News: Lionsgate's Vestron Video To Release Ken Russell's Gothic On Blu-Ray

After a few conspicuous months of silence, Lionsgate's genre-focused niche sub-label Vestron Video has sprung back into action. Today, via Bloody Disgusting, the Vestron Collector's Series announced that their next release will be a special edition blu-ray of Ken Russell's 1986 film Gothic. This not only gives Lionsgate's genre imprint an impressive next title, but also gives a long-overdue quality release to this heavily neglected piece of Russell's filmography. The disc will be released on July 30th.

Gothic is in many ways a late-breaking entry in Russell's cycle of surrealist, semi-fictionalized biopics (Lisztomania, Mahler, Valentino), except this time the factually-based story is filtered through Gothic horror imagery and narrative tropes, with a heavy emphasis on hallucinations, nightmares, and psychological subjectivity. The film tells the story of a hallucinogen-fueled weekend of partying and storytelling that Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and a couple other friends spent at Byron's estate, which inspired Mary to write Frankenstein. That much is true - Shelley's inspiration for her iconic novel did indeed come from a weekend of intoxicated ghost-story-telling at Byron's manor - but this being a Ken Russell film, the portrayal of this weekend is far from a traditional biopic style. Under the influence of heavy hallucinogens, the five friends hold a seance and summon up demons that are either drug-fueled representations of their deepest fears, authentic supernatural threats, or possibly a combination of both, leading to a dark and stormy night filled with hallucinatory terrors and confrontations with their own psyches. Russell delivers the spooky Gothic horror which is likely what Vestron Pictures (who originally produced the film and released it on VHS) paid him to produce, but layers it with psychological depth, and a fascinating exploration of the ways in which personal fears and inner demons fuel the artistic process; the idea that great art cannot exist without inner torment on the part of the artist. The cast - the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, Julian Sands as Percy, Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron, and Miriam Cyr and Timothy Spall as the other two members of the fateful party - all deliver solid performances, with Byrne stealing the show with a charismatically insane performance as Byron, who he plays like a rock star of his era; a fitting metaphor, and undoubtedly true.

Gothic has never really gotten its due on home video: while it amassed a decent cult following in the VHS era, its only DVDs in the US have been 4x3 VHS or laserdisc rips. Aside from one rather rare European MGM DVD, the film has never been available in its original aspect ratio. Given this, and considering the film's great cast, strong imagery, and very interesting thematic content, I have been rooting for Lionsgate's Vestron blu-ray line to release this film ever since they got started (and certainly ever since they released the other Vestron Pictures Ken Russell film, The Lair of the White Worm). This blu-ray will not only feature a long-overdue remaster of the film (in its original aspect ratio for the first time on American home media), but will boast a pretty solid array of special features. These include a commentary by the late Ken Russell's wife Lisi, an isolated music track with commentary/interview segments by composer Thomas Dolby, new interviews with co-star Julian Sands, cinematographer Mike Southon, and screenwriter Stephen Volk, and the usual array of trailers. The disc will list for $39.99 - which is the one downside of this announcement, as it continues the Vestron Video Collector's Series trend of being way overpriced in comparison to competitor labels like Scream Factory and Arrow Video. But inflated price point aside, it is amazing news to have this much-neglected, excellent Russell title at last making the jump to HD, in such a full special edition package.

Check out the trailer for the new blu-ray:

- Christopher S. Jordan