Ink & Pixel: Crimson Peak

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in the Spring of 1987, the day I nearly drowned in a shallow pond behind the house of a family friend. I had been enjoying a bowl of Frosted Flakes and staring at the shimmering orange, white, and gold of wriggling coy fish, when I felt a hand on the back my head - pushing me toward the water. With a violent jerk, my entire body plunged into the chilled liquid; the feeling of a hand still gripping the top of my skull, keeping me submerged.

(above artwork by MONDO)

After what felt like an eternity, the harsh grip around my skull had vanished. I emerged from the water, gasping for air as well as an explanation. Clearly, my sister and her friend had gotten the jump up on me. Only there was no one there. Everyone was inside the house, sitting at the dining room table. I was soaked, bewildered, and frightened to say the least. This was the day I started to believe in ghosts, and I was only five-years-old.

So why am I telling ghost stories, today? It's just my way of inviting you to check out this week's article featuring Guillermo del Toro's Gothic-romance film, CRIMSON PEAK. Released just in time for Halloween on October 16th, 2015, this spine-tingling bit of horror was written by del Toro himself, along with Matthew Robbins. The film stars Mia Wasikowska (ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Jessica Chastain (THE MARTIAN), Tom Hiddleston (THE AVENGERS), Charlie Hunnam (PACIFIC RIM), and Jim Beaver (The CW's SUPERNATURAL). Released by Universal Pictures and produced by Legendary, and DDY, this eerie love story has a chilling tale to tell and looks damn good doing it.

The events of the film begin in the year 1887, on the night that a young girl by the name of Edith Cushing was visited by the ghost of her late mother. With spindly fingers resting across her angelic features, Edith hyperventilates in horror while clutching her bed sheets and listening to the whispered warning of, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Then, breaking the paralyzing silence,are Edith's own blood-curdling screams. Behind her, the ghost is nothing more than smoke on the wind, gone before help arrives.

14-years-later, Edith (Wasikowska) has grown into an intelligent and rather lovely misfit member of high-society. Seen as a woman who dabbles in the writings of fiction and fantasy by her peers, Edith wants nothing more than to share her latest manuscript with any publisher that would have her. While in the process of shopping her novel to investors, Edith meets a mysteriously dashing inventor by the name of Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). Sharpe, an Englishman, has come to America with the intent of requesting that the wealthy Carter Cushing (Beaver) help fund the final building process of a clay-mining machine that Thomas believes will revolutionize the industry.

Already aware of Sharpe's previous failed attempts to elicit aid from other investors, and with a general disdain for both Thomas and the company of his sibling-companion, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Carter turns the pair away. Though unsuccessful in his financial venture, Sharpe finds more fortune in his romantic advances toward Edith, finding in her a kindred spirit, despite her father's objections. Vehemently opposed to the pairing, Carter quickly meets a most violent end, leaving Edith very little choice but to accept Thomas' charming advances and return home with him and sister to their remote family home. It's there that Edith must heed the warning left to her by the spirit of her late mother, for wicked things reside in the halls of Allerdale Hall … otherwise known as Crimson Peak.

Filming for CRIMSON PEAK took place in various locations throughout Toronto, Canada. To start, principal photography began in Pinewood Toronto Studios, followed by a visit to Queen Street South in Hamilton, Ontario for filming, and finally a trip to Kingston, Ontario to wrap things up. Fun Fact: I'm visiting and writing this article from London, Ontario - a mere hour and a half from where all the magic took place!

Without a doubt, the film's visual centerpiece is Allerdale Hall, and all of its wicked and winding passageways. Guillermo took great care when creating the corridors found inside the manor. In fact, in a behind-the-scenes interview, del Toro had much to say on the subject of building the menacing hallways of Allerdale. He begins by saying, “The corridor was very important because it was really sort of like the “ghost generator” in Allerdale Hall. Every  ghost I've created is at the end of a corridor, and there's something that comes from my childhood. Like when maybe I wanted water in the middle of the night at my grandmother's house. You'd need to get up from bed, and the first thing you did on the way to the kitchen was to walk along a dark corridor. And I'd always felt, as a kid, that when I came back [from the kitchen] that something would be waiting for me at the end of the corridor.”

Hoping to convey an over-whelming sense of dread to his audience, del Toro designed the corridor to be outfitted with a series of archways, each of them lined with a sequence of downward-facing, spear-like spines. Additionally, the corridor was built specifically to fit only Edith, as well as the tortured specters pursuing her throughout the film. Moreover, the wooden columns that mark and support each archway were designed in such a way that the entire corridor appears out-of-focus at all times. This in-turn created a underlying sense of claustrophobia for the film's audience, as the haunted hallway begins to appear smaller as it travels toward the back of the house.

