MOVIE MAN

Peak an homage to past ghostly, gory classics

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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The Movie Man hates it when several good movies come out on the same weekend since he always focuses on just one to review.

With “Goosebumps,” “Bridge of Spies” and “Crimson Peak,” that’s what happened. The Movie Man pulled the trigger on the latter, skipping “Spies” – a Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks.

If you throw out a few cameos/small parts, the Movie Man has not missed a Hanks movie since 1993’s “Philadelphia.” With Denzel Washington, Hanks remains America’s greatest actor.

But Halloween nears and not seeing “Crimson Peak” seemed wrong. Sorry, Tom.

ABOUT THE FILM

The Universal monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy – made scary movies fun. When they got released to TV in the late 1950s, a new generation discovered those classics.

Then came Hammer Studios, which took those famous creatures, modernized them and then reissued them in shocking color.

Another onslaught of fear films had arrived, first from England with Hammer, followed quickly by the beloved horror films of Mario Bava from Italy.

His stylish, psychedelic creep-outs landed in theaters where they were so weird they didn’t catch on until they became cult hits on college campuses in the 1970s. Those queer, atmospheric, graphic terror pictures were called giallo – “yellow,” officially, based on the color of paperback crime novels that were popular source material. The name soon extended to the more explicit films; eventually, these movies led to the slasher movie era that bled into the 1980s.

Today, of course, gore and more gore is par for the horror movie course. Even this week’s “Crimson Peak” evolves into a carnage-filled finale that is as much a nod to Bava as a lure to today’s bloodthirsty audiences.

“Crimson Peak” is clearly an homage to the previous era of bloody cinema – artistic, yet sometimes hard to watch (early giallo movies regularly got tagged with an X in those pre-NC-17 days). “Crimson Peak” isn’t that graphic until the end, when the blood-as-a-metaphor fills the screen.

THE PLOT (SPOILER)

In New York in 1914, young Edith (Mia Wasikowska), now a d butante, has seen ghosts her entire life, including her mother who warns of “crimson peak.” Despite her father’s (Jim Beaver) misgivings, she falls for the wiles of a visiting baronet, Thomas (Tom Hiddleston).

When Beaver is murdered, Wasikowska heads off to England to wed Hiddleston, who is always accompanied by his sinister sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

The siblings’ decrepit mansion is slowly sinking into a mysterious red funk that has manufacture potential if Hiddleston can get his mining machine to work. Inside the rotting house, Wasikowska begins seeing hideous ghosts who seem to be trying to communicate something to her.

Meanwhile, there’s something weird in the tea and porridge Chastain feeds Wasikowska. A prior doctor boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) is hunting Wasikowska down, and he shows up just when things hit the fan between the trio in the crumbling mansion – it’s not the ghosts everyone has to worry about.

WHAT WORKS

Look for “Crimson Peak” come awards time – the cinematography is astounding, as it always is with any movie directed by Guillermo del Toro. Plus there are some lovely, long, sweeping camera shots that are mesmerizing.

The director is a hard-core horror fan, and he has jammed “Crimson Peak” full of references to the genre. Like: the lead character’s last name is Cushing (Peter Cushing was a famous actor); the film looks often like the cool old AIP Edgar Allen Poe pictures from the early 1960s starring Vincent Price; and there are whiffs of other famous movies, too (“The Innocents,” “The Haunting” and “The Others” to name just three). For the finest movie nod, see Best scene.

The CGI ghosts are spectral yet explicitly graphic. There are a couple of jump scares and, for a long time, there is little to believe this film would veer into gore territory. But then it does.

BEST SCENE

While bathing, Wasikowska has been playing fetch with a dog. She tosses a red ball. Once, however, the dog doesn’t come back, and she hears queer noises just beyond her sight. Then the dog returns without the ball. The scene sits for a moment before the red ball comes rolling out of the darkness back into the bathroom to Wasikowska.

It’s a scene right out of “The Changeling,” an unnerving ghost story from 1980 starring George C. Scott – except this movie used a staircase as the delivery system.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK (SPOILERS)

The movie is much better during its first half in New York and then the early scenes in England. Afterward, it gets unfocused.

Chastain – the Movie Man’s a fan – isn’t great in this part; she’s channeling Barbara Steele from “Black Sunday,” and the scene where she sweeps down the stairs, bloodied, with her white gown flowing behind her is straight out of Steele’s playbook. But Chastain is curiously wooden here.

The conclusion is pretty ridiculous. Wasikowska falls from a great height but still manages a few minutes later to engage in a long battle with Chastain, indoors and out where everything is frozen. And their fight with knives and eventually some sort of battle-axe and a shovel goes on too long.

THE RATING (SPOILER)

This is a mild R, really. Until the finale, there’s just one f-bomb, a couple of bloody shots and Hiddleston’s hiney. But the conclusion gets gorier – enough for an R – especially when Hiddleston suffers a particularly startling and graphic stabbing.

SUMMING UP

“Crimson Peak” is not bad. But fans seeking an old-school/non-gory ghost story will be horrified by the violence, while gorehounds won’t be remotely satisfied. It makes neither group happy. Still, kudos to del Toro for making the movie he wanted to make. If nothing else, it looks fantastic.

NEXT UP

Speaking of CGI, “The Last Witch Hunter” looks wonderfully dumb, like star Vin Diesel. Then there’s “Jem and the Holograms.” The Movie Man is surprisingly full of info when it comes to this live-action version of the beloved 1980s cartoon, but rumors about it being completely different is freaking out “Jem” fans.

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