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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Crimson Peak 4K UHD Review


Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: May 21, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English DTS:X, DTS Headphone:X 2.0, and Dolby Digital Audio Descriptive

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 118:42

Director: Guillermo del Toro


When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak. (From Universal’s official synopsis)


Note: I’m recycling a lot of my original 2015 release review of Crimson Peak, which is really more of a viewer’s guide to Gothic Romance on film. I have learned more about the genre in the last 9 years, so there are changes, but, if you’re concerned specifically with the quality of this 4K UHD, please skip to the Video section.



In the lead-up to the theatrical release of Crimson Peak, co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro repeatedly stated that his latest film was not a horror film. He insisted that audiences needed to understand that it was a Gothic Romance – ”Creepy, tense, but full of emotion...” Unfortunately, the message didn’t spread too far beyond his Twitter followers. The trailers and TV spots Universal rolled out kept on using the ‘H-word’ and some box office critics have blamed the misconception for the film’s mediocre earnings. For this review, instead of analyzing what makes Crimson Peak tick, where it succeeds and how it fails, I’m opting to explore the dark melodrama of its lineage as I understand it.


As an art and form of literature, Gothic traditions extend back to the Medieval era into modern variants Rural Gothic, Urban Gothic, Southern Gothic. Gothic imagery on film often mixes Victorian period-appropriate costuming and architecture with the extreme lighting techniques of German Expressionism. Gothic literature is typically based in Georgian and Victorian Dark Romanticism, and steeped in the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Bram Stoker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Edgar Allan Poe. Horror and tragedy are not prerequisites, but a feminine point of view is often key, which del Toro himself acknowledges as a problem for the genre*, as film versions have historically emphasized male perspectives. The specific literary tradition owes a great debt to women authors, notably early adopters of Gothic fiction Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, and, of course, Mary Shelley (who the main character compares herself to in the film), and the stewardesses of Victorian Dark Romance, Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë, who wrote Wuthering Heights (1847), Jane Eyre (1847), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), respectively. Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) sits at the heart of del Toro’s entire career, but Crimson Peak, in particular, pays substantial homage to Jane Eyre.



The prototypically scary Gothic Romances began in the silent era beginning with Rupert Julian’s (Edward Sedgwick, Ernst Laemmle, and Lon Chaney were uncredited) exquisitely crafted Phantom of the Opera (1925). Though Gaston Leroux’s novel was adapted dozens of times in the decades after Julian’s version was released (some of them even gave heroine Christine Daaé a more compelling role in the story), this silent version helped to set the stage. Del Toro offers tribute to the silent era in general with iris-ins and transitional wipes throughout the film. 


The Universal Horror tradition of the ‘30s and ‘40s fixed focus upon male characters (for example, Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula demoted Lucy Westenra’s role significantly). Even the campy, extreme Gothicness of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is essentially a movie about men and their relationships with other men. However, those films coincided with a number of Goth-noir thrillers that recreated the visual fundamentals of Gothic Romance in motion picture form. These include Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944), George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase (1945), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel. Crimson Peak’s debt to Rebecca is abundant, but del Toro’s interest in Goth-noir continued into his 2021 adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s horror-tinged noir Nightmare Alley (pub. 1946, also adapted to film by Edmund Goulding in 1947).



These ‘40s Goth-noirs also established Vincent Price as the default leading man for Gothic Romance. Price appeared in key roles (most of them ambiguously antagonistic) during Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ Dragonwyck (1946) – another film del Toro seems to have pulled inspiration from. On the dreamier side of the black & white Gothic were a series of films from producer Val Lewton that used horror themes and Gothic imagery as metaphors for feminine sexuality at a time when censorship wouldn’t allow for more explicit discussion. The most pertinent of these in relation to Crimson Peak would probably be Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943).


