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Gothic Reviews

At a Swiss villa on the night of June 16, 1816, Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne); Percy Bysshe Shelley (Julian Sands); his 19-year-old mistress, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (soon to be Shelley) (Natasha Richardson); her half-sister, Claire Clairmont; and Byron's personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, gathered to invent ghost stories. That evening, two classics of gothic horror literature were born: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's The Vampyre, the latter an influential precursor to Bram Stoker's Dracula. In GOTHIC, this historic occasion is transformed into a deranged sex-and-blood orgy of cinematic excess by the Bacchus of filmmaking himself, Ken Russell, who takes an interesting premise and creates a film that plays more like a 1960s drug-trip romp (complete with bisexuality, homosexuality, incest, miscarriages, and suicide) than a gothic horror story. GOTHIC is a frustrating film, its premise is so full of compelling potential that Russell's subsequent mindless pretensions and wanton decadence serve only to annoy and anger. To be sure, the bizarre, tortured lives of those involved make for some perversely fascinating dramatics, but Russell presents his Romantics as if they were escapees from the local asylum. To his credit, he does manage to present some memorable horrific images, including a hallucinogenic vision in which a woman's nipples are transformed into eyeballs. Although Russell keeps the parade of vulgar images coming at a furious pace, GOTHIC becomes boring, excessive, and repetitive, leaving the viewer hoping that Mary Shelley will wake up and write a lot sooner than she finally does.