In interviews, Guillermo del Toro insisted that he did not consider his latest film Crimson Peak to be a gothic horror story, but a gothic romance. After seeing it last fall, I have to agree. I’ve been a fan of del Toro for several years now, and I typically enjoy his subtitled foreign films better (The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone). I can never resist a ghost story.
While I was watching Crimson Peak, I couldn’t help being reminded of a film I’d seen back in 1995: Haunted, based on the novel by James Herbert. Both films involve romance, incest and murder. I was able to guess the major twist in Crimson Peak partly because I recollected the story by Herbert. Both are set close to the turn of the century and both use decaying English mansions as a major character. Haunted actually has two major twists, and though the first is fairly easy to see coming at a certain point, the second was not (for me, at least). I think Herbert’s story comes closer to being a gothic horror tale than Crimson Peak.
Guillermo’s film is beautiful to look at and the actors are all superb – especially Jessica Chastain. I love Tom Hiddleston, and I especially love to see his characters suffer, since he does it so admirably.
Haunted is stark and dreary in comparison. Aidan Quinn is excellent in the leading role of David Ash – a skeptical parapsychologist who is asked to investigate a supposedly haunted mansion belonging to the Mariell family. (Ash was drawn into the field at an early age due to the untimely death of his twin sister, Juliet, for which he blames himself.) The three Mariell children, along with Nanny Tess, believe the late Mrs. Mariell has returned to walk the halls of Edbrook. David is seduced by Christina Mariell (Kate Beckinsale), much to her eldest brother Robert’s dismay. While investigating the eerie happenings at Edbrook, David keeps seeing his dead sister, who appears to be trying to warn him away from the Mariells. Nanny Tess also seems to be afraid of something other than Mrs. Mariell’s ghost, but she is intimidated into silence.
In del Toro’s film, the lead character, Edith Cushing, also receives ghostly warnings from a late relative, her mother: “Beware of Crimson Peak.” She does not understand these warnings until it is too late. Edith is a budding novelist of the supernatural and until she meets the mysterious, handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), she has no interest in men or marriage. Her father, wealthy American businessman Carter Cushing, is completely against the romance, for he is not fooled by Sir Thomas’ charm. Sir Thomas has come to America with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), to get funding for his clay-mining invention. Carter is not about to help Sir Thomas or approve his proposal of marriage. Shortly after Sir Thomas breaks off the romance, Carter is murdered – although it is ruled an accident.
A grieving Edith is free to marry Sir Thomas and move to England into Allerdale Hall, the Sharpes’ dilapidated mansion. But the sister and brother are not who they seem. My favorite quote from the movie is by Chastain’s character, Lucille: “This love burns you and maims you, and twists you inside out. It is a monstrous love, and it makes monsters of us all.”
Guillermo’s ghosts are always creepy, but I didn’t find too many genuine scares in Crimson Peak. Sometimes it moved along too slowly and predictably for my taste. Especially since I guessed the major twist early on. However, although it had minor flaws, I was never bored with Haunted.
If you had decided last fall to wait for the DVD release of Crimson Peak instead of seeing it at a cinema, I think you made a wise choice.