Follow these links to reminisce with our HorrorAddicts.net Anniversary look at some of our Favorite Frightening Flix Reviews!
Yours Truly Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses Category Romance versus Gothic Literature, Slashers versus Hammer, Penny Dreadful, Mario Bava, Crimson Peak, Tom Hiddleson, and Only Lovers Left Alive as well as Victorian and Gothic Romance Themes and the upcoming HorrorAddicts.net anthology Dark Divinations.
Thank you for being part of Horror Addicts.net and enjoying our video, podcast, and media coverage!
Listen to Our Podcast: http://horroraddicts.net/
Get involved: https://www.facebook.com/groups/horroraddicts.net
HorrorAddicts.net Online Writers Conference: http://horroraddictswriters.freeforums.net/board/14/writing-horror
Dark Divinations Submission Information: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/current-submission-calls/
To Read Detailed Reviews on Our Subjects Re-visit:
Despite Narrative Flaws, Kong: Skull Island is a Rip Roaring Good Time
by Kristin Battestella
Without a doubt the 2017 MonsterVerse cum 2014 Godzilla prequel Kong: Skull Island has its flaws. One shouldn’t expect perfection or deep thoughts with this fun jungle ride brimming with action and big monsters. But heck yeah let’s over-analyze the shit out of it, shall we?
Bill Randa (John Goodman) recruits ex-SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to join the secret government group Monarch’s expedition to the elusive Skull Island alongside Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) elite helicopter escort. Landsat officials and mission science teams use seismic charges to map and study the island – awakening ancient monsters friend and foe, government conspiracies, and personal vengeance as the team rescues crashed World War II veteran Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) from the fantastic isle protected by King Kong.
Kong: Skull Island’s opening World War II crash transitions to newspapers, archive footage, and period photography on the mysterious Monarch organization as audio quotes from Truman and Kennedy lead to bleak 1973 DC protests and ironic quips about the screwed up time in Washington. Monarch needs funding to mount this satellite mapping expedition and its under the rug search amid ominous whispers of ship eating monsters and Bermuda Triangle fantastics surrounding this uncharted Pacific island. Fiery explosives reflect in the aviator glasses, animals flee the seismic bombs, and distorted music is drowned out by the destruction. People who think they are so big are made small by Kong’s giant hands and teeth – an excellent introduction with superb monster graphics and motion capture. Warped gunfire and thumping helicopter blades add foreboding to the mighty monster silhouettes as separated civilians, stranded scientists, and angry military argue who takes orders from whom. Nixon winks, geek references, and “Hold on to your butts!” keeps the old school cool coming early and often alongside minute to minute action montages with diegetic classic rock, first person shooter video game angles, and intriguing camera shots. Skull Island is an embarrassment of riches with too much to see in one viewing thanks to wild giant spider impalements and more well done personal horror vignettes with blood, gore, and brain splatter nods to Cannibal Holocaust and Evil Dead. Slow motion over the shoulder fears, creaking animal approaches, that giant log come to life – aren’t walking sticks bad enough?! The rush to repair a salvaged airplane turned riverboat adds more flying monsters and aerial fatalities to the adventure. Kong is an angry mother, but he didn’t do anything wrong in protecting his home from the dangerous creatures man has stirred, and the mission only has its bombing in the name of science to blame. Fortunately, culture shock jokes create lighthearted fun, since it’s more of a cold war with summers off, a man on the moon is eating Spam after sipping Tang, and The Cubs are never going to win the World Series. Likewise the excellent graveyard sequence combines all Skull Island’s divided and united people with scene stealing visuals, action, and monsters. Retro picture flashes and rewind clicks accent gritty zooms and intense monster filming with green gas heightening the sense of smelly vomit, skulls, bones, and gas masks. Deadly cigarettes, flames, lighters, and fumes add to the swords and machine guns poised atop the triceratops skull as man comes to regret the cruel and violent destruction he has caused.
Of course, Skull Island is also a very messy movie with an uneven dual focus. This should be either a Vietnam, horrors of war, military monster Apocalypse Now with a photographer and a scientist OR the scientific monstrosity adventure a la Jurassic Park with one ex-SAS tracker but not BOTH plots giving nobody their fair share. The us versus them scientists in blue and military in green sitting on opposite sides of the briefing is never capitalized upon but redundantly introduces everyone by name after the port of call arrivals already suffice. Likewise, conflicting, convoluted information dumps on hollow earth inklings, monsters exist proof, nature taking back the planet subtext, and more conspiracies are lost amid who’s doing the suspicious underground mapping or using dangerous seismic charges – and none of it is as important as the visual destruction despite precious little time to enjoy the awe-inspiring views. Increasingly intrusive hip highlights and filler montages distract viewers with busy, loud hyperbole, and fine jokes aren’t needed to alleviate tension because intercutting between separated characters walking to and fro for action fodder never leaves the audience with anyone long enough to appreciate their peril. Casual wonder, superficial dear family letters, and featherweight Icarus speeches can’t keep up with the up up up piecemeal quest, soldiers rightfully spazzing over the giant monkey are paid dust in favor of repeated clicks west or evac north fluff, and one trek in the wrong direction for a dead man proves pointless on top of unnecessary revenge. What should be somber shipwreck history and ancient monster worship become tossed aside double talk, and the science dialogue, monsters, and mission objectives change as people act stupid from scene to scene as needed. Littering the narrative with so many excuses that we just don’t care how each group of people and their monster attacks tie together is incredibly annoying because there is so much more potential to the friend or foe ominous and native people glossed over with photos and peace signs. Slo mo hold me back man tears turn laughable thanks to all over the place point of view voiceovers with no time for a breather properly addressing the nonsensical. Quotes about an enemy not existing until you make one get squashed between more meandering, on the nose rock montages while blow torches are convenient in one scene but forgotten the next. Our two women never talk to each other, and Skull Island can’t stick to telling its story well because it’s so desperate to appeal to as many bang for its buck viewers as possible – leaving the World War II radiation and ancient cave paintings hodgepodge to do nothing but set up the inevitable sequel.
