Crimson Peak has been one of my most anticipated films of the year. Guillermo Del Toro promised a haunted house story and a Gothic romance, and he delivered. It's a wonderful, loving and even cheeky tribute to the Gothic romance genre and haunted house movies. Cheeky in that it makes meta references to the genre, but never veering into over self-awareness that has made many horror films suffer in recent years. One of my favorite lines when someone asks Edith if she aspires to be Jane Austen--- "I'd rather be Mary Shelley. She died a widow."
First though, Crimson Peak is not horror. What it is is a Gothic Romance, where ghosts feature, but are not the driving forces in the story, which is what a story should be. As Edith says in one of the self-aware lines of the film, "The ghost is just a metaphor."
Even though I had some issues with the final execution of Crimson Peak, it is such a loving tribute and Del Toro's enthusiasm is so palpable not just in interviews, but the film breathes it to, that it's hard not to love it, for one as obsessed about Victorian Gothic Horror AND Romance as I am. So I gathered together a list of all the films Crimson Peak reminded me of, and it was a lot of fun.
For The Story:
Dragonwyck (1946) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Del Toro mentioned Dragonwyck in his hour long DP/30 interview for Crimson Peak and I got around to watching it recently. I loved it of course. Gene Tierney, one of my favorite Old Hollywood actresses, stars as our Gothic Romance Heroine Miranda, the naive country girl who gets invited to stay at the gloomy Dragonwyck manor by a distant cousin of theirs, Nicholas Van Ryn. Nicholas is played by Vincent Price pre-Corman days. He is our classic Gothic Romance Hero: aristocratic, tall (very tall), charismatic and a touch dangerous. Dragonwyck manor has a history of secrets, it's gorgeous, ornate and a character of its own. The servants whisper of family curses. There's a kindly doctor friend who loves Miranda from afar. There's mysterious singing and harpsichord music coming from "the red room".
This was the first film legendary director Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed, but he already shows a stylised flair and control in the genre material. The cinematography is gorgeous with its high contrasts reminiscent of film noir (a modern genre that owes much to Victorian Gothic) and the tone of the film is suitably macabre. But what really makes the film sing is the lead performances by Tierney and Price. Tierney brings a tenacity and edge to the "Joan Fontaine" type role while balancing it with all the wide eyed naivete and frailness a Joan Fontaine-esque heroine requires. Vincent Price is the exact mixture of smoldering romantic hero, brooding darkness and cruelty. It's a fantastic performance that hints of Price's later importance to the Gothic/Horror genre. Having already seen Crimson Peak, I'd say that Dragonwyck likely had a big influence on Del Toro when crafting his script and character.
Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Joan Fontaine stars in both Hitchcock films as the classic Newlywed Wife in Peril which she has carved a niche for herself, as has Mia Wasikowska now, with Crimson Peak. Perhaps Mia will finally get her own sweeping Max Ophuls style romance soon, I can see Joe Wright (if he's not too busy making flops like Pan) doing a piece like that. I actually don't really like Suspicion all that much, but the story of the charming husband who is shady is a classic of the Gothic Romance trope. More influential is Du Maurier's novel and Hitchock's adaptation of Rebecca, with its naive young bride, sprawling Gothic mansion of Manderley, the memory of the dead Rebecca and of course, the charming Mrs Danvers. Clearly the character of Lucille Sharpe has some of its origins with the austere and quietly and powerfully creepy and austere Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.
Jane Eyre (2011) directed by Cary Fukunaga
Mia Wasikowska's first entry in playing the sexually repressed, tightly wound Victorian heroine we all know and love (see: Stoker, Madame Bovary and even Alice in Wonderland-- honestly surprised she didn't do Therese Raquin!). And of course she plays the blueprint for all such heroines to come, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre also serves as the blueprint for many "creepy house and a brooding hero with wife secrets" for many a Gothic romance to come. Cary Fukunaga's adaptation however, stands out in particular in how, under his direction, he really builds that oppressive Victorian period atmosphere, and uses the setting of Thornfield Hall so well to make this classic Gothic Romance come to life in both the darkest parts of the story, as well as the most passion filled ones.
