CRIMSON PEAK (2015) Blu-ray
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Arrow Video USA

Guillermo del Toro's gothic romance CRIMSON PEAK find a place on the shelf next to Criterion's "Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro" with the packaging and supplements of Arrow Video's limited edition Blu-ray package.

Ever since she was a child, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, STOKER) has known that ghosts do indeed exist when her mother appeared her days after her death from black cholera with a cryptic warning. An intelligent young woman in 1890s Buffalo, New York, Edith is on her way to spinsterhood having forsaken suitors and mixing with high society in favor of looking after her father Carter (DEADWOOD's Jim Beaver) and pursuing her own goal of becoming an authoress of ghost stories. Upon hearing of the arrival of an English baronet who made the acquaintance of Eunice (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY's Emily Coutts), sister of her childhood friend ophthalmologist Dr. Alan McMichael (SONS OF ANARCHY's Charlie Hunnam), she dismisses him as a "parasite with a title" until she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, HIGHRISE) in the flesh and sees him as a fellow "dreamer facing defeat" when her self-made father turns down the dilettante's proposal for funding his invention to harvest a special type of scarlet clay from the mines on his Cumberland estate. Thomas both bewitches her and upsets the balance of Buffalo society by sweeping her off her feet, so Carter hires a private detective (Burn Gorman, THE OXFORD MURDERS) to investigate Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, TAKE SHELTER). Having turned up incriminating evidence, Carter bribes Sharpe to break Edith's heart and leave the country, but the revelation of Carter's machinations and the reunion of the young lovers coincide with his seemingly accidental death. Thomas and Edith are married and travel to his ancestral home Allerdale Hall, a crumbling Neogothic pile barely maintained by Thomas and Lucille alone with doddering servant Finlay (Alec Stockwell, SPIDER) the only other person for miles. Edith is unnerved by the peculiarities of the house, with its walls weeping scarlet clay, structure slowly sinking in the underground mines, rattling pipes, and "breathing" chimneys, but more so by its unquiet ghosts. Having accepted the existence of the supernatural, Edith probes the mysteries of Allerdale Hall and a past only hinted at by Thomas and Lucille, so unnaturally close after growing up in the shadow of their tyrannical mother; but the ghostly apparitions are steering her towards revelations that may not only break her heart but endanger her life.

Having made an arthouse splash with his sentimental vampire film CRONOS, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro was picked up by Miramax to helm his project MIMIC for dimension films; however, frequent clashes with Harvey Weinstein lead to his near-firing (averted by the intervention of star and recent Oscar winner Mira Sorvino) but the final cut would not be reflective of his concept and it would be over a decade before he was able to reconstruct his director's cut. He courted the arthouse again with his Spanish Civil War ghost story THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, and the subsequent American hits BLADE II and HELLBOY meant a larger budget for his next Spanish Civil War fantasy PAN'S LABYRINTH; and the box office grosses HELLBOY II and PACIFIC RIM was enough for studio Legendary to provide him the budget to fully realize his take on the gothic romance in CRIMSON PEAK. A gifted Mexican visual stylist with more resources than ever dreamt of by the likes of Juan Lopez Moctezuma (ALUCARDA) or any of his European forebearers, del Toro weaves his web of symbols into the production design of Thomas Sanders (BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA) and the costumes (noting in the documentary materials his intention to "build the costumes and couture the sets"), and the results are hellishly beautiful. The story itself, however, may disappoint those looking for a horror film, or indeed a real mystery, as del Toro is more interested in tweaking the conventions of the gothic romance; and it ultimately the ways in which he subverts them that is more interesting than dramatically satisfying, with the pure heroine not damned by sex but as liberated by it as her compromised husband who is certainly guilty but becomes more sympathetic and still more charismatic and compelling than Hunnam's Conan Doyle-enthusiast would be hero who does not so much solve a mystery as have information handed to him and is ultimately ineffectual in the climax (so much so that even one of the villains who has a change of heart must help him along). While the film has drawn shallow comparisons to Hammer horror, it has more in common cinematically with Roger Corman's TOMB OF LIGIEA, a little Mario Bava, a lot of film noir-era gothics like Fritz Lang's THE SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, Hitchcock's REBECCA, SUSPICION, and UNDER CAPRICORN, with the closes to Hammer being the bump-in-the-night theatrics of their PSYCHO-thrillers, as well as the literary gothic romances in which del Toro has proven himself well-versed with his previous films.

Following its theatrical release through Universal, CRIMSON PEAK hit Blu-ray in an edition that was lavishly-supplemented but thriftily-priced – you can usually find this edition for ten dollars at Target – with a high bitrate transfer and DTS:X audio; as such, with its few new extras, Arrow's release of this very mainstream genre title might seem like a cash grab, but it may provide something more for the film's fan and be just as well a starting point as the standard edition for the first-time viewer who likes limited edition packaging and exclusives. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer – del Toro making the deliberate choice not to shoot in scope due to the relative dimensions of actors and sets – of this color-corrected-within-an-inch-of-its-life film is sublimely-detailed with digitally-augmented lighting and levels of softness and sharpness choreographing revelations of texture and imagery within the sets and wardrobe. The 7.1 core of the DTS:X audio mix is hyper-detailed from directional effects and music to the most subtle atmospherics – with an interesting contrast between the noises that make up the Allerdale Hall grounds and the interiors even when apparitions are not present. A DTS Headphone:X 2.0 mix that creates a virtual surround effect with the appropriate headphones, although it sounds pretty good without. An English Descriptive Audio track in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround has also been carried over from the Universal edition. The Universal disc was all-region and designed for several territories, but Arrow drops the lossy DTS 5.1 dubs as well as the many foreign language subtitle tracks while retaining the English SDH track.

