Gothic, from 1986, is classic Ken Russell, and it's great fun. The hallucinatory storyline is a perfect fit for Russell's over-the-top directing style, with his penchant for startling imagery and heavy symbolism serving the film well. It's a dark and stormy night, and some beautiful young creative types lock themselves in a manor house, indulge in opiates, and proceed to freak each other out. (Who amongst us hasn't been there?) The mansion, however, belongs to a certain Lord Byron; his guests include writers Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary; and years later this legendary night will inspire great literary flights.

It's clear that the actors are having a field day, and the performances are full-speed-ahead. Gabriel Byrne excels as the host, alluring and appalling at the same time. Natasha Richardson and Julian Sands are lovely and intense, though Sand's youthful earnestness can become a bit tiresome. Miriam Cyr is a most appealing wench, and credit must be given to the great Timothy Spall, whose Dr. Polidori is exceedingly creepy.

As in many Ken Russell films, small talk is kept to a minimum. His characters would much rather expound about being, existence, and the meaning of it all. Whether they make any sense or not doesn't seem to matter. The same could be said about most of Russell's movies; they are experiences more than anything else. For its American release, Gothic was billed as a horror flick, leaving the average ticket-buyer bewildered and disappointed, and the film deemed a box-office flop. More's the pity, as this film of ideas is rewarding and entertaining in ways that are all-too-rare anymore.

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