Following success in noir and romantic drama, Price found himself starring in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations (and one H.P. Lovecraft adaptation pretending to be a Poe adaptation) from director Roger Corman. The first of these was Fall of the House of Usher (aka: House of Usher, 1960), which in large part forms the foundation of Crimson Peak’s plot and characters. In Corman’s film, a male audience surrogate journeys to meet a pair of ‘cursed’ siblings – the last in their family line – who live in a dilapidated mansion that doubles as a metaphor for their fragile bodies and corrupted souls. Del Toro replaces the male lead with a Jane Eyre-like young woman and flips the gender roles of the siblings, turning a pathetic wretch into a Byronic antihero. Other elements that del Toro borrowed from the Poe Cycle include the spooky torture basement motif, taken in part from the second film in the series, Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Tomb of Ligeia’s (1964) stronger sense of tragic romance, as well as Price’s fashionable Victorian sunglasses, which Tom Hiddleston sports at one point.



At almost the exact same time Corman was making his Poe Cycle, Mario Bava was inventing the Italian version of Gothic horror. Bava, who worked as a cinematographer, assistant/2nd unit director, and special effects supervisor on other directors’ films, made his solo directing debut with Black Sunday (Italian: La maschera del demonio, 1960). Black Sunday introduced a new standard in the visual refinement to the genre, along with more Poe-like familial curses and disapproving siblings, and was the groundwork for Bava’s two definitive works of Gothic Romance – a scandalous sado-masochistic ghost story called The Whip and the Body (Italian: La frusta e il corpo, 1963) and the mega-baroque, postmodern melodrama, Lisa and the Devil (Italian: Lisa e il diavolo, 1973). Kill Baby, Kill (Italian: Operazione paura, 1966), Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972), and Bava’s final film, Shock (aka: Beyond the Door II, 1977) also fit the mold in one way or another.


Bava’s ‘60s films were quickly met by other Italian Gothics and, if Vincent Price was the era’s default male antagonist and antihero, British scream queen Barbara Steele was its default female antagonist and antiheroine. Besides star-making appearances in Black Sunday and The Pit and the Pendulum, Steele lent her intense gaze to a series of Italian-made, black & white Gothics, including Riccardo Freda’s The Ghost (Italian: Lo Spettro, 1963), Antonio Margheriti’s The Long Hair of Death (Italian I lunghi capelli della morte, 1964), Margheriti & Sergio Corbucci’s Castle of Blood (Italian: Danza Macabra, 1964), Domenico Massimo Pupillo’s Terror-Creatures from the Grave (Italian: 5 tombe per un medium, 1965), Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (Italian: Amanti d’oltretomba, 1965), and Camillo Mastrocinque’s An Angel for Satan (Italian: Un angelo per Satana, 1966). Also on the Italian spectrum of Gothic Romance was Camillo Mastrocinque’s Crypt of the Vampire (Italian: La cripta e l'incubo, 1964), Alberto De Martino’s The Blancheville Monster (aka: Horror, 1963), Massimo Pupillo’s Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (Italian: La vendetta di Lady Morgan, 1965), and Damiano Damiani’s sublimely hypnotic The Witch (Italian: La strega in amore, 1966).



Dario Argento made a series of female-centered horror movies, including Suspiria (1977), Phenomena (aka: Creepers, 1985), Opera (1987), and The Stendhal Syndrome (1996). While not traditionally Gothic, they built on Bava’s version of Gothic vivid, surrealistic color schemes. The searing acrylics of Susipira, in particular, had a profound effect on all of del Toro’s work, especially Crimson Peak. Bava and Argento were also instrumental figures in the development of giallo thrillers, from which del Toro borrows his mystery killer’s use of black leather gloves. Gialli were typically fashionable murder mysteries and usually too modernist to be Gothic, but they had a long tradition of emotionally tortured female protagonists and villains that pair well with Victorian Dark Romance. With that in mind, some genre entries definitely count as Gothic-flavored, notably Emilio Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italian: La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba, 1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italian: La dama rossa uccide sette volte, 1972), and Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini’s The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago, 1965).


Another important figure in Gothic literature was Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 vampire novella Carmilla predates Stoker’s Dracula (pub. 1897) and is often considered the first published horror story about an explicitly lesbian character. The tale was stripped of its sapphic references for its first film adaptation, Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), but the romance and lesbianism would grow more blatant in future adaptations, like Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (French: Et mourir de plaisir, 1960) and Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers (1970), itself the first part of a Hammer Studios trilogy with Jimmy Sangster’s Lust for a Vampire (1971) and John Hough’s Twins of Evil (1971). Hammer’s British brand of Gothic also touched upon the romantic with Terrence’s Fisher Brides of Dracula (1960) and Seth Holt’s Taste of Fear (1961), among others. Going back to sapphic vampires, Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (French: Les Lèvres rouges; Belgian: Le Rouge aux lèvres, 1971) is a sublime example of modernizing Gothic Romance tropes, while Jean Rollin based nearly his entire career on illusory lesbian romances set against vampire stories.