Another terrifyingly gorgeous location in Allerdale Hall lies beneath its ghastly main floor. Of course I'm speaking about the basement, where vats of crimson-colored clay and the terrible secrets of the Sharpe family reside. When asked about the design of this section of the manor, Guillermo shared the following information, “The shapes of the mines are very Romanesque. Archways, ovals, I wanted them to be made out of several circles that tell you there's a repetition. The walls are dripping with red clay. Everything is wet, dark, and kind of un-settling. It's a very intimate but horrifying space.”

Personally, the clay mines were my favorite set-piece of CRIMSON PEAK. There's this gothic and wretched beauty about that location that I found to be bizarrely comforting. I'm not certain as to how long I'd like to hang out down there, but my camera and I would have a field day capturing images of every dampened corner of that horrible place.

Of course, no article about this picture would be complete without giving some attention to the tortured phantoms of Allerdale's dank halls. When Montse Ribe and David Marti - the film's Make-Up FX Artist Supervisors - got word that Guillermo wanted his ghosts to appear as red as the clay that bubbles beneath the foundation of Allerdale Hall, they were both confused and excited by the assignment. The distorted physical appearance of the movie's crimson specters was inspired not only by the dead's post-mortem anguish, but also in-part by the way in which select corpses were found after being buried during our Victoriantimes. You see, there wasn't always time for everyone to receive a proper burial back then, so it wasn't uncommon to discover that the earth in which these poor souls were laid to rest would be of poor quality. Over time, the uneven earth would push against the corpse's rotting features and bone structure, disfiguring it further, creating creatures out of discarded flesh.

Nearing the film's conclusion, Edith escapes into what del Toro had referred to as “The Limbo Set”. He called it this because, “We wanted to create a very short fallout, meaning the set is representing a much larger set. It was impossible to fog an exterior because of the wind. You could fog for an hour, and with two seconds of wind, it's gone. We knew we were going to film it inside. So we created a white cyclorama.” Ah ha! A film term that I am un-familiar with. See, even I learn a thing or two while concocting these articles. A “cyclorama” is a curtain or wall-like arrangement that's draped around the exterior of the set, concave -style, which then forms a controlled enclosure for filming or theater. The “Limbo” set was said to be the hardest to film due to the constant work of the fog machines as well as the intensely bright lights that gave it the appearance of being outdoors. In my opinion, it was all a small price to pay for including this majestic location as part of the film's bloody finale.

According to Box Office Mojo, CRIMSON PEAK managed to scare a worldwide total of $74,679,822 million out of movie-goers during its theatrical run. Given the del Toro pedigree, I would have expected this film to at least crack the $100 million mark, but I suppose that it did okay seeing as the it was made using only a budget of $55 million. I think that perhaps early word-of-mouth could have hurt the film's chances at the box-office, as I recall reading several articles and reviews theorizing that the straight-up Horror marketing was perhaps a touch deceiving.

I left my first viewing of CRIMSON PEAK feeling entertained and transfixed by the film, but never wholly close or invested in its characters. Atmospherically, I think the Gothic tapestry of this film is expertly woven through the talents of del Toro and his team. I marveled enthusiastically at the haunting halls of Allerdale, and followed every cascading leaf and flake of snow with an un-flinching stare, as they fell lazily through the manor's patchwork roof. Oh yeah, and boy did I enjoy the brief but un-relenting gore.

That said, I never once felt connected to the characters. However, there are times when I'm perfectly content to not get close to the people on-screen, and instead simply enjoy a film for its visual splendor and spooky story-telling. In truth, I'm certain that CRIMSON PEAK will grow on me as the years pass by. I admire del Toro's decision to turn the clock back a bit, and deliver a chilling tale more akin to the days when the gothic horror genre was still very much a thing. CRIMSON PEAK might not have been what I was expecting, but it sure as hell delivered a satisfying throw-back experience for this seasoned horror fan, and if I might be so bold … a man who believes that romance will never die.

Extra Tidbit: Allerdale Hall was built from the ground up by del Toro and his team. After shooting the film, the manor was torn down to make further use of the studio space. I mean damn, if you were going to do that you might as well have given it to me. I would have gladly spent the rest of my days living in that gorgeous Gothic monstrosity!
Source: joblo.com



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