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Crimson Peak (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Written By: Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro

The Shot

Visually gorgeous and highly predictable, Crimson Peak is a love letter to a bygone era that fans of classic color horror will appreciate even as others walk away wanting.  But hey: Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, so everybody still wins.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PORT WINE SPREAD.

Crimson streak.


Pairs Well With...

PINOT NOIR.

Crimson (at its) peak.

“It’s not a ghost story.”


Once upon a time, a studio called Hammer stepped boldly into the color era, delivering lusciously crafted (though comparatively inexpensive) horror films that especially favored a gorgeous shade of blood red.  The stories weren’t bad, but they were hardly shockers in the “I never saw that coming!” sense.  But no one cared, because the leads were riveting and the pictures were beautiful.

Not long after, American International Pictures and a director named Roger Corman crafted a series of similarly beautiful films generously adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe (and by generous I mean “sometimes just ran with the title”) and starring one of the most charming, urbane, and wickedly talented actors on the planet.  The decaying chintz was magnificent.

Meanwhile, an Italian filmmaker named Mario Bava put his own stamp on visually arresting, atmospheric, and salacious horror, proving that “giallo” could be just as stunning as red, and doing for horror what Sergio Leone was simultaneously doing for the Western.

If any of the above is news to you, then Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak may prove to be a tough slog: pretty to look at, but quite deliberate of pace and simple to predict at every stage.

But… if you already know the secrets of classic color era horror and embrace them willingly, then Crimson Peak is a delicious wonder to behold.  It is, after all, an obvious love letter to that bygone age, colored by Hammer’s palette, shot through Mario Bava’s lens, and starring Tom Hiddleston as Vincent Price and Jessica Chastain as Barbara Steele in a story that’s just a few steps from the margins of a gem by Edgar Allan Poe.

Crimson Peak is also, as our heroine character Edith (Mia Wasikowska as Veronica Carlson) says of the novel she is in the process of writing, not a ghost story.  It is, rather, a story that happens to have some ghosts in it.

It is that point, more than anything save perhaps the film’s deliberate pace, that I think has the greatest potential to throw the unwitting audience.  The marketing for Crimson Peak has from the start emphasized it as a visually spectacular ghost story, and I doubt that will change come home video time.  But the ghosts are really a sidebar to the horror that surrounds the film’s living characters; it’s not hard at all to imagine a cut of the movie that leaves them out entirely with very little else needing to change as a result.  It’s inevitable that many will see this as a disappointment, but given the story at hand and the classic style Del Toro is going for, I found the proportion to be “just right,” as anything more would run too much risk of being, well, too much.  Besides, Jessica Chastain delivers superbly sinister shivers with no need of help from the hereafter, and Tom Hiddleston’s charm is so very wonderfully shadowed that any specters become gilt for the chintz.  For those who appreciate a classically inspired atmosphere, deliberate direction, and artfully realized performances, little shortcomings like predictability and a subplot that doesn’t pass the logic test (so they can’t extract a substance that oozes from literally everything in sight… um…) are very, very easy to overlook.

What cannot be overlooked is how absolutely beautiful Crimson Peak is as a work of visual art.  Every shot is perfectly framed.  Every set, both interior and exterior, is lovingly crafted.  Every color, from the richest red to the dullest decay, pops.  This movie is truly a feast for the eyes.

And that, along with wonderful performances from all members of the cast (but especially the leads), is enough to make Crimson Peak worth the look for anyone who’s even mildly curious.  In the end, some may walk away disappointed, but for those who truly appreciate classic storytelling and old school style, Crimson Peak looks much more like a thriving gold mine than it does a played-out vein.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2015


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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