Offbeat Blu-ray Review: Crimson Peak

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Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 22, 2019

Region: Region A & B

Length: 01:58:42

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

7.1 English DTS X / 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 English DTS X (Headphone Mix)

Alternate Audio:

English Dolby Digital Descriptive Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 23.55 Mbps

Notes: This title was given a Blu-ray release from Universal shortly after the film’s theatrical engagement, and Arrow Video has already released this title as one of their “Limited Edition” packages.

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“I’m a big student of Hitchcock. I wrote a book on him when I was 23. I studied every film. I give master classes. I still can’t figure out the very essential things that make a Hitchcock film a Hitchcock film. I can tell you about them, but I cannot reproduce them or make them happen. It is like when you’re young and you read somebody like Ray Bradbury like I did, you think you can copy it like this (*snaps*). You can use certain adjectives—whatever you want—use all those beautiful metaphors, but they don’t come out right. They don’t work.” –Guillermo Del Toro (Buzzfeed, November 06, 2013)

To anyone that has been paying attention to Guillermo Del Toro’s career, this quote shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Del Toro’s work doesn’t immediately provoke comparisons to any of the films in Alfred Hitchcock’s vast filmography, but the master’s influence is discernible when one knows to look for it.

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One of the more obvious examples can be seen during a climactic moment in Mimic. The scene finds Peter (the film’s masculine hero) opening a gas line in an effort to use his lighter and start an explosion (a sacrificial gesture which would kill the giant bug-monsters), but the lighter just happens to fall out of his grasp. Del Toro then shows us the lighter from an angle that makes it quite clear that this lighter is out of reach. This was no doubt lifted from a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train that found Bruno dropping Guy’s lighter into a storm drain. Del Toro builds on this by having the lighter fall through water, and this leads to a surprising payoff that we will not discuss (just in case some of our readers haven’t seen the film).

Of course, this is merely one sequence in a film that is otherwise less Hitchcockian in nature. Crimson Peak, on the other hand, is a film that seems to have been built from the ground up with Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema firmly in the director’s mind. The story begins during the 1880s as Edith Cushing falls in love with a handsome stranger named Thomas Sharpe. Sharpe soon whisks her away to Allerdale Hall (his dilapidated English mansion). Unfortunately, Edith’s happiness is threatened when she finds herself at odds with her husband’s sister, Lucille, who obviously resents her presence there. As Edith struggles to feel at home at Allerdale, she slowly uncovers a horrendous family secret and encounters supernatural forces that will help her uncover painful truths about the man that she has married.

Sheila O’Malley astutely observed that the film owes a debt to at least two of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers:

Crimson Peak is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Notorious in more ways than one (although Rebecca is also a clear influence). In Notorious, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) marries Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) as a cover for her attempt to infiltrate a Nazi cartel. Once in the house, she is dominated by Alexander’s mother (Leopoldine Konstantin), a monstrous Fraulein from hell. Both Crimson Peak and Notorious feature ongoing visual motifs of tea cups and keychains. There are shots in Crimson Peak that mirror Notorious, a close-up of the ubiquitous key-chain with the key desired lying on the top of the heap, or the camera following a teacup as it is carried across the room. Like Alicia Huberman in Notorious, Edith feels if she could just get a hold of that key, and find the right lock, she might understand the secrets buried in that house and her own destiny.” –Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com, October 16, 2015)

Although O’Malley didn’t elaborate on the film’s similarities to Rebecca, they are certainly clear to anyone who has seen the film. A young bride marries and finds herself in a strange home that seems haunted by a mysterious past that she doesn’t know about and is tormented by a malicious woman who doesn’t seem to want her around. Of course, the ghosts are purely psychological in Rebecca. They are something quite different in Crimson Peak, and they aren’t at all happy.

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Lucille Sharpe is a fairly successful composite of Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca) and Madame Sebastian (Notorious). The one significant difference is her younger age.

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One of the most obvious takeaways from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious involves a set of keys that are in Lucille Sharpe’s possession. In both Notorious and Crimson Peak, a specific key is needed to unlock the secrets that our heroines desperately hope to discover, and in both films the return of this key ends up putting them in greater danger.

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The other major plot element borrowed from Notorious is the slow poisoning of the female protagonist.

Don’t be misled. Guillermo Del Toro allows these influences to stew together in his subconscious, and the result is a work that is uniquely his own.

