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GOTHIC - 3 Slimes
Rated R
Copyright 1986 Virgin Vision
Reviewed by Fausto on 16 April 2008

The Characters:  

  • Mary Godwin - 18 year old feminist writer (and future author of "Frankenstein"); follows her friends on a trip to Geneva and finds inspiration.
  • Percy Shelley - Poet and Mary's lover. Fascinated by science and has a tendency to stand naked on rooftops during thunderstorms.
  • Claire Claremont - Mary's pregnant half sister. Hopelessly obsessed with Byron and prone to epileptic fits.
  • Lord Byron - Egocentric and self-indulgent writer with a club foot; presumably wrote the original book on how to be a player, among other famous works.
  • Dr. John Polidori - Byron's suicidal and gay doctor (and future author of "The Vampyre," itself the inspiration for Stoker's "Dracula"). Has a strange kinship with leeches.
  • Fuseli Monster - Demonic midget with a penchant for sitting on the chests of sleeping women.
  • Armor Ghost - What this knight lacks in looks, he makes up for by being well endowed.
  • The Creature - Unseen apparition created through a séance. It is a composite of the participants' worst fears.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

There's nothing quite as trippy as a Ken Russell film, and Gothic (1986) is certainly no exception to the rule.

1816, Lake Geneva. English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his lover, Mary Godwin, accompany Mary's half sister Claire on an expedition to the Villa Diodati, home of Claire's lover Lord Byron. The grand mansion has already become the target of tourists, who pay money to spy on the reclusive lord, perhaps to catch him in one of many acts of scandal to which he has been attributed. No sooner does the trio reach the shores of the Villa than Percy is chased around by two young women (fans of his work). Here we start to get the idea that these people are not as mature and cultured as we might think.

The group meets with Byron, who right off the bat begins making grand speeches in poetic jargon. Despite Claire's attraction, he seems more interested in Percy...and not just for intellectual reasons, either. Dinner is served, and the discussion gives us some back story on Byron, who left England for reasons he hints at but does not divulge. Claire jokingly suggests that he's actually the devil incarnate, a theory she tries to prove by crawling under the table and pulling off Byron's shoes to reveal his "cloven hooves." Byron responds by kicking her in the face (this is actually a reference to the real life Byron's club foot, a condition he was less than proud of). The awkwardness of this sudden act of abuse is broken by a spontaneous game of hide and seek, sending the players running to all parts of the mansion in a wild frenzy.

We get a brief tour of the mansion and its oddities, and the game ends with Percy standing naked on a roof during a thunderstorm, giving yet another poetic speech about lightning being a fundamental force of nature. With Percy safely back inside, the discussion turns to the secrets of life, and how it can be created (Mary says nothing, but is listening nearby). Byron then produces a volume of ghost stories, which the group takes turns reading to each other (this being what people used to do before TV and DVD players - how far we've come). Dissatisfied with the ending of the last story, Claire comes up with the idea of having each of them write their own ghastly tales.

Later on, during a brief orgy, the group is interrupted by an evil shape passing across a window. The shape is no more than a tree struck by lightning, but this leads into more talk about the forces of creation, and Byron gets an idea. A sort of séance is held, in which Byron demands that each of the participants "conjure up their worst fears" and bring them to life. Right away Claire begins screaming about "cold paws" on her face and falls into an epileptic seizure. She is taken to her room to recover, and Mary begins to butt heads with Byron over his treatment of her sister, who he obviously cares nothing about (on the other hand, he seems to care an awful lot about his own sister, the late Augusta, and not in a very wholesome way). Deciding the weather is unsafe for travel (and not wanting to leave Claire in Byron's hands), Mary and Percy decide to spend the night. Sometime after the guests retire to their rooms, however, strange events begin to convince Mary and the others that an ominous apparition is stalking the grounds of the villa.

In the midst of this, Mary confronts Byron again, this time revealing Claire's pregnancy. Byron retorts by suggesting that Mary's motives in forcing him to take responsibility are less than noble, as Percy could just as easily been the father (the group's free-love ideals had lead to a few ménage-a-trios between Percy, Mary, and Claire). As Mary tries to patch up her relationship with Percy after a jealous spat, the two come across a puddle of slime in the hallway, apparently left by the creature. Meanwhile, Byron sneaks into Claire's chambers and "does something" to her, using his mouth and spilling plenty of blood in the process. The insanity now transferred to her, Claire goes nuts, leaving the others to decide who or what is stalking them and how it can be stopped.