All the people should have been listed in the blurb at the bottom of the Skull Island poster because no one character is fully developed – least of all top billed Tom Hiddleston as tracker James Conrad, who spends more time giving repetitive exposition on clicks, radius, or distance and unnecessary let’s go, no time to waste obviousness. It’s also noticeable that the character concept was changed when T. Hiddy was cast – perhaps in a Legendary twofer contract with Crimson Peak – or during filming, for the grimy shirt jaded and gritty bearded wanderer is traded for a sunshine blonde matinee idol buff. It’s like a different guy shows up for the mission! When meeting Conrad in the bar, he’s ruthless with a cue stick. However, on the island, he’s the team negotiator, going from a rugged bad ass asking for five times the mercenary money to…Tom Hiddleston. Viewers see him as himself in Skull Island and The Night Manager rather than his Loki visage – maybe because it looks like he’s wearing his own clothes again onscreen – but someone should have been in charge of his eye candy fitness as his increasing muscles or shrinking wet shirt vary throughout the adventure. The mysteriously decommissioned tracker also suddenly cares, sneaking into restricted areas to check out the bombs and question the mission even though Conrad never gets to use this seemingly new found good guy muster. His great line, “I suppose no man comes home from war, not really,” and brief mentions of his lost father – Tom, please, no more characters with daddy issues! – go unredeemed save for dad’s handy lighter to rectify a lifetime of searching for something you can never find. Instead of calm, problem solving Conrad challenging Packard, our expert tracker gets lost and seeks higher ground before taking charge anyway after useless self sacrifices. Despite his name, there’s very little Heart of Darkness to Conrad, yet the character remains overly serious and that divine accent feels out of place – taking longer and prettier to say his exposition in a different, formal rhythm amid all the fast, casual slang. Although he has the best gas mask glory moment in Skull Island and some of the samurai choreography is reminiscent of the first advance in 300, our would be hero has no winking Indiana Jones moment nor does he take off his shirt. Why hold back when you can go all the way? But hey, those biceps aren’t enough to forgive the fact that Conrad wears a gun in a shoulder holster and never uses it!
With our rugged man and Brie Larson (Room) as anti-war photographer Mason Weaver, Skull Island feels very The People That Time Forgot. However, Weaver doesn’t cry out for her camera’s safety or click away as much as she perhaps should. She never runs out of film and such gear perils or mishaps could have been an ongoing gag, but Conrad seems to look out for her camera more than she does. There is rightfully no overt romantic plot further crowding Skull Island with unnecessary saccharin, yet their feeling each other out banter should have been utilized more – Weaver interrupts Conrad’s hero zoom by motioning for him to move over on the helicopter seat and he does. All these charming, award winning thespians have so little room to breath, leaving Weaver with lame one liners and nothing to do. The “Bitch, please!” retort for her to have several seats isn’t the right response, but her trite platitudes won’t get all these macho men pointing guns at each other to stand down either. Fortunately, her outfit isn’t uber skimpy, and Larson’s modern earthy look is perhaps the most seventies style in the cast. Weaver goes from skeptical equals Pulitzer to island believer saving injured animals too quickly with no depth to her island connections if any before ending by saying she will expose their information rather than keep this precious ecosystem secret. She could have been a hippie tree hugging activist woman alone in tune for peace with Kong, but Weaver’s touching moments with the ape are too few and far between. Whether there is some kind of native spirit and island good to counter the evil creatures below isn’t explored, and while all the scientists pick up guns, Weaver shoots with her camera only – a nice statement that just leads to her getting rescued by Conrad in every dangerous situation. A brief moment of her refusing a gun and more of her resourceful ingenuity as with Conrad’s handy lighter would have added better character strength and humor. Sadly, Skull Island has both Weaver taking pictures to expose Monarch and John Goodman’s (The Big Lebowski) underutilized Bill Randa recording film for his secret organization’s posterity. What is the point of having both such rival documentarians on the trip when they never even have the chance to object to each other onscreen?
But why you gotta be mean like that to Kong, Nick Fury? Despite the Vietnam withdrawals underway and orders to head home, Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard isn’t ready for the war to end. He wonders what this the fight was all for – accepting this final mission without considering the families and day jobs waiting for his Sky Devils stateside. Packard resents the camera and the media’s influence on the war as more dangerous than a gun, and objects to calling the battle lost. He’s upset at Kong for destroying his helicopter team, blaming the ape and demanding payback when he’s the one who ordered them to fly through the island’s nonsensical storm front. There’s room for more psyche, but other plot contrivances compromise Packard’s fanatical. His insistence on taking out Kong instead of the more deadly skull creature continues even when his reason for pursuing one over the other is proven more fatal, and Packard gets around the island just fine without the obligatory SAS tracker, gutting any tension the two are apparently supposed to have. After aimlessly walking for half of Skull Island, Packard needlessly divides the group when they actually come together, and any deeper hates the monster because he hates himself guilt about man’s supposed superiority is never fully explored. Certainly the Lieutenant Colonel did nothing wrong in ordering his men and defending his homeland from the horrors of war, but he takes the extinguishing the wrong monster too far and doesn’t learn from any of the mission’s bureaucratic stupidity, ultimately using napalm to flush out more creatures than he can handle. Likewise his soldiers – family man macguffin Toby Kebbell (Control), headband wearing Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and letters to his mama Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) don’t listen to local information on avoiding island perils. At once they decide it’s all for one and one for all while telling others they will be left behind if they don’t like the plan, and none of them go against the Colonel even when he is wrong and the chain of command has broken. Although dead pan Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) eating in the face of giant apes is good levity, the too crowded Skull Island keeps these military men stereotypically hip with shirtless photo sessions and no questions asked until after the fact rather than developing any killer edge e.g. Predator.