Among the many Gothic Romance-adjacent movements that appear to have inspired Crimson Peak are the Japanese ghost stories, or kaidan, that developed alongside Corman’s Poe Cycle, Hammer’s vampire movies, and Italian black & white horror. Some examples of great kaidan love stories and tragedies told from a feminine perspective include Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953), Nobuo Nakagawa’s The Ghost of Yotsuya (Japanese: Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan, 1959), Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964), and Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko (1968). I also personally see shades of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s dark Technicolor study of lustful nuns, Black Narcissus (1947), and their more ornate follow-up, The Red Shoes (1948), reflected in Crimson Peak, even though del Toro’s doesn’t directly quote either. 


As an aside, Crimson Peak was one of several movies released in a five-year period starring Mia Wasikowska that more or less meet the standards of Gothic Romance, including ary Joji Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker (2013), Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). It’s nice that she found her niche.


* If there’s one thing that bothers me about Crimson Peak, critically speaking, it’s that, despite recognizing the issue of male dominance in Gothic Romance on film, del Toro still felt the need to include an unnecessary subplot where a miscast Charlie Hunnam unravels the central mystery alongside Wasikowska and rushes out to rescue her. Del Toro ultimately avoids turning it into a white knight & damsel situation, but it doesn’t really work as a dramatic irony or subversion of expectations, because Wasikowska already figured out what was going on and almost certainly would have rescued herself. Hunnam’s character just slows things down.


Bibliography

  • Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 ​​by Roberto Curti (McFarland & Company, 2015)



Video

Crimson Peak was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital HD cameras, marking only the third time del Toro had worked with a digital format, following Pacific Rim and the pilot episode of The Strain. It was also his first feature working with Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen since Mimic back in 1997 (every subsequent film was shot by Guillermo Navarro). The original 2016 Blu-ray looked quite nice and came fitted with a load of extras, so it was hard to justify spending the money to buy Arrow’s 2019 re-release, which featured essentially the same transfer and not too many exclusive special features. A fully refurbished 2160p 4K UHD with HDR10/Dolby Vision enhancements is another story.


All of del Toro’s films have the texture, color, and delicate shadows to make an outstanding UHD release, but Crimson Peak is arguably his most vivid and baroque work, and one that really benefits from boosted dynamic range. The director’s typical palette of searing reds, lush greens, and crisp golds pop when necessary, while preserving the softer edges, plush backdrops, and diffused lighting schemes of the brighter sequences. Meanwhile, the high contrast, deep dark night scenes are tight and clean for the most part, minus the slight low level noise and edge haloes seen on 1080p versions. My one complaint isn’t a particularly constructive one and that is that the higher resolution and clarity highlights the slight daytime TV smoothness of a digital HD source. Note that the images on this page are taken from the Universal Blu-ray and are not representative of the 4K UHD image quality.



Audio

Arrow has reused the Universal BD’s already impressive DTS:X main audio option for both this and their 2019 BD. I still don’t have the room or speaker set for a complete DTS:X playback, but there’s still plenty to say about the core DTS-HD Master Audio track. The sound design matches the expectations of a modern ghost story, including oodles of warm and crisp environmental ambience. For the most part, the mix is subtle in its approach to directional movement, echo, and spooky off-screen action. The big scares offer contrast in the form of brassy, loud thrills. Composer Fernando Velázquez’ score (with orchestrations by Ryan Humphrey – a friend of a friend, so I’m making sure to mention his accomplishments here, thumbs up emoticon) pushes the sweet side of the non-horror sequences a bit too far for my taste, but, when a bleak atmosphere is required, the deep resonance of operatic strings hits the spot.



