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Pioneer Entertainment presents
Gothic (1987)

"It's shown me the torture it has in store for us—our Creature. It will be there waiting in the shadows in the shape of our fears, until it has seen us to our deaths."
- Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: June 26, 2000

Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson, Julian Sands
Other Stars: Miriam Cyr, Timothy Spall
Director: Ken Russell

Manufacturer: CADDS
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, disturbing imagery, language
Run Time: 01h:26m:42s
Release Date: March 14, 2000
UPC: 013023036192
Genre: offbeat

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-DD+ D

DVD Review

Gothic is a work of speculative fiction concerning one stormy night in the lives of several European literary figures, where a group of friends and lovers discuss ghost stories while staying at Lord Byron's estate. The film uses this bit of accepted history as a jumping-off point for a hallucinatory night of shared visions and nightmares based on the characters' innermost fears, courtesy of visionary director Ken Russell. The experience supposedly inspires Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and The Vampire, written by one Dr. Polidori as a precursor to Bram Stoker's Dracula.

A fine cast has been assembled here, including Gabriel Byrne (Byron), Julian Sands (Shelley) and Natasha Richardson (Mary Shelley.) They commit to this material wholeheartedly, delivering emotionally grounded and intense performances that elevate the proceedings above standard "horror" fare. The script is intelligent and coherent, though it comes close to overestimating the audience's acquaintance with its central characters—viewers without at least a passing knowledge of English literature may find the early scenes confusing, as little exposition or character development is provided before the film kicks into gear.

The appropriately Gothic sets and period costume designs are reminiscent of classic Hammer Horror with a darker emotional and sexual edge, emphasized by some truly creepy (if not thoroughly convincing) automata that populate the dark corners of Byron's mansion. Thomas Dolby's bold score relies less on synthesizers than one might expect—it's occasionally melodramatic but quite effective overall. Ken Russell's customary outrageousness is reined in a bit here—the story proceeds naturally and logically from beginning to end, though it still gives free reign to memorable visions of flayed bodies, impish demons, breasts with eyes, self-mutilation and dead babies. The film concludes with a morning-after scene that explains the night away and returns everyone to health and sanity; it serves to wrap up the story, but seems a little tacked-on.

Gothic is a hard film to categorize—it's not truly horror, but it's too off-the-wall to be a straight drama; it seems like a Masterpiece Theatre episode with art direction by Hieronymous Bosch. And that's not a bad thing.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Pioneer presents Gothic in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, apparently an open-matte transfer of the 1.85:1 theatrical original (nothing significant ever happens above or below the 1.85:1 "window," so I'm pretty sure this is open-matte rather than Pan & Scan.) While the image doesn't lose any significant information, director Ken Russell's strong compositions are damaged by the open-matte transfer—it's particularly noticeable in scenes where careful lighting spills or fades in the newly-revealed areas. While few compression artifacts turn up, the transfer is soft and contrasty throughout with overly muted color and poor detail in darker scenes, and the source print exhibits significant dirt flecking with heavy wear and visible splices around the reel-change markers. It appears that little effort was exerted to present this visually imaginative film in a manner worthy of the DVD format—this transfer is bound to be disappointing to fans of Russell's work.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Gothic is presented with a Dolby 2.0 monophonic soundtrack (ProLogic-decoded to play through the center speaker), apparently taken straight from the soundtrack of a fairly worn print. The track features solid "storm bass" and the frequency range is sufficient to capture dialogue and Thomas Dolby's orchestral/synth score reasonably well. Unfortunately, there's a constant analog hiss underneath the audio as well as some muddiness and distortion when the soundtrack is "busy," and every reel-change splice produces a distracting optical soundtrack crackle. Pioneer should have cleaned this track up a bit; as it stands, it's less than the film's rich mono soundtrack deserves.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra feature on Pioneer's Gothic DVD is a pair of original theatrical trailers, presented in open-matte full frame transfers from middling source prints—one runs 02:15, the other 01:24. They're not separately selectable, the main menu "Trailers" selection just runs them in sequence—both are similar in their footage and emphasis, one's just longer than the other. No other supplemental content is provided; the menus have an appropriate visual flavor but the chapter selection is hard to navigate (there's no "quick index" available, forcing the user to step through four screens to get to the final chapters). A poor showing here, especially because this unusual production practically begs for anecdotes and "making-of" material.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Gothic is a fascinating work of speculative fiction about the roots of classical horror, and anyone with an interest in the period and works involved will want to explore Ken Russell's visually arresting, nightmarish vision. Pioneer's DVD is poorly executed, but the film is still worth a look.


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