There are simply so, so, so many superfluous people in Skull Island that you can argue almost anyone doesn’t really need to be here. Landsat fraidy cat John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) deserves more than ticking the Hispanic check box with his own personal homage to Jurassic World. This looks like a diverse ensemble with representation from all walks of life, but it isn’t diversity if each monster fodder minority has five cliché lines while the white people save the day. Geologist Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and biologist Jing Tian (The Great Wall) look like they filmed their scenes separately from everyone else. Their brief conversations happen with no one else around and they don’t really interact with anybody on the island – simultaneously missing the opportunity for statements on the struggles of a well educated black man with a radical theory while nonetheless desperate to appeal to Asian markets with an intelligent but meek biologist who barely speaks. Hawkins’ Houston Brooks objects to the titular craziness with almost the exact same words as Mann’s Slivko, and eventually, the scientists are told to go back to the boat – which they easily find and operate without Conrad holding their hands. The post-credits scene likewise has them repeating Randa’s words on the monsters to come while again telling us not much of anything on Monarch’s intentions. Fortunately, John C. Reilly’s (Chicago) kooky World War II castaway Hank Marlow is the most dynamic character in Skull Island. He’s happy these new found people are real because he’s more than ready to get home to beer, hot dogs, and the Chicago Cubs, becoming the only fish out of water in this crazy habitat that receives any narrative payoff. I also dare say Marlow’s opening cross cultural duel turned bond with Japanese singer Miyavi as Gunpei Ikari and their subsequent hear tell eight attempts to leave the island during their forced twenty-eight year sabbatical may have been the more dramatically interesting tale – “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” and all that.
Fine gunfire, brief World War II designs, aerial action, and impressive photography also pepper Skull Island. A variety of cool ships accent the beautiful, tropical, misty, hot locations from Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam amid lovely waters, deadly swamps, and killer jungles keeping everyone good and sweaty. There are dangerous rocks, mountains, vegetation, and animals, too – but that giant water buffalo thing has a cute nose! Unique patinas, golden sunsets, neon, bright blues, red lighting, and choice zooms set off every frame in Skull Island, and a fiery haze makes the night time battle with Kong befitting of the island’s devilish face shape. However, despite all the old school touches, Skull Island doesn’t feel as aged as it could be. A 1973 Life Magazine and a record player don’t a la the past when everybody looks so today. The money here is rightfully spent on the badass ape kids will dig, but younger audiences probably won’t notice the early computers, retro televisions, dark room photography, old reel frames, slide projectors, or rotary phones and period references. Fortunately, these creatures are so big that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) must pull the camera back – we can see the well choreographed rumble without hiding behind panoramic swoops and hectic editing. Kong breaking free from a shipwreck’s chains is a fine homage, and the deleted scenes with more platoon camaraderie and a bristling introduction between Conrad and Packard should have been kept. Of course, Skull Island is available in different video editions with seller and regional behind the scenes exclusives. An official comic book also continues the adventure, but I wish the background material or what happens next wasn’t relegated to extras or waiting on another picture in the franchise. Although, ironically, Skull Island might have made a great limited television series with fulfilled episodes dedicated to our mad military man, lost tracker, photographer, castaway, or scorned scientists.
Kong:Skull Island seems like it began with storyboards of cool things for Kong and company to do with everything else as filler to meet the feature length duration. There’s no time to stay on Skull Island and explore its myths or monsters, and this does indeed feel like one mere stepping stone toward the inevitable Godzilla vs. Kong anticipation in 2020 thanks to postscript MonsterVerse revelations. Though entertaining, the forties bookends are abrupt and in between viewers are spoiled for choice of eye candy. Skull Island is meant to be a monster money maker and it shows with this sweet but shallow action. It wants to be man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself, but superficially potlucks all the deep possibilities. Thankfully, Skull Island is not a film meant for critical eyes and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite its narrative flaws, there’s just so much fan service that Kong: Skull Island was bound to be an enjoyable success.
I Really Like Crimson Peak!
by Kristin Battestella
Struggling writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is quickly infatuated with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) when the English baronet comes to Buffalo seeking investment in his proposed clay mining machine from Edith’s wealthy father Carter (Jim Beaver). The elder Cushing is skeptical of Sir Thomas and his stern older sister Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), and Edith’s childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) also hopes to protect her from the Sharpes – even after Edith marries Sir Thomas and moves to the dilapidated Allerdale Hall. The Sharpe family estate is sinking into its clay making hopes, turning the snow red and making for some suspicious bumps, creaks, and groans in the night. The gifted Edith, however, can see the ghostly inhabitants of the so called Crimson Peak, and the phantoms help her unravel the mysterious secrets surrounding Thomas and Lucille’s gruesome family history…
A Gothic Throwback
My fellow horror enthusiasts know I had high anticipations for writer and director Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth) latest film Crimson Peak for more than a year. Those horror aware also know the genre is quite diverse, with welcoming room for an R rated, sophisticated, Neo Victorian picture hearkening back to a Gothic Hammer glory. Unfortunately, it seems 21st century audiences are having trouble accepting Crimson Peak defined as a Gothic romance – perhaps due to both our limited perception of horror and a misrepresented modern romance genre. Today, romance publishers and big box bookstores categorize to meet readers’ expectations of escapism and happy ever after endings, and that’s certainly well and good for lighthearted literature fans. If you are looking for a tragic love story, however, you won’t find such Bronte bleak of old on the Harlequin shelf. Fortunately, Crimson Peak embraces this dark romanticism onscreen, filling the void where studios like nuHammer have faltered. Is Del Toro the new Bava ala The Whip and the Body? Who is the next Corman with a star like Price and a source like Poe? Television is catching on to the innate no cellphones and lack of technological convenience scares in this kind of period horror, where hours can be taken for the pot boiling macabre instead of the jump scare gimmicks a minute now expected in today’s formulaic horror movies. Classic horror heavyweights like Alien or Psycho know how to provide crossover appeal alongside an escalating slow tingle – and leave creepy memories long after the story ends. Have we forgotten how to watch the simmering scares from fifty years ago? Poor Guillermo has to repeatedly predicate that Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance every time he talks about it, and the faster audiences realize we need this kind of quality throwback horror the better.
