Categories
Screen Reviews

Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak

directed by Guillermo del Toro

starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain

Arrow Video

Gothic Horror. Perhaps my favorite cinematic comfort food which strangely didn’t begin with a movie. My introduction to the gothic was the archaic GE Show’n Tell Picturesound of Jane Eyre. For the uninitiated Show’n Tell Picturesound was basically a TV set with a turntable on top, except the “TV” illuminated film strips. It was an over-complicated book and record except the book illustrations were on the screen. My family owned a pre-school so one of these devices was in heavy use with lots of titles to choose from and the only one I clearly remember watching repeatedly was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The mad woman in the attic chilled me to the core and was ceaseless fodder for my over active imagination. Later I would indulged on the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and of course the Bronte sisters as of course draw from the well of Universal and Hammer movies, but it all started with a film strip of young Jane discovering Rochester’s wife on the third floor of Thornfield Hall.

2015 brought the world Crimson Peak, a new gothic romance/horror film from the modern king of dark fairy tales, Guillermo del Toro. Crimson Peak is an original work with a screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, but owes a huge debts to Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Daphne du Mariner, Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman, and Mari Bava. del Toro is a master of telling very familiar stories without major inventions of expectations yet has such a masterful visual style and confidence in the material that his films never feel predicable or derivative. The film suffered some criticism of being style over substance, but of course that could be said of the gothic in general as the whole point is the rich atmosphere that is the real heartbeat and driving force of the narrative. The decaying mansions full of repressed secrets aren’t merely tropes of gothics, but are really the main characters. Crimson Peak‘s Allerdale Hall joins Jane Eyre‘s Thornfield Hall, Rebecca’s Manderlay, and Wuthering Heights as one of the great characters in gothic horror.

Guillermo del Toro opens his story in the decidedly un-gothic and un-romantic city of Buffalo, New York at the turn of the 20th century. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is visited by the spirit of her dead mother who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak”. Shortly thereafter Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) arrive in Buffalo looking for venture capital from Edith’s father. The business deal falls through but Edith is smitten with the handsome aristocrat. Her father tries to intervene in their budding romance, but when he is murdered, they are free to marry. They soon arrive in the north of England at Sir Thomas’ ancestral home, Allendale Hall. The beleaguered mansion still shows some signs of its former splendor despite sinking into the red clay pit it was built on and missing sections of the roof that allow the snow to fall throughout much of the great hall. The house and the family that calls it home are shadows of their former selves and are dying under the weight of the secrets they bear.

The ending manages to defy audience expectations without being overly twisty or resorting to a hysterical woman ending. The “it’s all in her head, poor dear” explanations of supernatural happenings as a trope are trite and demeaning both to the characters and audience. With few exceptions those endings are a cheap cheat and the events of the films rarely line up with the exposition given at the denouement. Crimson Peak manages to fall into s similar place with Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) where the ghosts were real and the heroine was extra sensitive to the surroundings. A major difference is in Crimson Peak Edith is a far stronger and stable heroine than Julie Harris’ Eleanor was in The Haunting. Edith, and the audience, have moments of doubt as to her sanity and the motivations of Thomas and Lucielle.

Arrow Video’s new deluxe treatment of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is another disc that more than justifies a double dip or upgrading from streaming. Firstly the film is given a gorgeous presentation, which should go without saying for a film that’s only 2 years old, but there are recent films that frankly haven’t looked so hot coming to home video. Secondly the extras alone are worth price with a seemingly endless parade of interviews and featurettes examining the making of and critical relations to the film. Horror icon Kim Newman and Diabolique editor, and cult Blu ray stalwart, Kat Ellinger contribute pieces to the disc and Guillermo del Toro introduces his film and delivers a terrific director’s commentary for the film that allow him to merge creator, fan, and expert commentaries into one track that expands the appreciation of Crimson Peak.

www.arrowvideo.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Hellboy

Hellboy

directed by Guillermo del Toro

starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden

Sony

Move over Batman, step aside Superman, hang it up Darkman, there’s a new force in the comic book film world! His name is Hellboy and he kicks ass!

Mike Mignola deserves every bit of money he earns off of new Hellboy movie. Throughout his career in the comics industry, Mignola has been true to his art, never selling out or doing anything cheap, silly or knock-offish. His Hellboy comic series is wholly original, inventive and interesting. As a franchise Hellboy has all the great trademarks of a powerful epic: love, hope, faith in humanity, good versus evil and the struggle to know oneself. In its current form, Hellboy endures as an enjoyable collection of stories because it is intelligent, articulate and witty without being too silly or cavalier.

All of this makes Hellboy‘s leap from the comic pages to the big screen even more successful. Now I know what you are thinking: we don’t need another comic book film etc… and you are probably right. However, Guillermo del Toro’s filmed adaptation of Hellboy is something special indeed.

For starters, Hellboy broadens the comic book film genre by taking guys with powers and goofy suits and adding character development, heart, integrity and a sense of humor. This film transcends the now-redundant ‘mutant as savior of humanity’ plot trappings in favor of a lighter script with moments of rage, loss and destiny. Make no bones about it; this film is not an X-Men knock off.

