Sunday, January 8, 2012

#510. Haunted Summer (1988)

Directed By: Ivan Passer

Starring: Philip Anglim, Alice Krige, Eric Stoltz

Tag line: "Four Lovers Explored the Heights of Passion.  And the Depths of Evil"

Trivia:  The film was originally to be directed by John Huston before Ivan Passer was assigned the job

Director Ivan Passer's Haunted Summer transports us back to the year 1816, a time when the poet Percy Shelley (Eric Stoltz) was traveling through Europe with his lover Mary Godwin (Alice Krige) and her sister Claire (Laura Dern). 

Along the way, they meet up with world-renowned poet (and notorious womanizer) Lord Byron (Philip Anglim), who invites Shelley and the sisters to spend the summer with him at his villa in Switzerland. 

With Byron's “doctor”, John Polidori (Alex Winter), in tow, the group spends the entire season smoking opium, making love, and debating the role of evil in the universe, conversations that inspire Mary to pen her Gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein

The stunning cinematography in Haunted Summer takes full advantage of its beautiful setting (with Italy standing in for Switzerland), making the film as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the intellect. Yet what I enjoyed most about this movie were its five main characters, who, though undoubtedly brilliant, could also act quite childish at times; in a hotel dining room, Shelley “surprises” a handful of patrons by pelting them with a peashooter, to the delight of both Mary and Claire. Once at the villa, Byron continually mocks and insults Polidori in front of the others, at one point driving the poor doctor to nearly takes his own life. 

And yet, despite the occasional immaturity, these young men and women were among the finest writers of their day, and would often engage in spirited arguments over such topics as government and religion (“God the creator exists”, Byron says to the atheist Shelley, “but the creation is bad”.). 

The cast does a fine job conveying both the sophistication and the petulance of these great thinkers. Anglim is excellent as the crippled Byron, whose sharp tongue and scandalous sex drive mask a deep insecurity. The best performance, however, is delivered by Alice Krige as Mary, the more reserved of the bunch and arguably the most intelligent of them all. When Byron mockingly offers up a toast to Women's rights, “whatever they are”, Mary's responds,“They're quite simple, really. To develop our minds and control our bodies”, thus putting the promiscuous Byron firmly in his place. 

It's the characters that ultimately make Haunted Summer so memorable, and their interactions with one another that, in turn, make it so rewarding.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

I never could figure out why Alice Krige never had a more far-reaching career. She was a more than competent actress and uniquely beautiful. But damned if she wasn't in the most awful of films. Was it that she wasn't being offered great roles? Or was she just choosing the crappiest stuff that came along?

A mystery.