Crimson Peak is spooky, sure, but that doesn’t mean it will be a modern by the numbers slasher – a relatively recent horror style compared to the tawdry Victorian melodrama likewise found in Penny Dreadful. Heck, an American heiress with a hefty dowry is so Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers it’s downright Downton Abbey. The slightly unreliable narrator bookends in Crimson Peak allow for dime novel embellishment complete with a halo of light when the tall, dark, and handsome stranger enters and a sweeping sunlight backdrop for the first kiss of a whirlwind romance. Gasps over a shocking waltz, a scandalous slap at a dinner party, somber siblings obviously up to no good, a ridiculous “By the time you read this, I will be gone…” letter – the soap opera framework in Crimson Peak is not meant to be a surprise. If Crimson Peak was supposed to be a terror a minute horror movie meeting current expectations, the final half hour of perilous, slice and dice, house mazes and pursuits would have happened much sooner, eliminating everything before Edith crosses the threshold at Allerdale Hall. Instead, most of the shock scenes and scary moments in Crimson Peak were erroneously revealed in the trailers (more on that later), and the spoon fed, sheep viewing mentality of brainwashed American viewers blinds us from Crimson Peak’s pay attention to detail requirements. Here murderous intentions, gory deaths, period accessories, marital unease, discomforting familial twists, and an increasing sense of household dread break the accustomed. Crimson Peak is set in 1901 – the real shock here is why anyone ever thought a Victorian piece was going to be like a contemporary splatter-fest. I don’t expect millennials to love old Mexican horrors such as The Witch’s Mirror or The Curse of the Crying Woman, but my goodness, hasn’t anybody seen a Vincent Price movie?!
Edith Cushing herself reiterates her manuscript isn’t a ghost story but a story with ghosts in it. She balks at the idea of including a love subplot just because she is female, would rather be a widow than a spinster, and although she is an incredibly observant writer, Edith is not exactly street smart when it comes to people. Mia Wasikowska is delightfully wide eyed to open Crimson Peak, a Jo March dreamer unfulfilled in her big house with servants, progressive gaslight, and new automobiles. Edith knows nothing of love, ignores her father’s warnings, and stupidly falls for the first baronet who bothers to read her story. She is manipulated by the Sharpes from the start and is too swept up to care when Thomas’ love letter arrives. Granted, the character is an audience avatar, as Edith herself doesn’t realize she is backed into the corner of a proverbial horror movie until the final act. Some viewers may even perceive her as starting smart but becoming cliché once she reaches Allerdale Hall. However, Crimson Peak shows Edith gaining practical experience for her literary license for the first time in her life. We may have more clues about the situation then she does, but there is an audience joy in seeing her piece together the spooky mystery with some fantastic help and ghostly metaphors. It’s no coincidence that the star of Jane Eyre is cast here in Crimson Peak, and Wasikowska has both the period poise and ingenue naivete needed to anchor all Edith’s facets. Viewers may not have expected an empowering female path of discovery in Crimson Peak, but Edith blossoms from worrying about if her handwriting is too feminine to taking matters into her own hands. She faces her phantom fears, explores Allerdale Hale for her own revelations, takes charge in her marital life, and defends herself when her new husband and sister-in-law aren’t the family she thought they would be. Brava!
Likewise, the dark haired Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) is the delightfully Mrs. Danvers villain of Crimson Peak. Lucille has spent most of her life in Allerdale Hall’s attic, festering and hording from childhood to adult, appreciating the looming bugs in the manor and dressing like a dated matching décor to the collapsing dwelling. Even Lucille’s pointy, medieval-esque cloak matches the spires of Allerdale Hall when she is apart from it! Past abuses suggest she bore the brunt of her father’s wrath and had to remain strong in caring for her ill mother – but unfortunately, Lucille has taken her stalwart to extremes and she enjoys it. As the older sibling, she took her brother under her ignoble wing, nurturing a warped maternal instinct. Her calculated way of cooking, pouring tea, and serving porridge with a scraping spoon has been wound up one too many times a la Suspicion, and Lucille is one night away from flinging the pots – or worse – if any Notorious keys are out of her control. In her eyes, she has witnessed, endured, and personally ensured the family legacy enough times to be the lady of the house – and maintains her sociopathic control by plucking the wings from butterflies who come too close. Lucille has earned her title and takes Crimson Peak with her via the hefty, binding red gown symbolic of the blood she has shed for Allerdale Hall. We hurt the ones we love the most, right? Insect ensigns, poisoning inside and out, and a devouring hierarchy reflect Lucille’s twisted idea of love, and this is an impressive, commanding, in charge turn by Chastain. Lucille objects to the blonde, young, and vibrant Edith, taking her innocent, sisterly affection as a foreign threat to her domineering establishment. This is her own trapped, repressed, playing house little world – Lucille has everything to loose and will do anything to keep her status quo. She may be lonely and wanting of love, but when we finally see Lucille’s room, her almost scientific collection, and justified in her own mind do what must be done actions, it’s a scary, gut wrenching finale with no cheap jump shockers needed.
In retrospect, it’s understandable that the predatory sexy crawl so prominently displayed in the Crimson Peak trailers was trimmed, as Sir Thomas Sharpe is not a strong male, but instead sways like a child with whichever way the dominating women in his life tell him to be. This is not Victorian Loki or a mischievous master manipulator; Sir Thomas is a meek follower wearing a dreamy, too good to be true facade as it suits his sister’s plans. He knowingly reads Edith’s story and plays into her sweeping ideals – foreshadowing a turnabout conflict and the heavy choices to be made if he would but accept his part in this play. Thomas may be charming, but his engineering dreams, stunted adolescence, and misplaced loyalties keep him small and easily corrupted. He has been molded like the very clay he is trying to harvest and his idyllic attempts to improve Allerdale Hall only perpetuate his out of touch, leaving him in his high up but still sinking workshop playing with symbolic toy marionettes. His top hat is too big for him, borrowed and behind the times. His sister has the house keys and rules the roost, and he’s okay with that routine – until Edith. Soon Thomas realizes that his inventions may not save Allerdale Hall, he is deluded by the price he pays to keep Crimson Peak, and now there could be a brighter future elsewhere. He admires Edith’s creativity and genuine put on the page, however, when he shouts that she is sentimental, weak, and knows nothing of life and real love, is he really angry at himself? Yes, Thomas is sympathetic, but the explanation behind his character arc doesn’t make him any less culpable for his actions. He may question, but backs down and does what he’s told – clueless on how to craft change. Despite the scene chewing in Crimson Peak, Hiddleston is superb in using his eyes and stolen glances to show Thomas’ inner turmoil and emotional spectrum – feelings the baronet himself probably doesn’t know how to express. Too late he accepts his own accountability, maturing only after he realizes what real love with Edith is like compared to the monstrous of Crimson Peak. Ironically, audiences going into Crimson Peak with starry eyes and Marvel comparisons may be missing Hiddleston’s finely layered and nuanced character discovery. I personally enjoy his unrestricted, non-Disney/Marvel pushing the envelope serious more, and unlike most modern actors, he looks delicious in period garb. For Crimson Peak, his Peter Cushing Force is strong, and I’d love to see Hiddleston be this century’s go to period horror star – or you know, a young Grand Moff Tarkin in a Star Wars prequel!