First of all, one of the major complaints made against this film is the terrible acting. Maybe it's because I've seen so much worse that my standards have been lowered, or maybe it's because I'm ignorant of how people actually spoke and acted in the Nineteenth Century, but I just don't see it. Whatever overacting there may be, at least from my perspective, fits in with the film's surreal nature. Granted, the actors are much older than their real life counterparts (the oldest, Byron, was 28 in 1816; Mary herself was only 18). The biggest complaint would be the issue of historical accuracy - it's very unlikely that any of this actually happened the way the film depicts; yet, if anything, it is meant to be more of a look into the character's mental and emotional states than any sort of biographical depiction of their lives. That said, it's not a perfect film, and not for all tastes, but if you can stomach a bizarre flick, give it a try. A must for fans of Ken Russell's work.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Ghosts and monsters mark their territory with puddles of semen.
  • Creating an entity out of your worst fears is a really stupid idea.
  • Sex partners never die, as long as you have a death mask and a willing stand-in.
  • You are never too old (or too intellectual) to play hide and seek.
  • Some women can blink their nipples.
  • There's nothing more deliciously thirst-quenching than a jar of leech water.
  • Mechanical Turkish women don't like their hoo-hoos touched.
  • The "free love" concept existed long before the 60's.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 4 mins - Ha ha! She fell!
  • 14 mins - Yeah baby, work those udders.
  • 17 mins - In real life, he'd have slipped off and broken his neck.
  • 18 mins - Are heterosexual men supposed to sit that close?
  • 22 mins - Freud would have a field day here.
  • 25 mins - That's rude, not even bothering to invite the doctor to join them.
  • 36 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BREAST SHOT!
  • 36 mins - I wonder how much Justine gets paid for this.
  • 38 mins - Now that's some high quality H20, right there.
  • 41 mins - Nice recreation, except...where's the horse?
  • 55 mins - When a girl is out of tampons, its nice to know Lord Byron's around to lend a hand...er, tongue...
  • 63 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BR...what the hell?
  • 64 mins - You gotta keep those anatomical models locked up, or else they run amok.
  • 65 mins - What would a Ken Russell film be without snakes?
  • 74 mins - Julian Sands I can see, but Gabriel Byrne? I guess someone has to be the man in that relationship.

Quotes: 

  • Percy: "Did you see the light? It was like the end of the world."
    Byron: "Then let us live and love, so that people will say that the Devil, as well as God, is an Englishman."
  • Byron: "Forget your women, Shiloh. Do not waste your brilliant words upon them. Poets are for each other."
  • Claire: "I wish my baby, it was born...lying smiling on its father's knee...and I was dead, and in my grave, with green grass growing all over me..."
  • Percy: "...suddenly I'd had an image of a woman I'd been told I'd meet, and the madness was such that she had eyes in her breasts..."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

FileDialog
Green Music Note gothic1.wav Servant: "My Lord, dinner awaits your pleasure."
Byron: "She also awaits my pleasure!"
Claire: "What's for first course?"
Byron: "Your lips!"
Claire: "Second course?"
Byron: "Your body!"
Claire: "Dessert?"
Byron: "Your soul!"
Green Music Note gothic2.wav Polidori: "What about a dark English nobleman who draws women to him, sucks their blood, and discards them empty?"
Byron: "Oh yes. Or an obscene Italian doctor, raised by the Benedictines, who turns to sin and buggery."
Green Music Note gothic3.wav Mary: "It's just rainwater."
Percy: "Rainwater that catches the moonlight like the trail of a slug? That odor!"
Mary: "It's the gutters, rotting leaves, damp..."
Percy: "Not damp. Decay!"
Green Music Note gothic4.wav Mary: "I can't go through that again. I can't!"
Percy: "For God's sake, Mary. We can do it. What we created with our minds we can destroy."
Mary: "Yes, like God, we have created. And perhaps God, like us, wants to destroy his creatures before they destroy their creator."
Percy: "But God is already dead!"

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 

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 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipgothic1.mpg - 5.1m
Percy continues to swig opiates and freak out. He is working himself towards a full-fledged case of the screaming meemies.

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Comments:Write CommentPages: [1]
Re: Gothic
Reply #1. Posted on April 17, 2008, 01:55:28 PM by yes
Thanks, This is another Russell film i still need to pick up.  I recently found Litszomania VHS for 1$.
Re: Gothic
Reply #2. Posted on April 19, 2008, 11:59:52 PM by SynapticBoomstick
I recently got one of those 50-Packs and there was a title called "Gothic" that I was unsure of watching because the summary was so bad- in those packs they tend to be. Now that I know that this is that same movie I'll have to watch it TongueOut
Re: Gothic
Reply #3. Posted on May 01, 2008, 08:38:52 PM by BoyScoutKevin
Hard to know what to say, except I do prefer "Lair of the White Worm" (reviewed at this site) to this one, but Fausto has seemed to have hit all the highlights--and lowlights--of the film, so I'd be interested in seeing him do another review of one of Ken's films.
Re: Gothic
Reply #4. Posted on July 14, 2008, 07:31:19 PM by Rev. Powell
Good job Fausto.  I agree with your critique, especially the part about how the overacting was deliberate and added to the atmosphere (I actually thought this was very obvious).  Gabriel Byrne and Natasha Richardson were fine, and Russel harnessed Julian Sands natural talent for scenery chewing.

The first time I saw this as a pot-smoking college student I was high as kite.  It was trippy and visually fun, but I found it impossible to follow.  The characters never seemed to hold: for example, Polidori would be a simpering mess, then a prankster, then bald, then homicidal, then suicidal.   

The obvious joke to make would be that when I watched it 20 years later, sober, that I couldn't tell the difference.  Unfortunately, that's not true.  I found it fairly easy to follow as long as I remembered that while the characters were in their delirium nothing really happened, and very little carried over from one scene to the next.  The "plot" was just an excuse for Russell to do what he does best: string together a bunch of phantasmagorical sequences that aren't constrained by the demands of a linear plot.

Altogether one of Russell's better films.  I agree with the 4/5 rating.
Re: Gothic
Reply #5. Posted on December 29, 2009, 08:46:56 PM by Phred22
This review doesn't seem to mention my favorite bit with Claire and a rat. For the sake of not spoiling anyone's pleasure, no further details.
Re: Gothic
Reply #6. Posted on January 14, 2011, 09:24:37 AM by TooManyCustomers

 Heh.. I think my favourite scene was where people were quite upset with there being a pig's head on the hallway floor, but then once it changed into Polidori's head they were quite relieved and went back to their business...
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