“I take [Hitchcock’s] word as gospel, but I don’t think I ever tried to imitate anything he did. I try to use his words as advice, and his introspection and his wisdom as a guide.” –Guillermo Del Toro (The Star, May 03, 2012)

Even assignments like Blade II seem to bear Del Toro’s unique sensibilities. There is no need for him to imitate even the most brilliant of his influences because he trusts his own voice. His devotion to a film’s visual design may well be the most palpable sign that he is a student of Hitchcock’s work. Crimson Peak is a meticulously designed film that uses color and mise-en-scène for well thought-out reasons. Nothing is arbitrary:

“We’re going with a Mario Bava palette of colors. In America the colors are tobacco, gold and green. It’s lush and reflects the optimism in the turn of the century America when everything was blooming. And the other world (Britain) is all blues and grays with deep browns and black mildew. It’s very dark and bleak. We shot outside for America and so we had huge beams of sunlight coming through the windows. And for this house, it’s like we moved into a theatrical play: confined.” –Guillermo Del Toro (Mandatory, July 17, 2014)

He would later elaborate on this design:

“…We were incredibly careful that there wasn’t a single red in any dress or any set dressing except for Lucille [Jessica Chastain]. Lucille, the clay, and the ghosts so that it’s a single line of red running across the movie. We qualify the shapes so there are empty human shapes in the corridor, or shoulders and heads to almost implicate ghosts.” –Guillermo Del Toro (Flickering Myth, October14, 2015)

Of course, there are moments in Crimson Peak when one wonders if the film wouldn’t be more powerful in black and white. The production design and expressive costuming is incredibly meticulous (they imported period lace for some of the costumes), and it is impossible not to appreciate the work that went into them. However, the lurid Bava-style colors become so striking that they can take the viewer out of the world instead of pulling them into it. The result is a film that is tonally uneven, and it is impossible not to wonder how the film might have played had it been presented with monochrome cinematography.

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This is a photograph of Guillermo del Toro on the set of Crimson Peak.

The film’s Hitchcockian nature is also reflected in Del Toro’s directorial touches.

“We built the furniture in two sizes, so that when the character is weak, they would look smaller in a bigger piece of furniture. The same furniture [was made] smaller so the character looks stronger in another scene…” –Guillermo Del Toro (Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2015)

Hitchcock resorted to similar strategies during his reign as the “master of suspense,” and such tricks were an important part of his visual style. He was always much more interested in pictorializing a character’s emotional reality than he was depicting an environment’s physical reality. Unfortunately, Del Toro’s careful attention to detail didn’t result in success at the box office in this particular instance.

“If I’d done Crimson Peak for $25 million, the movie would have been a success because it made $75 million. But because I made it for $50 million, it wasn’t a success because it needed to do $150 million.” -Guillermo Del Toro

Crimson Peak was cursed with an inappropriate marketing campaign, and the film failed to connect with the adolescent horror fanatics who came expecting something reminiscent of a James Wan movie. Needless to say, it didn’t deliver the kind of chills that audiences were seeking. Still, it is a mistake to write the film off entirely. While few would list Crimson Peak amongst the director’s best efforts, the disappointing critical and box-office reception was unwarranted.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Actually, this is probably a “4.5 MacGuffin” presentation. However, one anticipates comparison with Arrow’s previous “Limited Edition” package, and that package was incredibly robust. There was a hard bound book that featured essays and an interview with Guillermo del Toro, a dual-sided poster, and six double-sided art cards. All of this was contained within an attractively illustrated box with incredible artwork by Guy Davis.

The presentation of this standard edition is admittedly a notch below that remarkable presentation, but it is still an extremely attractive package. Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray disc in their usual sturdy Amaray case. The usual reversible sleeve offers a choice of the same attractive new artwork by Guy Davis that was featured on their Limited Edition and an altered version of one of the film’s original marketing posters.

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Unfortunately, the poster design utilized on the reverse isn’t the same incredible design that we remember seeing displayed so prominently in theaters upon the film’s original release. That design was vastly superior. Interestingly, Universal’s Blu-ray release of the film did utilize a cropped version of that design with altered title text that was placed above instead of below the image:

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Luckily, our disappointment regarding the reverse artwork doesn’t really matter since the Guy Davis design is such an incredible option. It’s the easy choice in our opinion. Since this is not Arrow’s original release of this title, their usual “collector’s booklet” isn’t included here. There is only a small card that promotes their upcoming release of Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control.

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The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate. Those who own other Arrow Blu-rays will know exactly what to expect here.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