I’m less familiar with Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, but his accent and hairstyle feel too 21st century out of place in Crimson Peak. Some viewers may find Alan behaves too stupidly for supposedly being such a smart doctor and feel the character wooden and superfluous all together. However, rather than being the solid fourth corner of a leading quartet, Dr. McMichael is fittingly reserved as a solid supporting role and sounding board workhorse. Alan provides exposition, information, or choice as needed to advance Edith’s story while serving as a one-sided, would be romantic antagonism as the plot requires. Edith is not interested in the good doctor as anything more than a friend – she is initially unaware he is back in Buffalo and doesn’t send him follow up letters from England – but the virtuous blonde trying to be a hero trope must be present to counter the dark and mysterious stranger nonetheless. In films of old we could balk at such a stereotypical strong chinned insert, but rightly motivated as he may be, Alan isn’t always successful in his deeds, making room for a few surprises and more gender reversal in Crimson Peak. Likewise Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood) is superb as Crimson Peak’s period piece patriarch. With his staunch ideas on tough work versus easy aristocracy and protecting his daughter’s chances for a respectable match – not a career with a typewriter – he’s still living in the last century. Unlike the Sharpes, however, Carter’s motivations, cautions, and affection are well placed with hard evidence and get out of my town demands. Despite his gruff exterior and seemingly harsh actions, everything Cushing does is in tenderness for his daughter as an extension of his legacy. Women of this era were controlled by the male nearest them, and Edith is supposed to stay young and innocent and take care of him until he chooses, correct? Beaver’s final scene is wonderfully well done – gruesome, suspenseful, immediately visceral, and most effective. Not to mention the newfangled pen he gifts Edith comes in handy for more than just literary pursuits!
A Lavish Attempt
Crimson Peak excels with its splendid look, lush costumes, and freaky ghost effects with a score both whimsical with possibility to start and ominous orchestral to match the colorful Dickensian on acid design. Meant to represent blood on the hands, manifestations of worse human horrors, and linger as symbolic wallpaper rather than be a scary antagonist, the ghosts of Crimson Peak mirror the titular clay and sinking family home, struggling to crawl and keep afloat as they woefully lend a hand. Early photography with phantoms captured in the negative also parallels this unfinished business while vintage typewriters, gramophones, round spectacles, and dangerous elevators accent the turn of the century setting. Opening and closing iris wipes marking each chapter hearken to the early horror film making industry to come, too. While Edith is adorned in flashy soon to be Edwardian designs, the Sharpes are notably dressed in the previous generation’s older Victorian fashions to indicate how their living in the past has outlived any usefulness. Lucille’s dress is of dead leaves and moth motifs – a perpetually bitter autumn with tattered, frayed trims compared to the sparkling butterfly combs in Edith’s hair. Part of the fun in watching Crimson Peak is looking for the butterflies in Edith’s scenes, and I love the slightly cthulhu ring on the ladies. Fittingly, the fancy frocks are stripped down by the end of Crimson Peak – raw nightgowns and simplicity reflect the film’s color progression from a golden patina to sinister blue, sickly green, and finally, a black and white snowscape with shocks of red clay and blood spilled. Whatever else audiences may think of Crimson Peak, the visual achievements and stunning design of the fully built and beautifully realized Allerdale Hall with all her nooks and crannies are certainly deserving of technical recognition and awards. Yes, I would live there!
Of course, that’s not to say that Crimson Peak isn’t without any flaws. The pacing is odd with perhaps too much of the early, over the top but rushed period drama and a wavering timeline. The Sharpes have been society entertaining for long enough to be known and friendly to the McMichaels, implying they have planned their groundwork carefully. However, in a century sans internet, Carter Cushing’s investigation happens way too fast. Mercenary pinkertons, the new Google! Return passage to England is largely skipped, but a map overlay like Indiana Jones or a Demeter type ship montage may have helped anchor the weeks in between what appears to be a very fast funeral and wedding – a throwaway sentence mentioning a supposedly respectful mourning wait doesn’t say enough. The duration at Allerdale Hall is also unclear, with Edith left alone, ignored, and free to explore for what seems like days. How long do the Sharpes’ plans usually take? Medical ills or miraculous heals come and go as needed, and travel in the snowstorm is conveniently easy for one on foot or difficult for a carriage as the plot requires. Again, maybe these time jumps are meant to be part of the Victorian manuscript play within a play melodrama at work, and a certain amount of rapid soap opera time can be forgiven. Though the near two hour time is pleasing, some poor editing leaves important backstory and family history unclear and most likely left on the cutting room floor, and ironically, the practical ghost effects alone look better than the CGI bells and whistles they receive. Hopefully, we’ll have plenty of deleted scenes and making of treats on the video release! The over the top moments here are enjoyable, too, but Crimson Peak can be inadvertently humorous at times, compromising the slow burn mystery and sinister brainwashing calculations with a false tame. A dangerous mining machine is also shown injuring someone but becomes a non-factor later, and if audiences are taking the ghosts at face value rather than metaphorically, the specters can seem convenient or even unnecessary. There’s enough suspense when Edith finds evidence on her own, and if one ghost can tell her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” then why can’t the recently late ghosts with all the facts do the same? Indeed, several layers, why fors, and character biographies that should have remained to strengthen the somewhat thin script with meaty dialogue for the on form cast instead seem relegated to online content and companion literature. This annoying supplemental trend is only made more frustrating when the trailers, clips, and behind the scenes footage reveal glimpses of those extra moments that didn’t make it into the film.
