OCTOBER 3, 2007


There is nothing that pisses me off more than when someone waits until the cashier gives a customer their total to take out their wallet (this is even more offensive when it’s a place like target, where you slide the credit card yourself and can do so while the cashier is still scanning your stuff). But running a close 2nd is when I read a plot description that is fascinating, and then the movie turns out to be borderline incoherent, like Ken Russell’s Gothic.

According to Mill Creek’s write up, the film is allegedly about the insane night that Mary Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein. She was partying with Lord Byron and some other folks, everyone got high, things got out of hand, etc. That could make for a great movie, wouldn’t you say? Doesn’t say much about Mary Shelley (“She was a drug fiend who hung out with deviants, and viola: one of the greatest stories in all literature”), but still.

Well the actual movie is simply Gabriel Byrne, inexplicably made to look like the brunette guy from Air Supply, and his friends literally laughing and running around like assholes in a mansion, set to a wildly inappropriate score (a game of hide and seek – and mind you, these are grown men and women – is set to music that might accompany the “We won!” music in a Disney movie about a ragtag sports team who comes back and beats their rivals in the championship). Meanwhile, Julian Sands (between this and Phantom of the Opera, I think I’m gonna ban this guy from my Netflix queue) and another guy spend most of the film spinning around and spouting off “insane” dialogue that seems made up on the spot. And the Mary Shelley character seems more or less an afterthought.

The film doesn’t really have a narrative that I can discern, but is more just a series of “shocking” events and “scenettes”, such as this pointless encounter. Gabriel Byrne looks at the floor and sees this:

Then the camera cuts to this:

Then he pokes it and it turns back into the pig head. Fine, movie.

I won’t call the movie crap, because there’s something undeniably appealing about it. In fact, if I was in the mood, I’d probably spend the entire movie laughing, especially during the last half hour, which features a guy saying “Pot pig... pot penis.... pot belly...” and a woman with eyes where her nipples should be:

I bet that creepy thing from Pan’s Labyrinth would love to hit that.

Also, the production value and Russell’s direction are inspired; you can watch any one scene out of context and be left intrigued. But it adds up to nothing, and you’ll find yourself saying “Where the hell did THAT come from?” with every other scene. I’ve seen better narrative flow while flipping channels at two in the morning. Way to mostly waste a potentially interesting concept (as a horror film or not)!

For no real reason I should point out that this movie is one of the very few on the Chilling Classics set that retains the film’s end credits sequence, giving it an air of legitimacy among the others. Had I taken notice of the dialogue editing, it’s nice to know that I could give credit to Peter Pennell for it without having to do any research.

What say you?


  1. Julian Sands was pretty good in Naked Lunch, I thought, but that's about all he's been good in. Talking of Ken Russell, have you seen The Lair of the White Worm? That's quite a lot of fun, nad even has an incredibly young and very wooden Hugh Grant in it.

  2. I haven't. In fact i think this is the first Russell film I have seen. I have Altered States on my DVR tho...

  3. As an English major and a lover of Lord Byron's work (not to mention a horror fan with the Mary Shelley thing and all that), I found this fascinating. Incidentally, the "eyes on the breasts" thing is a visualization of something Shelley hinted at in his proto-horror poem "Christabel," which is an image that apparently came to him while he was tripping on laudanum or something and totally freaked him well it would.

    Basically, this is "The Naked Lunch" of the Romantic Poets.

  4. Late to the party on this one but I gotta defend it, it's one of my favorites. Ken Russell seems to be an acquired taste for some people, but I think his work is incredible (check out Lisztomania, if you can find it; psychedelic filmmaking at its wildest). On the more conventional front "Lair of the White Worm" is a terrifically fun tribute to Hammer Films. I actually think "Altered States" is one of his tamest movies; it's OK. As a musician (and fan of Jim Steinman) I'm surprised you didn't cotton to the insane, operatic quality of his visuals and storytelling... it's not meant to be a recreation of an event (see the boring "Haunted Summer" for the same tale told turgidly) but of a mood... the essence of the drug-addled gothic-romantic vision. When Shelley stands on the roof and shouts "Lightning is the Source of the Inevitable!" or something equally bizarre and hilarious it's not real but is the essence of Shelley's art. (MTV's "Wuthering Heights" needed a LOT more of that sort of attitude). Love your blog, BTW.

    Also, one of Russell's most recent projects is a Rock version of The Fall of the House of Usher and we both need to see that one asap.

  5. OMG! I remember being shit scared as a kid by a movie that had a woman with eyes in her boobs, but never knew what it was - surely this must be it, I can't imagine many other films would. It's the only thing I remember about the movie, and if I didn't believe being gay was biological, I'd probably nominate this as my 'turning point' lol.


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