by Madeline Iva
I was attracted to the preview for Crimson Peak, and even more attracted to Tom Hiddleston, who stars in it. Yet I couldn’t tell from the preview if the movie was a horror film or romantic suspense. Not loving horror films, I waited to watch it on video where I could fast forward through the scream-y parts if need be.
I shouldn’t have worried. Crimson Peak is a Gothic Romantic Suspense movie—capital G, emphasis on the ick.
Gothic? Horror? Gothic-horror? What’s the difference, you’re wondering. Some say it’s not horror if there’s no blood splatter on the wall. Oh, Crimson Peak has blood splatter a-plenty. Not just on the walls, but also the carpet, the snow, the clothes, the skin. Never since Carrie has a movie audience been so drenched in red dyed corn-syrup.
But a Gothic sensibility is all about the build up. We revel in the hints of secrets, and spend a lot of suspenseful time wondering what—what chilling secret could be in the creepy investigator’s file? In the locked rooms of the ancient hall, in the gooey red brick pits in the basement, in the locked luggage next to the gooey pits…
We’re looking for twisted hidden secrets. We want them revealed and brought out into the light of day–or at least twilight if that’s all there is to be had in the gloomy climate of Northern England. The dangerous horror part is only a small component of the whole. We’re much more involved in the building psychological strain and suspense. (What could it beeeeee in that bedroom?)
Excellent Gothic stories always ends with a goodly amount of implosion. We want the mansion destroyed by fire, we want the mad-woman jumping off the roof–only to drown in the pond. We want the carriage plunging over a cliff. (Bonus points for managing such a feat without harming the horses.)
In this way, CRIMSON PEAK is most definitely a gothic movie. I was worried about horror elements, when in fact (SPOILER ALERT!)
what we have here is merely……really ugly ghosts, trying to deliver helpful messages.
What the movie doesn’t deliver in horror, it delivers in gothic architecture and gowns. Is there any better satisfaction for the Gothic enthusiast than a once-gorgeous house pocked with decay like swiss cheese? Better yet is the house that delivers some weird and extravagant folly. Fluttering moths on the walls? Check. Mine shaft in the basement? Check. (Yes, I’m not kidding, there really is!)
Crimson Peak’s also got gothic quatrafoil bannisters, fan vault trim, and oculus glass up the wazoo. Spindle carvings drips from beamed ceilings panels, and gingerbread sprawls across the stairwells. It’s like being in heaven for those who know they really belong in hell.
Gowns billow in haunted breezes, Nightgowns hug the neck like a confining clasp of a strangler. Robes of silk outline heaving breasts, and glorious hip length locks run in a dark river across the neck and down the ribs. Do I sound orgasmic? I was. I still am, a little.
Tom Hiddleston is the anti-hero who stands in the center of all this wanton glory. Is there any better man to play a twisted romantic hero? I think not.
Tom…Tom…let me count the ways.
His intelligent sensitivity, his understated sensuality…his ice blue eyes that nevertheless melt with innate sympathy, yet tragic acceptance that no…there’s no help for you.
I get ovary spasms just from listening to the way he explains what Gothic romance is on Charlie Rose and how repressed sexuality bursts forth in ghosts, mayhem and horror —
Jessica Chastain, meanwhile, plays his evil sister in a repressed matronly way worthy of Mrs. Danvers (The nasty housekeeper in REBECCA). We’re not quite so interested in her while Tom is on screen–how could we be? But at the same time, yeah, she’s workin it.
Frankly, I would have been just as happy if they decided to change the tale to that of a twisted incestuous couple who rid themselves of the shallow American heiress so they can live in lecherous macabre delight—an alternative HEA. (What’s that I hear?—It’s the sound of a thousand fan fiction posts launching on Wattpad.)
But Crimson Peak is not a perfect movie for us Gothic fans. Alas, there are bad American accents, cheesy overdone bloody effects. I like over the top as the much as anybody, and didn’t mind the costumes and sets (who doesn’t like a mind shaft in a basement? Or leaves and snow falling gently through the gaping hole in the ceiling?) But the blood-like clay seeping from the walls? Okay…a leetle bit over done. Actually WAY overdone. Why Guillermo? Why? The writer/director crossed the line a few times, and in doing so seemed to aim his movie towards a less refined audience. Sad.
However I respect any movie in which two women, heroine and villainess, battle it out at the end. I warn those of you who couldn’t hack the Psycho shower scene to quickly avert your eyes during their epic throw down. Talk about death by a thousand cuts—and in billowing bloodstained nightgowns!
Back to our Gothic Rules of Attraction. I like it that the heroine loves the bad guy, Tom Hiddleston (again a favorite trope) even after she discovers his dark secrets. Does he loves her? Agh! We sit and wonder. And! If he does love her–can they get out of that house alive together before it tumbles down and sinks into the oozing clay, a la The House of Usher?*
That’s the question that kept me going all the way through the gory ending.
Alas, this movie was a little watered down for my taste. A little more lowbrow than it needed to be. I liked chewing on parts of it, but the best of gothic suspense tradition is not about hack and slash, it’s all about the revealing twitch of an eyebrow, the moment the locked door creaks open and our heroine will never again be innocent again.
*I’ve always wanted to own a house that comes with a black tarn.
Thanks for tuning in, readers! And follow us at Lady Smut, where we devote ourselves to bringing you shivery, sexy fun.
Madeline Iva writes fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Her novella ‘Sexsomnia’ is available in our LadySmut anthology HERE, and her fantasy romance, WICKED APPRENTICE, will be out Spring, 2016.