Crimson Peak [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th May 2024).
The Film

Ever since she was a child, Edith Cushing (Stoker's Mia Wasikowska) has known that ghosts do indeed exist when her mother appeared her days after her death from black cholera with a cryptic warning. An intelligent young woman in 1890s Buffalo, New York, Edith is on her way to spinsterhood having forsaken suitors and mixing with high society in favor of looking after her father Carter (Supernatural's Jim Beaver) and pursuing her own goal of becoming an authoress of ghost stories. Upon hearing of the arrival of an English baronet who made the acquaintance of Eunice (Star Trek: Discovery's Emily Coutts), sister of her childhood friend ophthalmologist Dr. Alan McMichael (Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam), she dismisses him as a "parasite with a title" until she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Highrise's Tom Hiddleston) in the flesh and sees him as a fellow "dreamer facing defeat" when her self-made father turns down the dilettante's proposal for funding his invention to harvest a special type of scarlet clay from the mines on his Cumberland estate. Thomas both bewitches her and upsets the balance of Buffalo society by sweeping her off her feet, so Carter hires a private detective to investigate Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Take Shelter's Jessica Chastain).

Having turned up incriminating evidence, Carter bribes Sharpe to break Edith's heart and leave the country, but the revelation of Carter's machinations and the reunion of the young lovers coincide with his seemingly accidental death. Thomas and Edith are married and travel to his ancestral home Allerdale Hall, a crumbling Neogothic pile barely maintained by Thomas and Lucille alone with doddering servant Finlay (Spider's Alec Stockwell) – under the odd impression that Thomas has been married for some time – the only other person for miles. Edith is unnerved by the peculiarities of the house, with its walls weeping scarlet clay, structure slowly sinking in the underground mines, rattling pipes, and "breathing" chimneys, but more so by its unquiet ghosts. Having accepted the existence of the supernatural, Edith probes the mysteries of Allerdale Hall and a past only hinted at by Thomas and Lucille, so unnaturally close after growing up in the shadow of their tyrannical mother; but the ghostly apparitions are steering her towards revelations that may not only break her heart but endanger her life.

Having made an arthouse splash with his sentimental vampire film Cronos, director Guillermo del Toro was picked up by Miramax to helm his project Mimic for dimension films; however, frequent clashes with Harvey Weinstein lead to his near-firing – averted by the intervention of star and recent Oscar winner Mira Sorvino – but the final cut would not be reflective of his concept and it would be over a decade before he was able to reconstruct his director's cut. He courted the arthouse again with his Spanish Civil War ghost story The Devil's Backbone, and the subsequent American hits Blade II and Hellboy meant a larger budget for his next Spanish Civil War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth; and the box office grosses Hellboy II and Pacific Rim was enough for studio Legendary to provide him the budget to fully realize his take on the gothic romance in Crimson Peak. A gifted Mexican visual stylist with more resources than ever dreamt of by the likes of Juan López Moctezuma (Alucarda) or any of his European forebearers, del Toro weaves his web of symbols into the production design of Thomas Sanders (Bram Stoker's Dracula) and the costumes with his intention to "build the costumes and couture the sets," and the results are hellishly beautiful.

The story itself, however, may disappoint those looking for a horror film, or indeed a real mystery, as del Toro is more interested in tweaking the conventions of the gothic romance; and it ultimately the ways in which he subverts them that is more interesting than dramatically satisfying, with the pure heroine not damned by sex but as liberated by it as her compromised husband. Hiddleston's baronet is certainly guilty but becomes more sympathetic and still more charismatic and compelling than Hunnam's Conan Doyle-enthusiast would-be hero – usually a dullard in these films but particularly-so here – who does not so much solve a mystery as have information handed to him and is ultimately ineffectual in the climax; so much so that even one of the villains who has a change of heart must help him along. While the film has drawn shallow comparisons to Hammer horror, it has more in common cinematically with Roger Corman's Tomb of Ligiea, a little Mario Bava, a lot of film noir-era Gothics like Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door (and other Gothic-tinged post-war "women's pictures"), Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, Suspicion, and Under Capricorn, with the closest to Hammer being the bump-in-the-night theatrics of their Psycho-thrillers, as well as the literary gothic romances in which del Toro has proven himself well-versed with his previous films. It remains to be seen whether Crimson Peak is truly del Toro's Gothic magnum opus, whether he will ever have resources and budget to attempt something better, or if he might have to embrace the production limitations of his Mexican and Spanish Gothics to realize something less "epic" and more intimate.


