistake this for death (don't worry mate, your acting's not that good) and bury him alive. Hence his ridiculous behaviour, presumably.

It's not long before Byron's at it again, shagging Claire whilst Polidori busies himself upstairs, impaling his own hand on a rusty nail. As Polidori appears, covered in blood and claiming he's been attacked by a vampire, Shelley notices patches of goo on the floor and comes up with the idea that the séance has created "something". Frankly, it's more likely that this "ectoplasm" is actually excess jizz from Byron's overactive gonads. But I digress.

As the laudanum they've been consuming takes a real hold and the group paranoia really takes off, the acting actually appears to get worse (which hardly seems possible). Things then move towards a typically Russellian hysterical ending with breasts growing eyes and everyone covered in excrement (oh, the irony).

As an attempt to tell the well-known fable of the night all those stories were invented, Gothic fails on every level (there's not even a mention of Mary's famous creation, although it is alluded to, obviously). The whole thing is too mental to be taken seriously and too serious a subject to be enjoyed on a camp level.

Last updated: February 23, 2010

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Gothic 1986

Gothic 1986

Gothic 1986

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