Carried over from the Universal edition is an audio commentary by del Toro who speaks proudly of his achievement as one of his three best works (one wonders which one of his earlier supernatural trio he found comparatively lacking). He distinguishes gothic horror from gothic romance and the gothic in general as a romantic reaction to the Age of Reason, the influences of period literary illustrations, his color choices and the desire to create "living paintings" rather than the expected muted colors of other period films, the Henry James aspect of the film's first half in the clash of New World Americans and scheming Old World Europeans (specifically the contrasts between Edith and Lucille), visual motifs of butterflies and moths, and his preference for simple plots with complex characters in his depiction of the main characters as deeply flawed characters lacking the purity of their models for the better.

"The House is Alive: Constructing CRIMSON PEAK" (50:01) is described in the menu and press materials as "newly edited, feature-length documentary with cast and crew interviews and extensive behind the scenes footage," and it indeed is an assemblage of material from the Universal disc's many smaller featurettes with also included in this package; however, it works as a nice distillation of the high points of each featurette. Del Toro provides another primer on the gothic, drawn from "A Primer on Gothic Romance" (5:37), while Sanders, art director Brandt Gordon (TOTAL RECALL), and Shane Vieau (BIG EYES) discuss the sets in clips from "A Living Thing" (12:12), Kate Hawley (SUICIDE SQUAD) discusses the costumes and the contrasts between Edith's golden butterfly dresses and chrysalis nightgown and the blacks of Lucille and Thomas as "ink" in the bright Buffalo scenes while their clothes embody aspects of Allerdale's décor in the England scenes in bits from "Hand Tailored Gothic" (8:59) and "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak" (7:54), and make-up effects supervisors David Martí (PAN'S LABYRINTH) and Montse Ribé (THE SKIN I LIVE IN) discuss the ghost designs in "Crimson Phantoms" (7:03) while actors Beaver, Chastain, Hiddleston, and Wasikowska appear throughout. The actors' comments are much more insightful in the Allerdale Hall featurettes in conversation with del Toro in which he notes that "The Gothic Corridor" (4:07) and other doorways were shaped to mirror the human forms of the apparitions and the characters who inhabit the spaces, while Hiddleston notes in "The Scullery" (4:25) that most intimate moments in English houses occur at the kitchen able; and indeed most of the film's revelations occur in this setting. Del Toro and Wasikowska discuss the Bluebeard-esque quality of the forbidden basement stand-in of "The Red Clay Mines" (5:19) and how the grounds had to be constructedon a soundstage with a cyclorama for the climax because the real outdoor locations could not be fogged in "The Limbo Fog Set (5:43). Another exclusive to the set is a Spanish-language interview with del Toro (8:36) but it covers nothing new, merely conveying his concept of the gothic to Spanish-speaking viewers. Also carried over from the Universal is "Beware of Crimson Peak" (7:52) with Hiddleston conducting a tour of the sets on the day before they are set to be struck intercut with behind the scenes video of their construction. A quintet of deleted scenes (4:41) are also provided but add little to the film.

Newly-produced for this release is "Kim Newman on CRIMSON PEAK and the Tradition of Gothic Romance" (17:37) in which the author and critic provides his own narrative of the development of the gothic, noting that Horace Walpole was parodying a genre that did not yet exist with "The Castle of Otranto" while Ann Radcliffe was "lacking self-awareness" in taking it seriously with "The Mysteries of Udolpho" (while noting that she might have been inspired less by Walpole than by Samuel Richardson's "Pamela"), and that the through-line to the gothic romance CRIMSON PEAK in general includes the Bronte Sisters – placing Jane Austen with Walpole with her parodic "Northanger Abbey" – and specifically Charlotte's "Jane Eyre" and its influence on Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca" (not to mean Jean Rhy's "prequel" to the Bronte novel in "Wide Sargasso Sea"). Also new is "Violence and Beauty in Guillermo Del Toro s Gothic Fairy Tale Films" (23:37), a video essay by the writer Kat Ellinger which provides the much-needed context of material on del Toro's earlier genre trio CRONOS, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, and PAN'S LABYRINTH, the ways in which they tick the list of gothic checklist, as well as how those aspects are differently played out in CRIMSON PEAK (check out her podcast with Samm Deighan to hear them wax lyrical on the British and American gothic literary traditions). The disc closes out with an international trailer (2:28), theatrical trailer (2:36), two TV spots (1:05), as well as production stills (3:00) and behind the scenes (2:50) galleries. Not provided for review were the double-sided, fold-out poster, six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions, limited edition packaging newly designed by Crimson Peak concept artist Guy Davis, and a limited edition 80-page, hard-bound book featuring new writing by David Jenkins and Simon Abrams, an archival interview with Guillermo del Toro, and original conceptual design illustrations by artists Guy Davis and Oscar Chichoni. (Eric Cotenas)