Following its theatrical release through Universal, Crimson Peakhit Blu-ray in an edition that was lavishly-supplemented but thriftily-priced – you could usually find this edition for ten dollars at Target – with a high bitrate transfer and DTS:X audio. Only three years after that release, Arrow Video put out their own special edition Blu-ray utilizing the same master (and a standard edition a few months later). Half a decade later, Arrow has upgraded the film to 4K UltraHD with Dolby Vision HDR (HDR10-compatible). Billed as a "4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible), approved by director Guillermo Del Toro" 2160p24 HEVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer – del Toro making the deliberate choice not to shoot in scope due to the relative dimensions of actors and sets – of this color-corrected-within-an-inch-of-its-life film was sublimely-detailed in 1080p but becomes even more sumptuous in 4K. While they do not specify whether Del Toro did any revisions to the grading, there do seem to be some differences that are more than just the 4K bump-up and extended dynamic range. In the first shot of Edith as a child during her mother's funeral, here hair is more blonde on the Blu-ray while in the 4K it now has digital-looking reddish highlights, while the ruddy dirt road to Allerdale Hall in 1080p looks more like the red clay in 4K.

The 4K also reveals a significantly greater variegation of reds with the "Crimson Peak" title lettering a light, reserved hue and the first true pop of red now when Thomas unveils a sample of the crimson clay which was well-saturated in 1080p but seems to glow here. The first true "blast" of red comes in the reveal of Lucille's dress during the McMichaels' ball. Scarlet in 1080p, it also simultaneously darker and richer in 4K, its folds shaded with bottomless blacks rather than just shadows. During Carter's murder, the blood gushes from his body is almost black and gives way to lighter red and then pink as it mixes with the water spreading across the washroom floor. Rather than the cliché modern-looking teal-orange grade, those colors are evident as contrasting gel lighting in some shots and sequences including Edith's first encounter with her mother's ghost. In 4K, both colors look slightly lighter, more turquoise and amber.

The epic, digitally-enhanced shot of Buffalo, New York has a slightly sepia hue to it in 4K that dissipates after the optical but an overall more naturalistic look in 1080p, while Edith's dress in this sequence looks almost burnt-orange rather than tan yellow, and there is a slightly warmer look to interiors. More brown hues in the woodwork are evident in the Buffalo scenes, but Edith's introduction to Allerdale Hall is even more sumptuous, with a color scheme that contrasts vitality and decay in décor, clothing, and the skin tones of the Sharpes' and that of Edith who looks pale and willowy but not icy and sickly. In 4K, the house sets look authentically old and the atmosphere truly chilled, and detail truly does justice to the work that went into the creation of the film's props. The CGI effects are of a very high standard but, as with the 1080p, there are only a few instances in which they truly feel like they have the same depth as the live action material around them (compare the shot of Edith's childhood vision of her mother's ghost coming towards the camera to the later jump scare involving the same sets).

Screen captures are from the 1080p Blu-ray for illustrative purposes only.


Audio options are identical to the Arrow Blu-ray including the DTS:X audio mix – which was also present on the Universal edition – which is hyper-detailed from directional effects and music to the most subtle atmospherics – with an interesting contrast between the noises that make up the Allerdale Hall grounds and the interiors even when apparitions are not present (the Buffalo, New York scenes are well-supported by the surround sound design but it only truly becomes compelling during the Allerdale Hall scenes). A DTS Headphone:X 2.0 mix that creates a virtual surround effect with the appropriate headphones is also included, although it sounds pretty good without. An English Descriptive Audio track in Dolby Digital 2.0 has also been carried over from the Universal edition. The Universal disc was all-region and designed for several territories, but Arrow drops the lossy DTS 5.1 dubs as well as the many foreign language subtitle tracks while retaining the English SDH track.


