Saturday, October 17, 2015


This house opened six years ago, I am helpfully reminded, and how lovely it is to commemorate that milestone with the opening of horror's newest and loveliest house. The latest from fantasist Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak is a fine thing, indeed, an old school gothic romance that puts its feet right.

As respectful as I am of del Toro's extensive knowledge of horror history and his enthusiasm for same, it's rare that one of his movies truly resonates with me; I was peculiarly unmoved by Pacific Rim, his extended and explosive love letter to the kaiju cinema we both loved. And yet a romantic ghost story, set inside a brooding manse that becomes a powerful character in its own right, is right within my wheelhouse. If its story - that of a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) whisked away by a handsome suitor (Tom Hiddleston) to a sinister mansion bearing the scars of his family history - is familiar, it hits that story's beats artfully and emotionally. del Toro knows we know this story, how to engage us with what we know, how to get us to look at it with fresh eyes, and finally when to inject a subtle twist that quietly but powerfully upends our expectations.

One appreciates that del Toro's strong visual sense never results in a cluttered frame, and that when he does indulge in jump scares and blood they juice the intensity without overwhelming his audience. It's funny to think that by exploring classic horror built on such solid mythology that del Toro has crafted a TRUE alternative horror. In a field where jittery found footage has become the norm (playfully tweaked by del Toro here as Wasikowska finds clues among discovered audio cylinders), a return to the roots feels like a true resurrection. And at a time when Universal is franchising its storied monsters along the Marvel Avengers model, del Toro finds life in an old sinister house, and makes "Universal horror" truly mean something again.

(Bonus: getting to see this movie on film at Frank Lee's old survivor, Clement Street's 4Star Theatre in San Francisco, on opening night with dear friends.)

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