When it was released back in 2015, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak was met with a divided response. The film was the victim of a confused marketing campaign that pitched the Halloween release as a horror film with ghostly scares and a haunted house. People who had been expecting shocks and jumps were disappointed when confronted with the gorgeous gothic reality of Crimson Peak, a considerably slower and more melancholic affair. Famously, del Toro responded by telling everyone he could that the film was actually a Gothic romance and not a true horror film. As Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing says, it is not a ghost story, it is a story with ghosts in it.
Edith is a modern woman in a world caught between the past and the future at the turn of the 20th century. Her father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) is a steel worker made good in an American Dream success story and is supportive of his daughter’s ambitions of becoming the American Mary Shelley whilst also trying to keep her naivety in check. This proves difficult when Edith falls for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), over from England with his sister Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to appeal for money to support his family’s clay mines. Tragedy strikes and in its wake, Edith marries Thomas, travelling with him and Lucille back to their Cumberland estate, the crumbling Allerdale Hall.
The new Arrow Video Blu-Ray edition of Crimson Peak, released on 14th January 2019, is a celebration of del Toro’s film, arriving in stunning limited edition packaging designed by concept artist Guy Davis. It is accompanied by a hard-bound book, a wealth of special features that explore all aspects of the film—with a particular focus on the sumptuous production design—and enthusiastic critical responses from Kim Newman and Kat Ellinger. What is clear from each of the behind-the-scenes features (of which there are several) is how invested everyone, from cast to crew, were in crafting the world of Crimson Peak.
And it pays off. There’s a richness at work all the way through the film, starting in the United States with Buffalo’s warm, golden hues before journeying to the dark world of Allerdale Hall in England. When watching this for the second, third, or even eighth time (guilty), every frame is a treat for the eyes, offering up details that might have been missed on previous viewings as well as contributing beautifully to the storytelling of the main narrative.
The plot is slight, but then gothic romances always tend to be; young woman falls in love with Byronic hero, Byronic hero has a dark secret, secret is discovered, non-Byronic hero comes to the rescue, and everyone lives happily ever after. In his enthusiastic audio commentary, del Toro frequently points out the literary, artistic, and musical allusions made throughout. It’s a treasure trove for a fan of a gothic romance, full of little references to the towering genre greats. There are liberal applications of Charlotte Brontë, Sheridan Le Fanu, Daphne Du Maurier, and Charles Perrault, but del Toro also name-drops Henry James, Horace Walpole, and Ann Radcliffe with gleeful abandon. The difference is that del Toro is not willing to play along with every genre convention, playfully subverting it at every opportunity.
Edith is somewhat of a departure from the traditional Gothic heroine, who is not always afforded as much independence as they’d like. She wishes to write, isn’t entirely committed to the prospect of marriage, and refuses to fall in love with Charlie Hunnam’s blue-eyed all American eye doctor. Wasikowska gives Edith a wonderful wide-eyed brightness and enthusiasm and when she is confronted with the dark secrets of Allerdale Hall, she refuses to simper like a Radcliffe heroine and instead decides to fight back. Wasikowska doesn’t get the opportunity for the broad strokes with her character that other cast members are afforded, but her measured performance is the heart of the film and Edith is a compelling heroine.
Chastain’s Lucille, bound in dark velvet, face placid with bitterness and voice oozing disdain, is a worthy foil for Edith’s radiance and optimism. Though the cast are all excellent, it is Chastain who really owns the screen whenever she appears. Lucille is a woman moulded in darkness, cocooned in a crumbling house and desperately fighting for its survival and her own. As the requisite Byronic hero, Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe is conflicted where Edith and Lucille are firm. Sharpe is a tinkerer and an inventor trying to save his home, unable to pull himself free of his sister’s dark influence, even after Edith comes along. The chemistry between the three of them plays with tension beautifully and Allerdale itself works as an influence on their behaviour.
Allerdale Hall is perhaps the most important element of the film. The Crimson Peak of the title, it is a monument to a bygone age of wealth and decadence. Built from scratch and painstakingly designed to incorporate of Crimson Peak’s themes, Allerdale Hall is a grim and awe-inspiring creation. There are details upon details to discover, from the carvings in the long corridor to the way the former medieval structure of the house emerges through the older neo-Gothic style. That first glimpse of it through the porch is still mesmerising as the leaves fall from the hole in the hall’s roof and the blood-red clay oozes up from the floorboards or bleeds down the walls. The creation of Allerdale is rightly a focus of the special features and I guarantee there will be aspects of it that you haven’t spotted before. Because that’s the beauty of the film; there is always more to be found.
Though it was not a hit on release, Crimson Peak has gone on to find its own section of very devoted fans. For those people, the Arrow Video release is a chance to really deep-dive into its world and appreciate the craft that went into the production. For new viewers, Crimson Peak is a Gothic classic waiting to be discovered.