Ken RussellRelease Date(s)
1986 (January 30, 2018)Studio(s)
Virgin Films/Vestron Pictures/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)Film/Program Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Extras Grade: B+
Several films have tackled the events that took place during the summer of 1816 in which Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, John William Polidori, and Mary Shelley spent three days indoors during a bout of poor weather reading ghost stories to each other, eventually leading to the creation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. But through the filter of screenwriter Stephen Volk and auteur director Ken Russell, the story becomes a sensory overload in Gothic. Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson, Myriam Cyr, and Timothy Spall star as the free-wheeling, free-loving quintet who “invent” a dark being through a séance, confronting them with unknown horrors while delving into their deepest, darkest fears.
I realize that Ken Russell’s output is a bit of an acquired taste, at least to some degree... or maybe a whole lot of degrees. At the very least, his films are challenging. Narratively, they don’t always make sense, but as a visceral experience, they excel. Gothic is no exception. I can honestly admit that I hadn’t seen the film until now, but I remember the VHS box cover fondly from my regular visits to the video store when I was a kid. I don’t know what my childish mind would have made of something like Gothic, but today’s me finds it to be an aggressive and memorable film, going specifically for visual and aural intensity rather than straight narrative. Shot beautifully with often over the top performances, it’s a film begging for appreciation from modern film fans who are open-minded enough to absorb it.
Vestron Video premieres Gothic on Blu-ray as a part of their Collector’s Series line. As per usual, their transfer is quite beautiful. It’s a tad on the soft side, but appears crisp and natural with mostly even grain levels (only occasionally variable). High amounts of fine detail are on display with deep blacks and a lush color palette with natural skin tones. It’s also a bright and stable presentation, with merely the opening titles harboring a slight bit of jitter. Mild speckling is also leftover, but otherwise, it’s free of debris. The audio is presented on an English 2.0 DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH and Spanish. A sometimes aggressive soundtrack, taking full use of its stereo environment, there’s excellent fidelity to be had with clean and clear dialogue and potent sound effects and score. Thunderous effects pop up frequently while panning is minimal, but present nonetheless. Thomas Dolby’s eccentric synth score has plenty of room to breathe and fills the presentation out effectively.
This release also comes armed with Red Shirt Pictures’ usual battery of top of the line extras. They include an audio commentary with Ken Russell’s wife Lisi Russell and film historian Matthew Melia, which is very entertaining and informative, giving us a glimpse into how the film was made; isolated score selections and an audio interview with composer Thomas Dolby, moderated by Michael Felsher, providing us with plenty of background on the “She Blinded Me with Science” singer/songwriter, as well as his work in the industry and on the film itself; The Soul of Shelley, an interview with actor Julian Sands, of which he goes into a good amount of detail about his admiration for Russell and his willingness to have done whatever was asked of him; Fear Itself, an interview with screenwriter Stephen Volk, which covers his experiences as a first-time screenplay author; One Rainy Night, an interview with director of photography Mike Southon, which offers insight into how the film was shot, including a fun story about a scene involving a parrot and how many takes it took to actually finish it; the original theatrical trailer in HD (from what looks to be a low grade 16mm source); an animated still gallery; and a single TV spot.
Vestron Video continues its line of great releases with Gothic, a stimulating film to say the least. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it top tier Ken Russell, but I certainly find myself thinking about it more later on than I normally would some of his other productions. So there’s something about it that works well for me, and I’m certain I’m not the only one. This is an excellent Blu-ray release and is well-worth your time if you’re a fan in any capacity.
- Tim Salmons