Extras

  • Commentary with Guillermo del Toro – Another typically educational and full-bodied track from del Toro. The tone of this track is a hair more serious than some of the director’s other commentaries, including some somewhat awkward condemnation of his critics, but the actual content is great. Besides offering a primer on the history of Gothic Romance as a literary movement (complete with cited intellectual sources), del Toro discusses his personal perspective on the story, the intended subtext, visual themes (I missed the whole ‘moths vs. butterflies’ motif, despite one character literally spelling it out), as well as his inspirations. When I originally chose to write a Gothic Romance editorial instead of a traditional review, I expected those inspirations to be highly filmic, but del Toro mostly mentions historical, artistic, and literary origins.

  • The House is Alive: Constructing Crimson Peak (50:01, HD) – An exclusive documentary first included with Arrow’s first Blu-ray release. It includes interviews with del Toro, art director Brandt Gordon, set dresser Shane Vieau, producer Thomas Tull, production designer Tom Sanders, scenic artist Cameron Brooke, and cast members Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Jim Beaver, and Charlie Hunnam. Over the course of his interview, del Toro discusses the rules of Gothic Romance and refers to Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (pub. 1864) as his key inspiration. He mentions it during the commentary as well, but I don’t recall him putting so much emphasis on it as the main literary source.

  • Interview with co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro (8:36, HD) – I’m not sure what this Spanish language interview was recorded to coincide with, but it covers much of the same ground as the commentary and documentary.

  • Allerdale Hall featurettes:

  • I Remember Crimson Peak: The Gothic Corridor (4:07, HD) – In the first of these four promotional behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew, the director recalls his fear of corridors and the particularly baroque hallway that appears in the film.

  • I Remember Crimson Peak: The Scullery (4:25, HD) – The second featurette explores the ‘scullery’ set (what us unwashed masses would probably call ‘the kitchen’) and the tea-making sequence.

  • I Remember Crimson Peak: The Red Clay Mines (5:19, HD) – The third featurette concerns the spooky, red clay-caked basement set and what it represents.

  • I Remember Crimson Peak: The Limbo Fog Set (5:43, HD) – The final piece sees the cast and crew recalling the final battle in the white fog.

  • A Primer on Gothic Romance (5:40, HD) – Though brief, this featurette offers a nice rundown of the genre with illustrations and interviews with the cast & crew.

  • The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak (7:50, HD) – A look at the cinematography, production design, costume design, and the importance of both culture and colour in the film.

  • Hand Tailored Gothic (9:00, HD) – A deeper exploration of the wardrobe with del Toro and costume designer Kate Hawley.

  • A Living Thing (12:10, HD) – More on the design of the mansion sets and what they represent with del Toro and production designer Tom Sanders.

  • Beware of Crimson Peak (7:50, HD) – Tom Hiddleston leads a walking tour of the Allerdale Hall set.

  • Crimson Phantoms (7:00, HD) – One final featurette concerning the design and execution of the Crimson Peak ghosts. It includes illustrations, pre-digital make-up effects, and post-digital final products.

  • Kim Newman on Crimson Peak and the Tradition of Gothic Romance (17:37, HD) – A 2019 interview with the critic, expert, and author of Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s (Bloomsbury, 2011 [2nd expanded edition]) recorded for the UK release. Newman tries to get a handle on del Toro’s approach to genre filmmaking, Crimson Peak’s version of Gothic Romance, and the greater, complicated history of Gothic literature and filmmaking, romantic, horrific, and otherwise.

  • Violence and Beauty in Guillermo del Toro's Gothic Fairy Tale Films (23:37, HD) – The final Arrow exclusive extra is a video essay by critic, expert, podcaster, and author of All The Colours Of Sergio Martino (Arrow, 2018) Kat Ellinger, who delves into Crimson Peak’s connections to classic films and stories, specifically in the context of del Toro’s other Gothic fairy tales, The Devil’s Backbone (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo, 2001), Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish: El laberinto del fauno, 2006), and The Shape of Water (2017).

  • Five deleted/extended scenes (4:41, HD)

  • International trailer, theatrical trailer, and two TV spots

  • Image galleries


The images on this page are taken from the Universal BD and sized for the page. They are NOT representative of the 4K UHD. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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