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, to a time when 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 join him at his villa in Switzerland for the summer. With Byron's “doctor”, John Polidori (Alex Winter), in tow, the four spend 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 childishly 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 full view 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, but the best performance is delivered by Alice Krige as Mary, the more reserved of the bunch, and possibly 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.
Its the characters that ultimately make Haunted Summer so memorable, and their interactions with one another that, in turn, make it so rewarding.