But Marketing Amiss
I confess, Crimson Peak is one of those rare films where I’ve started my review document before seeing the picture, largely due to my thoughts on the sometimes genius but mostly overkill and misfiring marketing campaign. Despite my attempt to avoid spoilers, there was still too much “I see what you did there” online promotion with crafty gifs and the sharing of fan art on Crimson Peak’s official instagram and tumblr media. Twitter question and answer hashtags with cast and crew repeated amid an infinite number of five minute or less interviews and press days where every reporter asked the same trite sound bite questions. For those times when watching Hiddleston interviews is like a potato chip and you can’t watch just one, it was a surprisingly obvious but shrewd move to play the Crimson Peak ads on Youtube before this related content. Along with all the television spots and billboards, there are Crimson Peak books, calendars, perfumes, and even jewelry on the Home Shopping Network. These efforts, however, generally cater to young viewers expecting cheap horror slashers and jump scare frights, belying that Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance more about the dread and macabre of old. Naturally, this audience was miffed when Crimson Peak deviated from the anticipated formula presented in the trailers, and the erroneous mass appeal horror marketing backfired with a fifty percent box office fall in the second release week because movie goers told their friends that they were promised one film but were given something else instead. Unfortunately, the millennial viewing public should also be Hello Mcflyied for tweeting spoilers as they happened on opening night – I’d hate to see The Sixth Sense released today! If Crimson Peak had half as many clips and dropped either the twitter or tumblr teasing but kept the Crimson Peak Awaits online game, enough mystery as to what it actually contained within would have lured just as well as the marketing deception. Then, the campaign becomes an interactive discovery with out of context clues and photos that don’t give away all of Crimson Peak’s secrets – or abundant spoon fed misinformation – and if you want more, why, here’s the film itself!
Crimson Peak is how Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows should have been, but sadly, because of the poor marketing and unjustified but underwhelming audience return, the potential for more old school horror films like Crimson Peak may have been irrevocably squashed. As to my first Wednesday morning cinema experience, there were only a few other people attending. There were more on a second Monday afternoon, but really, the cell phone lights going off and being checked every five minutes? Let it go. Despite a ridiculous twenty minutes of trailers eating into the actual movie time, some such as Star Wars, Victor Frankenstein, and Krampus are cinema-going worthy. Spoilers, mismarketing, and the contemporary inability to go into a picture cold aside, Crimson Peak has more than enough revelations locked up in its attic to enjoy – and more than once for full effect. There is definitely an overlooked audience for this kind of Phantom of the Opera meets Jane Eyre not Saw film to whom the industry should be happy to cater. I want to see Crimson Peak again and can’t wait to have it on video if only to do a drinking game every time someone says “Cushing.” Sure, viewers may be disappointed that the paranormal in Crimson Peak is not paramount and often predictable. Fortunately, it’s easy to get over any period piece viewing problems or uneven editing flaws thanks to a refreshingly adult approach, oh no she didn’t melodrama, and splendid gasp inducing macabre carried by the haunting visuals and spirited ye olde performances.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a Must See Vampire Spin
By Kristin Battestella
Though hampered in finding audiences by a limited box office season, writer, director, and independent film stalwart Jim Jarmusch’s (Broken Flowers, Night on Earth, Mystery Train) 2013 vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive remains a witty, impressive, thought provoking commentary long after the viewing ends.
Vampire and depressed musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has had it with humanity and our so-called zombie apathy and finds it increasingly difficult to make music in the once glorious but now downtrodden Detroit. His perpetual lady love Eve (Tilda Swinton), however, adores Tangier and enjoys her blood procuring visits with the long thought dead Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) – the true author of Shakespeare’s works. Eve makes the long trip to see Adam, but their rekindled romance is threatened when Eve’s disruptive sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives from “zombie central” Los Angeles. The young and reckless Ava takes a liking to Adam’s lone human friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) and soon endangers their O Negative supply line from local Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). Will the lovers survive?
Not Your Mama’s Vamps
Last fall, I wrote a mini capsule review of Only Lovers Left Alive for one of my annual vampire film lists. At the time, my primary concern was that this was a refreshingly unconventional film and that it would not be for everyone expecting more mainstream designs. Next, I feared the picture wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I first saw it – would such offbeat hold up upon repeat viewings? However, I’ve found myself near addicted to Only Lovers Left Alive in the months since. Instead of predicating my praise with a ‘not for everyone’ label, my vantage has grown to the notion that everyone should give this picture a chance. Forget Twilight. I am so sick of any vampire film, book, and television material being compared to it when, despite its millions,Twilight is only one very small, divisive, largely inaccurate reflection of the genre and its longtime audiences. Only Lovers Left Alive, by contrast, is the 21st century bar by which vampire pictures should be measured. This is everything I have ever wanted in a vampire movie yet it is unlike any other vampy film before it. The intercut beginning – who is who, what’s happening, why they live apart – will confuse some audiences accustomed to straightforward, spoon-fed explanations. Fortunately, these parallels reflect the similar but different existence of our detached but no less connected lovers and infers their own Einstein discussions. Ironically, the leads don’t talk to each other until half hour into the picture when their vampiric nature is revealed with a ritualistic, sex scene-esque, ecstatic, blood drinking high. Some accept or revel in this shoot up tea time necessity while others begrudge and seem ashamed of it. The euphoria is over so fast – they can schedule it or travel a few nights without blood, but this required fix takes on dangerous withdrawals when one is on the run and down to a precious last drop.