It seems that Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Crimson Peak includes the same master as Universal’s original release of the film. However, Arrow’s release uses an entirely different encode. The result is a slightly superior image than one sees on the original Universal release. The cinematography looks terrific here as the transfer maintains an impressive level of fine detail. This is particularly relevant since the filmmakers went out of their way to make sure there was plenty of authentic period textures in the frame. The striking use of Bava-like color seems to represent Del Toro’s original intentions. Blacks are deep and velvety without unintentionally crushing any of the aforementioned detail that sometimes hides in the shadows. Darker shots sometimes have some minor noise, but it is never distracting to the viewer. It’s difficult to discern if this is a source related issue or not, but one suspects that it may very well be since there aren’t any other bothersome encode-related issues here. Better yet, Arrow hasn’t made any artificial adjustments to the image such as artificial sharpening and digital noise reduction. Meanwhile, whites are never allowed to bloom (at least not to any distracting degree). The digital source even manages to get across a certain amount of depth within the image. The stylized aesthetic faithfully comes across in this remarkable transfer. You can’t hope for much more than this.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is really incredible, and one wonders how anyone could improve upon it. Guillermo Del Toro is just as meticulous about the sound design of his films as he is about the visuals. One particular aspect of the track that stands out is that the film’s environment seems to engulf the viewer. There’s real depth to the mix and the effect is immersive. It feels as if one is actually in Allerdale Hall, and it is an oppressive and unsettling feeling. Those looking for a dynamic sonic experience will be thrilled to hear of the immersive qualities of this mix. Dialogue is well prioritized and remains clear and intelligible throughout the duration. In fact, all of the sound elements are well prioritized within the mix. Panning effects are handled with striking precision here, and there are no complaints as to the track’s dynamic range. Fernando Velazquez’s score benefits from the mix as well and is especially lush.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Arrow wisely carries over the Universal supplemental material for their release, but they add a few new programs that add significantly to the package. Frankly, the supplemental package on Universal’s disc only seemed substantial. Most of the Universal featurettes are barely better than EPK promo fluff. Luckily, the new Arrow features offer a more instructive collection of programs for viewers to enjoy.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Guillermo Del Toro

The obvious crown jewel of the original Universal disc was this engaging commentary by Guillermo Del Toro. His accent may be challenging for some to decipher, but it is well worth the trouble as he is an incredibly intelligent and articulate man. Better yet, he speaks about his film with a passionate affection. He states outright that he feels that Crimson Peak is one of his strongest efforts. Viewers may disagree with this assertion, but this track should help to increase their affection for the film. His recollections range from his the original inception and inspiration behind the film, technical aspects of the film’s production, aspects of the film that might be considered autobiographical, the film’s aesthetic elements, and a wide range of other pertinent topics. It was also interesting to discover that he didn’t approve of the film’s marketing campaign (for good reason). Listening to the track is not only worthwhile but essential listening for fans of the director’s work.

Deleted Scenes — (04:26)

Another essential Universal offering was an extremely small but worthwhile collection of deleted scenes. There were only five scenes included in that package, but it is nice to see that Arrow has carried them over to this release:

The Park — (01:00)
Thomas’ Presentation — (0:54)
Father Consoles Daughter — (0:45)
Thomas Sees a Ghost — (0:49)
Lucille at the Piano — (0:59)

It seems likely that these very short scenes were deleted from the final assembly somewhat late in the post production process, and one wonders if there were any other omissions made early on that weren’t included. In any case, it is interesting to have these here for examination.

The House is Alive: Constructing Crimson Peak — (50:01)

Arrow’s newly edited documentary offers a more comprehensive examination of the film than the Universal featurettes delivered, but they have built it from the same production footage and electronic press kit interviews that Universal used for their featurettes. One imagines that this limited them considerably, but they were able to construct a worthwhile “making of” examination of the movie that covers the films literary influences, aesthetic choices, and various challenges faced during the production.

Certain subjects are given more thorough dissection than others. For example, the costumes and set design are given a fairly comprehensive examination here. The “behind the scenes” production footage is especially nice to see, and fans will enjoy getting a proper look at the art department’s incredible model work. We see some of the same footage seen in Universal’s endless collection of “featurettes,” but there is a wealth of footage in this new documentary that wasn’t seen in any of those EPK promos. There’s also quite a bit of pre-production art that adds to the proceedings considerably.

The program may have benefitted from newly produced material, but this piece proves that standard Blu-ray features could be much better than they are if studios would only put forth a modicum of effort. A single comprehensive documentary examination of a film is more worthwhile than a collection of lightweight “featurettes” that offer little in the way of information. Quality is and always will be superior to quantity, and this is a quality look at the film’s production that adds an enormous amount of value to this disc.

Spanish Language Interview with Guillermo Del Toro — (08:36)

Arrow has offered up another worthwhile addition to Universal’s original supplements with this interesting (if much too brief) Spanish language interview with the director. Topics discussed include the fairy tale influences on the project, the film’s controlled use of vivid color, symbolism, and other interesting aspects of the production. He also mentions a few of the inspirations for the film (such as Rebecca and Gaslight). It’s a fairly compact eight minutes when one considers how much territory he is able to cover.

A Primer on Gothic Romance — (05:37)

Footage from Crimson Peak mingles with behind-the-scenes photos, production art, and interview snippets from the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Jim Beaver in this short featurette. Guillermo del Toro and his actors vaguely discuss the literary traditions of gothic romance and Gothic horror and how they relate to this particular film.

