• Gothic

    Released by: Vestron Video/Lionsgate Entertainment
    Released on: January 30th, 2018.
    Director: Ken Russell
    Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson, Myriam Cyr, Timothy Spall
    Year: 1987
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    The Movie:

    Eccentric filmmaker Ken Russell’s eccentric 1987 picture Gothic purports to tell the story of the night that Mary Shelley came up with the idea for her classic work, Frankenstein (and Polidori's The Vampyre). Before we get to that, we go back a bit to the summer of 1816. Mary Goodwin (Natasha Richardson) is engaged to Percy Shelley (Julian Sands). Through Mary’s half-sister Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr), the soon to be legally married couple come to meet famed poet Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne).

    Byron takes a shining to them and, soon enough, has invited them to come for an extended stay at his palatial retreat in Switzerland, Villa Diodati. Here they meet one of Byron’s closest friends, a doctor named John Polidori (Timothy Spall). When a storm hits one night, the group understandably decide to stay inside and, with little else to do, they decide to entertain themselves by telling ghost stories. As the night goes on, various skeletons are exposed in various closets. The use of certain narcotics only serves to fuel the strange turns that the evening takes with Byron serving as tour guide on what is essentially a descent into madness.

    Far more concerned with over the top sensationalism than really getting the facts right, Gothic is yet another example of Ken Russell’s penchant for cinematic excess. Hardly an attempt to provide a literal recreation of the Shelley’s interactions with Byron, Russell does succeed in doing what Russell tended to do best, and that’s to create plenty of mood and atmosphere, coax some excellent performances out of his cast, and tell a story that – realistic or not – captures the viewer’s attention. As the telling of ghost stories leads the film into confessional territory, Russell has all the excuses he needs to exploit his voyeuristic style with all the flair for the dramatic that those familiar with his work would expect.

    The cast all seem to be in on it, playing things in an over the top style that fits the mood of the film rather well. Sands and Byrne are both very strong here, each one playing their part well and carving out their own unique characters. Beautiful Natasha Richardson is every bit as good, crafting genuine pathos, albeit in a very unorthodox way, when the discussion of her miscarriage comes into play. Myriam Cyr and Timothy Spall do well in their supporting roles.

    The movie never really gets scary, though there are some mildly unsettling aspects to it, both in terms of how it deals with its titular style of horror and the twisted, sexual overtones that periodically bubble their way out of subtext and into the film directly. Like a lot of Russell’s films, the tone is all over the place and the movie seems hyperactive at times. If the film doesn’t really wind up going anywhere by the time it’s all over and done with, at least it’s a really fun ride.


    Gothic arrives on Blu-ray for the first time on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Detail is typically very good, though it shines through better in the nicely lit outdoor scenes than it does in many of the interiors, which are sometimes intentionally dimly lit. Skin tones look good, nice and natural. The transfer is very film like showing a reasonable amount of unobtrusive grain and very little print damage at all. Black levels are good and shadow detail isn’t bad at all. All in all, the image quality here is pretty damn solid.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track with optional English SDH available. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided. Quality of the loss track is pretty solid here. Dialogue stays clean, clear and nicely balanced and the levels are properly set throughout to ensure that the performers are never buried in the mix. The score sounds good with solid depth to it, and the musical number that happens early in the film at the party scene is punchy and lively. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, the track is clean from start to finish. No problems here at all, the movie sounds really good here.

    Extras start with a newly recorded, commentary pairs the director’s fourth wife, Lisi Russell, with film historian Matthew Melia for a track that is generally pretty interesting even if there’s a fair bit of dead air here and there. When Lisi is engaged and Melia gets her going, she shares some interesting stories about her relationship with the film’s director, where his career was at during this stage in the game, some of the inspiration that got Russell moving on this picture, as well as her thoughts on the film, its cast, and quite a bit more.

    Also included on the disc is a selection of music presented as an isolated score option that also includes an audio interview with the film’s composer, Thomas Dolby, moderated by Michael Felsher. This is quite interesting as it lets Dolby talk about his work with Russell on the film, his thoughts on the score, his thought process and creative process and other related topics.

    Vestron has also supplied some pretty interesting featurettes, beginning with The Soul Of Shelley which is an eighteen-minute interview with leading man Julian Sands who describes what it was like taking direction from the notoriously eccentric Russell, how he got along with some of his co-stars, what it was like on set and more. In the next featurette, the seventeen-minute Fear Itself, we hear from screenwriter Stephen Volk about where the ideas for the story came from, how the film ties into varios classic works of literature and his thoughts on the film itself. One Rainy Night gets director of photography Mike Southon in front of the camera for a twenty-three-minute-long interview where he talks about what went into getting the look of the film right, working with Russell on the project and some of the specific setups that were required for the project.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer, a few TV spots, a nice still gallery of various bits of behind the scenes material and more, animated menus and chapter selection. The disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray ‘Eco-case’ and fits inside a slick foil embossed slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    Gothic is hardly the film Russell will be remembered for but it is quirky, strange, ripe with atmosphere and, most important of all, quite entertaining. Vestron Video has done a great job bringing it to Blu-ray in very fine shape and with a nice selection of extras that really go the extra mile in terms of documenting this oddball film’s equally oddball history.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!