Please don’t do drugs.
Ken Russell
Natasha Richardson, Julian Sands, Gabriel Byrne, Timothy Spall
The Setup: 
Byron and Mr. And Mrs. Shelley gather and spend the night doing drugs.

From Ken Russell, director of one of my favorite movies, Women in Love, and another I really like, Altered States, and various other things, comes Gothic. This is part of his later period of his movies that I just don’t understand or get into, like Lair of the White Worm and Crimes of Passion. But he’s still a wacko, and every movie he makes is sure to be somewhat delightfully [and perhaps lugubriously] bizarre, and I had been eager to see this one for a while. It’s inclusion on this $20 50 Chilling Classics DVD set was one of the factors that got me to buy it, as this is something I had always been meaning to rent, and now I could OWN it for as little as $0.80! Turns out $0.80 is a pretty fair price, and I did not need to own this in any way.

So you know that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was inspired one night when she and her husband [the poet Shelley] were hangin’ at the poet Byron’s house, chillin’, getting’ high, and telling ghost stories right? And that the next day she had her story, which would become Frankenstein? Well, this movie imagines what might have happened on that night, which in this case is a bunch of hallucinations.

The first thing we discover is that this is the world’s shittiest print of a film that is less than 30 years old. We soon discover that it is accompanied by the world’s shittiest sound. Then we learn that the music is done by Thomas Dolby.

Julian Sands as Shelley and Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, accompanied by a woman named Claire, go over to Byron’s house for a slumber party. They are artistic dandies and fops, and spend a great deal of time running around gardens and spouting poetry and shit. Byron is very affectedly demonic, he’s like a little Marilyn Manson, and Claire, who is apparently his girlfriend, seems to be an abused female, as she is always provoking Byron, and he is always doing things like smacking her across the room, grabbing her hair and saying “Bitch! Never do that!” Also on hand is professional unctuoist Timothy Spall as an overweight, leering homosexual.

They all take laudanum, a hallucinogen. It’s not long before they’re all wandering the house having visions, for example of a mechanical female belly dancer that strips, but swats one’s hand away when reaching for her big donut. Then they read ghost stories to each other, and decide that they’ll all make up their own ghost story to tell each other. Sometime in here Mary tells Spall that she lost a child, and would do anything to have him back. Then they all have an orgy, except Spall, who sits by patiently and waits for it to end. Then they hold Claire and “focus her fear” [quite a scene], then, after everyone wanders off, Byron let’s Spall snuggle up.

So what we have so far is a bunch of completely context-less scares and suspense sequences, because none of it is real. Nevertheless, for a while it sustains a tension and the creeps are pretty good, even if they’re all just hallucinations. But soon the trip goes bad, and they believe that there’s a little incubus in the house, that they have brought into reality through the force of their mind waves.

Sometime in here Byron tells Shelley to dump Mary and take up with him, and then later Shelley saves Byron from Mary’s attack on his life, then kisses him. Spall is very much the whiny, emotionally fucked-up, third wheel homo throughout. At the end of the night Mary has a vision of her lost child, and in the morning she has the basic story for Frankenstein in mind. The end.

It was more intriguing than anything, before it just became a series of visions and blather loosely held together by the idea. By the end there was considerable fast-forwarding. While it sustains some suspense toward the beginning, remarkable when you consider that we know none of this is really happening, after a while that fact becomes overwhelming and you’re like “why am I even paying attention to this? None of this is even happening.” For the whole “entire movie is a dream” thing to work, there usually has to be a payoff at the end that we understand the dream brought the character to—the best-known example being The Wizard of Oz, not to mention the delightful Return to Oz—and here the whole “inspired Frankenstein” isn’t all that compelling, and is undermined by the fact that no one really knows what process inspired it, and this movie is just somebody’s [rather florid] guess. Your time would be much better spent actually reading Frankenstein, watching the original Cheney film or Bride of Frankenstein.

Should you watch it: 

You could, but I wouldn’t bother.