Stoker (2013) directed by Park Chan Wook
Mia really should have her own category on this list. Stoker, director Park Chan Wook's English language debut is a Southern Gothic tale that's part dark fairy tale, part coming of age, but in a way, those two genres share a lot of similarities, don't they? Director Park Chan Wook likened the film to a fairy tale, saying he saw Nicole Kidman as the beautiful Queen of the Stoker mansion and Mia's India as the Princess in the ivory tower. But of course, India is a complete subverison of the fairy tale heroine, with her taste for blood. India's sexual awakening and therefore coming of age in the film is all linked to that predatory instinct of hers, which is brought out to its fullest with the arrival of her Uncle Charlie, played by my very favorite Matthew Goode.
For The Haunted House:
The Haunting (1963) directed by Robert Wise
Del Toro has already mentioned that The Haunting and The Innocents were both major influences in the creation for Allerdale Hall in Crimson Peak. The Haunting is the grandfather of all haunted house films just because it simply IS the best haunted house film of all time. Yep, no, not The Shining. The technicalities of The Shining just weight down too much for me to truly love it and be sucked in by that haunted house atmosphere. Hill House feels like a living, breathing creature that threatens the sanity of all those in it---- and of its audience.
The Innocents (1961) directed by Jack Clayton
Jack Clayton's swooning, melancholic ghost story is another one of the great haunted house films. Also, just look at this image of Deborah Kerr in her flouncy Victorian nightgown holding an ornate candelabra on the wide staircase of the house. It could almost be mistaken for a still from Crimson Peak, and I can just bet this picture was on Del Toro's moodboard when he was designing Allerdale Hall. The story itself, which concerns two tormented, haunted children, has shades of the Sharpe siblings' backstory.
The Uninvited (1944) directed by Lewis Allen
The Uninvited is another one included on Martin Scorsese's list of Favorite Horror Films and it's one of the really underrated ones. It's more of a delicate ghost story, rather than a true horror, but the cinematography is stunning in the way it captures the shadows and corners of Windward House. The story of children paying for the sins of their parents in The Uninvited definitely feels like an influence in the story for Crimson Peak for the Sharpe siblings'.
For The Atmosphere, Tone or Design:
Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960) directed by Georges Franju
Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) is one of my favorite horror films. It is tightrope wire blend of both the violent and unsettling nature of the crimes committed in the film and the most delicate, dream-like tone of the film when it focuses on Christiane, who is, our Princess Trapped in a Tower. Similarly, Crimson Peak too balances a swooning, dark fairy tale tone with a very violent, sinister backstory, and it has its very own trapped princess Edith who keeps trying to find her way out of Allerdale Hall.
La Belle et La Bete (1946) directed by Jean Cocteau
Any film with dark romantic fairy tale aspirations wil draw on Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete. The film's haunting atmosphere, the woozy feel it takes on when Belle goes into her dream states are just the kind of moods that directors have tried their very best to emulate in years to come. It's a pity that there are no dream sequences in Crimson Peak, but Edith's night time wanderings certainly call to mind Belle's exploration of the castle and dream sequences.
Suspiria (1977) directed by Dario Argento
Crimson Peak isn't shy about being styled and designed to death, so stuffed full of baroque and classic Gothic trappings, so completely drenched in reds and cyans and golds and more red. Another film that is styled and designed that its style IS its substance? Suspiria. Drenched in every color possible (here's my rainbow picspam of it) but favoring red, bloody red over all others (and my red/pink picspam of it), Suspiria's plot may be thin but it makes up for it in its style, the way Crimson Peak also does in the weaker parts of its script.
P.S. Every October I change my ringtone to the Suspiria theme as my own inside joke.