“Ghosts are real” is the first line in Guillermo del Toro’s pseudo-Gothic-but-not-horror romance (as in romanticization, not a love story) soap opera Crimson Peak. And then the movie begins in media-res before introducing our perky heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young writer with a widowed father. “It’s not a ghost story,” she assures us, “more a story with ghosts in it. Ghosts are a metaphor for the past.” And that’s the mission statement for del Toro with his bodice-ripper/Hammer Horror mashup. And therein lies the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the movie: it features lots of ghosts, some horror imagery and symbols, but isn’t really a scary ghost story. It speaks a lot about romance, love and romanticizes (fetishizes) the gothic vibes of the Victorian era aesthetics and lifestyle, but it’s cold and clinical (cynical too). Worst of all it gives us the structure of a mystery, yet it doesn’t merely “play fair” it practically spells out the answers to you in the first 10 minutes (to say nothing of the opening scene). In fact none of the lofty ideas about how past cycles haunt us ever come into play in any meaningful way. This is a movie that knows what it wants to be but seems content to be the least version of itself and yet does notalways mind because it’s still full of marvels.
Wes Craven (1939-2015) is one of the few filmmakers ubiquitous with the “Horror” genre who had not been relegated to mere cult-ish fandom. He was a genuinely admired filmmaker amongst critics and general filmgoers who might have even been exposed to his unique creative voice outside of horror & thrillers. He’s a filmmaker whose masterpieces and failures equally define him. He was one of the first few filmmakers whose entire filmography I learned by heart as a kid merely by meticulously combing through the local Hollywood Video & the library (the others were Steven Spielberg, Jackie Chan, Amy Heckerling and Mel Brooks). There was something about being a wide-eyed little kid with open-minded parents who let me scare the pants off myself with these films not to mention the old RL Stine novels and Teen Nick shows my classmates and I were obsessed with (Goosebumps, Fear Street and Are You Afraid of the Dark?). To this day I have no clue why my folks let me see and read these at a young age but, nightmares and occasional troublemaking language slip-ups aside I’m glad they did. Every time I popped in one of these on VHS or caught a TV broadcast of the Wes Craven or John Carpenter movies, whose promo art promised terrifying times ahead, I had my eyes glued to the screen when I wasn’t hiding under the covers or huddled behind my parents or badass babysitter. It was almost an exposure therapy challenge where if I could brave the horrors of these movies, certainly dealing with the bullies, “mean” teachers and awkwardness of my school days would be a walk in the park. I would never claim to be a “horror fan” but I’m certainly a fan of the greats like Hitchcock, Craven, Carpenter, DePalma, Kubrick and the like. Wes Craven died yesterday, at the age of 76. His movies scared, unsettled and entertained me and weirdly along with the Disney Renaissance movies and Bruce Lee martial arts epics, showed me how to not be afraid of what goes bump in the night.