Though perhaps obvious, the addiction subtext in Only Lovers Left Alive is one of many genre layers amid the witty, sardonic script and quotable ensemble banter. Certainly there are spooky, atmospheric, noir moments, yet the subtle, chuckle inducing black comedy accents toy with the social statements, bleak palette, and melancholy analysis in the truest sense of the phrase. Yes, what date of birth do you give when scheduling that night flight? Numerous names, languages, references, history, and literary allusions will take more than one viewing to register, and you can learn something new every time you watch Only Lovers Left Alive. Granted, that may not be the intention of the contemporary, multitasking, desensitized viewer, but this impressive depth and mental stimulation deserves your undivided attention. These vampires were probably there to give plants and animals their Latin names and scoff at how the antiquated grid technology hasn’t caught up to the new millennium. What else did they have to do for so many centuries but read up on Tesla or quantum theory? They influence art, advance science, and accumulate knowledge while humanity ignores our spark and degrades into the mundane – understandably, it must suck to pin all that worth on the mad dash to find uncontaminated blood! Despite their seeming superiority, our couple will always be in hiding, on the lamb, under the radar, and avoiding the police. Sooner or later their predatory nature must surface and they will find a way to survive.
At first, the always ethereal Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) seems more like a Tolkien elf than a vampire thanks to her striking white hair, light clothing, and Old World happiness as she takes a solo evening stroll through Tangier. Clearly strong, Eve seems effortless, curious, intuitive, and almost childlike ala the hissing swan inspiration from The Bride of Frankenstein yet also aged and advanced in her sense of wonder. How many of the great literary scandals has she witnessed first hand! She touches books delicately, imprinting their tales with a tactile osmosis and vampiric speed reading before wearing gloves to protect this intimate touch during her journey. Eve is a progressive vampire with plenty of credit cards, passports, and a smartphone, yet waits in her lover’s foyer as if the removal of said gloves is an old fashioned, sensuous calling card. Traveling is such a drag, but they talk long distance on schedule and Eve’s handled Adam’s periodic brooding previously. She comes to him without outrightly being asked, dances to the music he makes, and remains in tune yin to yang despite their separation. This couple would seem mismatched – her bright contentment to his bleak depression – yet these primal, protective mates for life are wonderfully kinetic be it a continent or inches between them. Dark garments and red accents do intrude on Eve’s white as Only Lovers Left Alive gets heavy, however. She wears his robe, feels at ease within his dreary sheets, but as the desperation mounts the sophisticated layers peel away, reverting to an older, fierce instinct. Eve says she is a survivor, and we believe it when she drinks the O Negative first, keeps the flask in her pocket, puts the blood on a stick in the fridge, or wins at chess. She says, “Give me all your money, baby,” and Adam gives it!
I confess, I’m behind on the Tom Hiddleston hysteria but became a fan because of Only Lovers Left Alive. Initially, I could see the originally cast as Adam Michael Fassbender in the early lone rocker scenes, but if Fassbender did The Counselor instead of Only Lovers Left Alive, he made a rare mistake. Now, I don’t think anyone but Hiddleston could have played Adam, and it’s a pity so many may only know him as Loki in Thor and The Avengers. From naming his male guitar after “just some old 17th century English guy” and seeing long dead star Eddie Cochran “yeah, on Youtube” to his modified electric car, antique stethoscope, a perpetually out of order bathroom, and the need for an elusive wooden bullet – there’s more to Adam than meets the eye. His clutter and technological work indicate they have been apart for some time, and Adam seems to be an ongoing, moody, musical study in contradictions with an old boob tube and giant cordless antenna phone hooked up to his laptop and sophisticated music equipment. His music is brooding art with a beat, a melancholy but still ticking reflection laced with Byronic references. He dresses up as “Dr. Faust” to obtain his blood supply and balances his pout with a surprisingly sardonic wit and chuckle-inducing deadpan irony. Adam claims mutual jeopardy makes him feel safer, that he doesn’t have spare time to waste, and above all insists he doesn’t have heroes – despite an entire wall adorned with such luminaries (I see that Hank Williams on the right coughISawtheLightcough). Sadly, he is right about our zombie monotony and the people who fear our genius bringing us to ruin. These vampires have nothing to do with their lives but read, invent, and watch us piss away the gifts we are given. I’d be depressed, too! Adam was emo before emo was emo. If Eve thinks he is wasting his long life on self obsession, by comparison imagine how much time we are wasting in our compressed lifespan.
Friends and Foes
Adding to Only Lovers Left Alive’s nostalgic charm is John Hurt (Alien) as Christopher Marlowe – yes, that Christopher Marlowe. His Shakespeare possibilities create just enough past interest while his unknown aspects provide words of warning to Adam and Eve. Some audiences, however, may be upset by his unexplained health issues or find the Marlowe as Shakespeare suggestion unnecessary. Was Kit already too old when he became a vampire, presumably after he faked his historical death pre-Shakespeare? Has he already lived so long that his immortality is now a slowly degenerative condition? Who or what is Silmane Dazi’s (This Path Ahead) Bilal to Marlowe? He knows both Eve and Adam and their secrets, but by all indications Adam has not been in Tangier for some time and Bilal doesn’t appear to be a vampire himself. Is he merely a literary protege to Marlowe or something more, and how often do these kinds of short lived companions come and go? Of course, we’ll never know Kit’s whole story, and that’s the point. Thankfully, his symbolic bad batch for the drug dealer twists create more angst in Only Lovers Left Alive, as does the perfectly juvenile and obnoxious Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) as Ava. Just when the picture may seem too slow, Eve’s so-called sister enters half way through the two hour time – clearly uninvited as a reckless vampire who lives in the moment regardless of any delicate needs or peril. Adam says he never sees other vampires, yet they each dream of Ava before she arrives and resent her bratty jokes and childish vamp cliches. They can’t forget whatever it was she did in Paris 87 years ago, (Oh if this were Highlander: The Series and we could have seen that!) and Ava comes between these would be parents, overstaying her welcome and causing precious blood to be spilled – literally and figuratively.
