Crimson Peak

A Monstrous Love

If Bram Stoker’s Dracula has a cinematic kindred spirit, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s ornate Gothic romance Crimson Peak. Despite prominent horror movie elements, del Toro had a hard time selling the film to a casual movie-goer. Audiences expected something outwardly horrific, but what they were treated to was something more introspective, more lovely.

Yet there is horror here. It is a horror born of trauma. Like Coppola’s Dracula, del Toro’s Crimson Peak is asking us to empathize with monsters. To find the fractured, injured humanity lurking beneath the cold, cruel exterior.

The monsters at the heart of Crimson Peak may not be immortal vampires, but it would be easy to assume they are. Siblings Thomas and Lucille Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, respectively) are pale, moody, aristocratic creatures who dress in fine yet outdated clothes, and come stalking to a foreign land looking for prey.

The Sharpes come to America from England, where they present themselves as wealthy landowners seeking investments. But the truth is their money has run dry, and all they really own is their sprawling, rotting mansion, Allerdale Hall. Thomas proceeds to woo would-be novelist Edith (Mia Wasikowska), and after the brutal murder of Edith’s father, she marries Thomas and travels back to Allerdale Hall with him and Lucille.

Thomas and Lucille plan to slowly poison Edith to death and inherit their fortune, as they’ve done to several other women in the past – women who now haunt the gothic halls of Allerdale. Just as the costumes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula are like characters themselves, so too are the sets used for Allerdale Hall in Crimson Peak. The dark, elaborate rooms and halls that make up the mansion are lined with spikes like fangs, and cluttered with torture chamber-like furniture. The red, muddy soil the building sits on seeps up through the floors like blood. Yet there’s beauty in the mansion as well, particularly in the main entrance way, where a hole in the roof lets in the elements, be it falling leaves or falling snow.

Thomas and Lucille have ill intentions for Edith, yet like Dracula, Thomas finds himself attracted to his potential prey. Despite their marriage, the couple never grows very physically intimate. Yet when the two travel away from Allerdale Hall and get snowed-in elsewhere, a passionate night of lovemaking changes things. At least, Thomas would like it to. Like Dracula, Thomas is thirsting for Edith, as well as the idea of her – the idea that she can provide him with some sort of freedom.

Crimson peak ghost

Yet Edith is more than just some ideal. She’s not just another ornate object to place within the confines of Allerdale, but a living, breathing, vibrant young woman who thought what she had found with Thomas was true love. And it is, of course, only a matter of time before Edith learns of the danger she’s in.

If Dracula had his vampirism pulling him towards darkness, Thomas has Lucille. Lucille has been sheltering, protecting and manipulating Thomas all his life, from when they were very young and living under the thumb of their abusive mother. The backstory of these tragic yet murderous siblings lends that air of empathy – abused and tormented as children, we can understand why the Sharpes turned out so monstrous.

Thomas and Lucille are close – very close. Their entire plot falls apart once Edith discovers the siblings in an incestuous embrace. “The things we do for love like this are ugly, mad, full of sweat and regret,” Lucille says. “This love burns you and maims you and twists you inside out. It is a monstrous love and it makes monsters of us all.”

It would be hard to see the murder and pain that accompanies the characters of Crimson Peak as representing love and romance, yet to these damaged souls, that’s exactly what it is. It is a warped, deranged love, but it’s all they have. In the end, just as with Dracula, there can be comfort here, only peace. Peace in the form of death, as Thomas and Lucille meet violent ends. Thomas perhaps finds freedom in his demise, drifting away into the mist. Lucille, however, isn’t so lucky, stuck haunting the rooms of the sinking, dying Allerdale Hall.

Dracula Lucy

A Halloween Double Feature

Nothing beats watching good horror films on Halloween. The one-two-punch of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Crimson Peak could be exactly what you’re looking for this year. There’s always room for slashers, zombies and all other manner of traditional horror films, yet there’s something incredibly special about taking in these two gothic delights back to back.

You begin to notice themes and similarities, not because Crimson Peak is borrowing from Dracula, but rather because both films are working within the same established rules of Gothic romance. Both films feature strong turn of the century heroines coming to terms with monstrous men in their lives. And both women have well-intentioned normal men who pine for them, yet clearly aren’t meant to be the one – Mina in Dracula has her loving yet boring husband Jonathan Harker, and Edith in Crimson Peak has the loving yet boring Dr. Alan McMichael.

There’s an incredible relief in the fact that neither Dracula or Crimson ends with their respective heroines deciding the boring, normal man is the one for her after all, They’ve vanquished their monster lovers, but that doesn’t meant they have to flee into the arms of someone dull and passionless.

With a mix of lush production design, blood-drenched horrors, and even sexiness, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Crimson Peak blend together like one sweet, strange, scary dream leading into another. You can be haunted by these films, yet also stimulated. There’s more to horror than just a quick, good scare. There’s romance, too.

So if it’s more than simple scares you seek as Halloween arrives this week, take refuge in the haunted corridors and bloody passages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Crimson Peak. It’ll be a Halloween to remember, full of creeping horror, swooning passion and, yes, even a few jump scares.

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