The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak — (07:54)

It’s nice to have a program that is devoted to the discussion of Guillermo del Toro’s use of color in the film, and we must admit that this particular featurette has a bit more information packed into its brief duration than one expects it to have. A comparison is made between the Buffalo, NY scenes and those that take place in England as each were designed to have a different aesthetic.

Hand Tailored Gothic — (08:59)

Guillermo del Toro and Kate Hawey (costume designer) discuss the meticulous work that went into the film’s period costumes as they were designed specifically to work in tandem with the production/set design. Quite a bit of detailed labor went into the wardrobe, so it is appropriate to have a featurette devoted to this aspect of the production.

A Living Thing — (12:11)

A Living Thing is one of several featurettes included on this disc to focus on the film’s most important set. This is probably as it should be, but one wonders if the material here could have been combined with the material used to construct the four featurettes that made up I Remember Crimson Peak to create a single definitive examination of this interesting set. Guillermo del Toro and Tom Sanders are both on hand to discuss the design and construction of the Allerdale Hall set. The up close look at the models created for the set is probably the highlight of this instructive program.

I Remember Crimson Peak / Allerdale Hall: Four Featurettes — (19:34)

The Gothic Corridor — (04:07)
The Scullery — (04:25)
The Red Clay Mines — (05:19)
The Limbo Fog Set — (05:43)

This collection of featurettes examine four of the various rooms that serve as part of the Allerdale Hall set. Guillermo del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston are all on hand to discuss the production design and to offer their insight. None of these four short pieces could be described as “comprehensive,” but they are too good to be written off as fluff.

Beware of Crimson Peak — (07:52)

This is a rare example of an extremely short featurette working on its own terms. It doesn’t feel as if it would be better as part of a more comprehensive documentary since it is offered up as a tour of the set and not compiled from film footage and short interview snippets. Tom Hiddleston takes viewers through the Allerdale Hall set while offering them a closer look at the production design. Meanwhile, there is plenty of “behind the scenes” footage showing the cast and crew working in this environment. It becomes quite clear that time and energy has been spent on details that will go unnoticed by the majority of viewers, and this can only add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Crimson Phantoms — (07:03)

While Crimson Phantoms isn’t overflowing with insightful new revelations, it does offer a worthwhile glimpse behind the curtain. David Martí and Montse Ribé never delve too deeply into their ghost designs, but it is instructive to see some of the ghost footage being shot (with a combination of practical and CGI effects).

Kim Newman on Crimson Peak and the Tradition of Gothic Romance — (17:37)

Kim Newman discusses Crimson Peak and the traditions in Gothic romance that gave birth to the film. Mario Bava, The Bronte Sisters, Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto,” Roger Corman’s adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and quite a few other pertinent works are mentioned throughout the piece. However, one is especially pleased that this piece opens with a discussion of Guillermo del Toro’s work and how it fits into specific (if somewhat broadly diverse) genre traditions. It’s an instructive examination of the film that adds an enormous amount of value to an already terrific supplemental package.

Violence and Beauty in Guillermo Del Toro’s Gothic Fairy Tale Films — (23:37)

Kat Ellinger continues our examination of the film’s Gothic origins in this video essay that discusses Crimson Peak in the context of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography as his films borrow from both European fairy tale traditions and gothic novels in relatively equal measure. Her essay illustrates the differences between these literary traditions by using his films to illustrate her point. One imagines that viewers who haven’t seen much of the director’s oeuvre will want to seek out some of his other films after seeing this one. She also examines a great many of the film’s influences. It’s a well-researched program that will add to one’s understanding and appreciation of both Crimson Peak and the director’s work in general. Bravo.

Marketing Gallery:

Theatrical Trailer — (02:28)
International Theatrical Trailer #2 — (02:36)
2 Television Spots — (01:05)

It is great to have these trailers and television spots included since Guillermo Del Toro discusses the inappropriate marketing campaign in his commentary track.

Still Gallery

This is a slideshow-style presentation of 35 production stills.

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Final Words:

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Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Crimson Peak is fantastic in every sense of the word.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Source Material:

Mark Kermode (BFI Interview, The Guardian, November 21, 2006)

Unknown (The Star, May 03, 2012)

Guillermo Del Toro (Guillermo Del Toro Reveals His 5 Biggest Tips For Making A Movie, Buzzfeed, November 06, 2013)

Brian Formo (Guillermo Del Toro Interview, Mandatory, July 17, 2014)

Meredith Woerner (Guillermo Del Toro: ‘Crimson Peak’ is The Most Carefully Designed Movie I’ve Done, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2015)

Gary Collinson (Guillermo Del Toro Talks ‘Crimson Peak, Flickering Myth, October 14, 2015)

Sheila O’Malley (Crimson Peak, RogerEbert.com, October 16, 2015)

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