Hellboy tells the story of a baby demon, Hellboy, who was thrown into our world in 1944 during a freak attempt by the Sorcerer Rasputin (Czech actor and del Toro alum Karel Roden) and his Occult-crazed Nazi henchmen to open a Gateway to Hell that would unleash the Demonic forces of Hell to their control. A group American GIs, led by noted occultist Professor Bruttenholm, interrupts the Nazi ceremony and closes the gateway, leaving the demon infant to grow up with humanity. Hellboy becomes the ward of Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and the BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense. The BPRD was founded covertly by the US Government to “push back” at things that go bump in the night. Hellboy grows up in secrecy, mentored by the Professor on the ways of humanity.

Although Hellboy resides happily with Federal Agents and other mutants, the Aqua-Mer-Man Abe Sapien, he is in inner turmoil. Hellboy is searching for who he is. The only thing that soothes this savage beast is his love for fellow mutant Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a mutant girl who immerses herself in flame when she is angered. The problem is that Liz has left the group to live in the outside world and find herself. Things become upended when the Professor realizes that he is dying. Concerned for Hellboy’s future, he recruits BPRD agent Jon Myers to replace him as Hellboy’s handler. Myers (Rupert Evans) quickly realizes how difficult this task really is. Hellboy is brash, brutish, snide and temperamental. It takes all of his patience and understanding to work with Hellboy. Their relationship becomes sticky when Myers’ pursues Liz, with comedic results.

Unbeknownst to Hellboy and his friends, Kroener, an evil Nazi psychotic killing machine, has revived the dormant, demonic conjurer Rasputin. Rasputin has sinister machinations: through black magic, he intends to bring about Ragnarok, the opening of the Gates Of Hell on Earth. Rasputin carefully sets a trap that will lure the gateway’s keynaster, Hellboy to him. This sets in motion an epic battle of muscle and wits that climaxes with Hellboy having to choose how he wants to live his life, as a demon, or as a human.

Ron Perlman (Hellboy) has spent the last two decades consistently building an impressive body of work. This solid albeit unheralded actor is best known for his work on the ’80s series, Beauty & The Beast as well as his TV cartoon voice work. He has worked with del Toro previously in both Cronos and Blade 2. However he may best be known for his great turns in City Of Lost Children, Romeo Is Bleeding, and Alien Resurrection. Perlman’s performances have always been rock solid, and in this film, he gives Hellboy some charm by adding some comedic touches to his gruff exterior. Firing off one-liners, he gives “Hellboy” some needed levity. He also says a lot by not saying a word. As Hellboy, his expressions, mannerisms and movements portray a hero who is conflicted, anxious and unsettled.

Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Down To You) is an emerging actress who gets better and better with each passing film. In Hellboy she plays Liz as an intelligent, cerebral and conflicted girl whose sense of caustic despair and gloom makes the audience immediately feel her pain. Liz is torn apart by her affection for Hellboy and her desire to understand her powers.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, it is a nice ensemble. Karel Roden’s performance is diabolically enjoyable. He has nailed the comic book villain archetype perfectly. He plays Rasputin as a bloodthirsty, ruthless and aggressive baddy. He is the puppet master that drives the evil of the film, and he doesn’t allow Hellboy to fall flat. After all, every good hero needs an evil nemesis. Although not given much to work with, Hurt gives his character a sense of dignity and paternity that really helps with softer moments. Rupert Evans, a TV veteran in his film debut, is also enjoyable as Agent Myers. He aptly conveys the frustration and grief that undoubtedly comes with having a friend like Hellboy.

Hellboy is Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. He has managed to capture the illustrations of Mignola’s comics on film, and taken the Hellboy comics to a new level. For the film he preserved the aesthetics and atmospherics of the comic books themselves while creating a rich film with lots of visual texture, detail and subtlety. Mr. del Toro has carved a career for himself as cinematic visionary. His films usually involve the supernatural and feature dark backgrounds, eerie sets, religious iconography and Steampunk-looking mechanical contraptions. He gets great performance from his ensembles that result in complete, tightly pact films that titillate visually without sacrificing plotlines. His first feature, Cronos (1993) ushered in a wave of interest in Mexican vampire films. In 2001 his film, Devil’s Backbone was a huge success on the festival circuit and even garnered international acclaim. Two of his films, Blade 2 (in 2002, with Mignola also involved) and Mimic (1997) were big budget films that slightly disappointed at the box office.

However, Hellboy is simply terrific. Despite having a hokey plot, culled from an amalgamation of stories from the run of the comic book, it remains hot as Hell. Stellar performances from Perlman and Blair mix well with the amazing effects, great action sequences and terrific sets, set off by Marco Betrami’s amazing score. There are other superhero films out there, but few of them will entertain new audiences while retaining enough faithfulness to their comic origins for hardcore fans. In the case of Hellboy, red means go!

Hellboy: http://hellboy.com/