Though Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) as Ian isn’t a bad kid for being in the music industry and seems grateful to genuinely help Adam, Ava uses Ian and makes an already fragile situation regarding Adam’s music more suspicious. Why are teens showing up at Adam’s house? He has released music anonymously, but how have Adam’s tunes made it to the underground club scene and come back to him? Did Ian sell the material, defying his confidentiality agreement, or was it Ava somehow causing the musical stir? Ian wants to know more about Adam, tries to get him out of his reclusive ways, and unknowing emulates their vampire style – but he will never fully grasp the centuries in play and is easily lead and influenced by the next shiny lure. Again, perhaps the point is in not knowing how it all goes down, for Adam and Eve have previously given their achievements to others, left a place before they’ve stay too long, or fled from something worse. Despite her lack of discipline, Ava is right that a lone vampire has a much tougher existence. Are Adam and Eve really condescending snobs, vampires so far removed from what they are that they don’t know how to get rid of a body? They think they are so above that 15th century barbarism and must obey that stop sign when a cop is driving by, but their gloves must come off eventually if they intend to live up to being the Only Lovers Left Alive. Fortunately, Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) adds a fun sense of spooky as the blood procuring Dr. Watson. His hospital lab is bright and high tech compared to the Detroit drab, and his Strangelove or Caligari banter suggests he may suspect what’s really going on in this lucrative arrangement. Honestly, I wish Only Lovers Left Alive were a series so we could see more of this reluctant, looking over his shoulder but no less sardonic doctor and his speculations, “Cat’s gotta be from Cleveland.”
Compared to a more expected in your face horror or heavy action spectacle, not much happens in Only Lovers Left Alive. However, there are numerous visual treats and symmetrical designs layering all that isn’t said. The moody nighttime sky, slowly descending camera angles, and spinning records create a hypnotic start, and the dizzying round and round parallels the intoxicating romance and blood highs. The photography and camera framing feels intimate and humorous, contrasting the decaying humanity and quiet players. Secretive, melancholy blue tones and soft, exotic yellow hues distinguish locales or feelings while suggestive hints of red pop onscreen and fade to black slides imply something bad happening. Bright, white hospitals or airplanes mean the sunglasses wearing vamps are out of their comfort zone and in our tempting world. Though the coloring may seem too saturated or overly processed and the brief CGI super speed actions are too noticeable, the scheme feels deliberately dream like or off kilter in the distorted motions – they move too fast for us but time goes so slow for them. Piles of décor create a cool, aged feeling and psychedelic atmosphere along with great character unto themselves Detroit and Tangier locations, sweet records, excellent tunes, turntables, and carefree dancing. Thanks to some inventive yak hair wigs, these vampires aren’t pretty per se, but they look unusually beautiful and as ancient and worn as their collections of books, instruments, and accumulating pack rat lifestyles. Guitar enthusiasts will delight in the mix of classic and modern technology, as will Tesla fans and alternative energy theorists. Vampire inventors, who knew?
The unique vampire mythos in Only Lovers Left Alive will also alternatively delight and aggravate fans of the genre, as again, most of their vampire technicalities go unclarified and leave room for debate. How could they get their photo taken if they have no reflection? Eve says they looked so young in an 1868 third wedding picture, so do they age or don’t they? Are their experiences and long lived souls reflected in their eyes, noticeable only to them? Are Eve’s predictions on our fighting over water and the rise of new regions actually prophetic or is it merely thousands of years of seeing it all before? Why does Adam keep books in the refrigerator – space issues or are those rare volumes in need of climate control? Just imagine if more people kept books in the refrigerator instead of junk food. Sustenance for the mind, right? The mushrooms, what the heck is it about the mushrooms? I hate mushrooms! The blu-ray edition of Only Lovers Left Alive adds more deleted scenes and comedic moments with sunlight and mirrors, and these extra minutes could have remained in the film. Only Lovers Left Alive already makes its own rules and pace, and a hour length behind the scenes feature goes into more detail on the film’s long gestation and attention to its narrative. Renovation admirers can also see before and after photos of Adam’s Detroit abode online, now sold and restored to its former glory. Somehow, that just seems fitting.
An Audience Awaits
Somewhere I read a one sentence review that said the worst part of Only Lovers Left Alive is that it ended. Though appropriately Sopranos style, that finale may also upset some audiences. I myself had to rewind it two or three times upon my first viewing – just like my favorite part, the dance scene. Vampires are people, too, and Eve has come to make Adam live again. Are there plot holes and pretentious writing in the unexplained aspects at work here? Perhaps, but there is nothing so glaring to deter viewers – and plenty more enticing and intelligently structured designs make it easy to roll with Only Lovers Left Alive. I want to discuss this tale further, for I know I am forgetting to mention even more little treats – the music alone, hello! Instead of a mind numbing movie, Only Lovers Left Alive feels like a book continually giving a new puzzle piece with every viewing. Yes, the silent montages, heady atmosphere, and seemingly aimless, desolate Detroit style won’t be for everyone. It is correct to say nothing really occurs in Only Lovers Left Alive, and that will mean a big no thank you for much of today’s audiences. I didn’t get to see Only Lovers Left Alive in theaters thanks to its extremely limited run and distant festival appearances, and it saddens me that something like the Marvel pictures make billions while films like this go unseen with a blink and you miss it million dollar box office. Can’t everyone have a piece of the cinema pie?
When I finally picked up the blu-ray edition of Only Lovers Left Alive and convinced my husband to sit down and watch, we ended up discussing it for weeks. In fact, we’re still talking about the unanswered questions and intriguing possibilities of Only Lovers Left Alive long after it has ended. I was excited to see Poe, Twain, Keats, and Dickinson on Adam’s wall, and I want to know who all his other heroes are, too. I originally started writing vampire stories because I had to write what I wanted to read. Outside of the biggies like Anne Rice or Bram Stoker, there was little serious vampire fiction around forty years ago. Had Only Lovers Left Alive been there in my youth, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to make up my own vampire tales. Maybe that isn’t saying very much, but as a long time fan of the fanged genre, it is perhaps the highest compliment I can give. Only Lovers Left Alive stays with you that deeply. Fans of the cast, vamp pictures, indie films, and well honed cinema should educate themselves with Only Lovers Left Alive ASAP.