Carried over from the Universal edition is an audio commentary by co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro who speaks proudly of his achievement as one of his three best works (one wonders which one of his earlier supernatural trio he found comparatively lacking). He distinguishes Gothic horror from Gothic romance and the genre in general as a romantic reaction to the Age of Reason, the influences of period literary illustrations, his color choices and the desire to create "living paintings" rather than the expected muted colors of other period films, the Henry James aspect of the film's first half in the clash of New World Americans and scheming Old World Europeans – specifically the contrasts between Edith and Lucille – visual motifs of butterflies and moths, and his preference for simple plots with complex characters in his depiction of the main characters as deeply-flawed characters lacking the purity of their models for the better.

"The House is Alive: Constructing Crimson Peak" (50:01) is described in the menu and press materials as "newly edited, feature-length documentary with cast and crew interviews and extensive behind the scenes footage." It is indeed is an assemblage of material from the Universal disc's many smaller featurettes which are also included in this package; however, it works as a nice distillation of the high points of each featurette.

Del Toro provides "A Primer on Gothic Romance" (5:37) – covering the key traits of the genre, content that will be familiar to viewers of the special features of his earlier Gothic films – while production designer Sanders, art director Brandt Gordon (Total Recall), and Shane Vieau (Big Eyes) discuss the sets in clips from "A Living Thing" (12:12), Kate Hawley (Suicide Squad) discusses the costumes and the contrasts between Edith's golden butterfly dresses and chrysalis nightgown and the blacks of Lucille and Thomas as "ink" in the bright Buffalo scenes while their clothes embody aspects of Allerdale's décor in the England scenes in bits from "Hand Tailored Gothic" (8:59) and "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak" (7:54), and make-up effects supervisors David Martí (The Skin I Live In) and Montse Ribé (The Oprhanage) discuss the ghost designs in "Crimson Phantoms" (7:03) while actors Beaver, Chastain, Hiddleston, and Wasikowska appear throughout.

The actors' comments are much more insightful in the Allerdale Hall - Four Featurettes in conversation with del Toro in which he notes that "The Gothic Corridor" (4:07) and other doorways were shaped to mirror the human forms of the apparitions and the characters who inhabit the spaces, while Hiddleston notes in "The Scullery" (4:25) that most intimate moments in English houses occur at the kitchen able. Del Toro and Wasikowska discuss the Bluebeard-esque quality of the forbidden basement stand-in of "The Red Clay Mines" (5:19) and how the grounds had to be constructed on a sound stage with a cyclorama for the climax because the real outdoor locations could not be fogged in "The Limbo Fog Set" (5:43).

Another exclusive to the set is a Spanish-language interview with Guillermo del Toro (8:36) but it covers nothing new, merely conveying his concept of the Gothic to Spanish-speaking viewers.

Also carried over from the Universal is "Beware of Crimson Peak" (7:52) with Hiddleston conducting a tour of the sets on the day before they are set to be struck intercut with behind the scenes video of their construction.

A quintet of deleted scenes (4:41) are also provided but add little to the film.

Produced for the 2019 Arrow Blu-ray and carried over here is "Kim Newman on Crimson Peak and the Tradition of Gothic Romance" (17:37) in which the author/critic provides his own narrative of the development of the Gothic, noting that Horace Walpole was parodying a genre that did not yet exist with "The Castle of Otranto" while Ann Radcliffe was "lacking self-awareness" in taking it seriously with "The Mysteries of Udolpho" – also noting that she might have been inspired less by Walpole than by Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" – and that the through-line to the Gothic romance in general includes the Bronte Sisters – placing Jane Austen with Walpole with her parodic "Northanger Abbey" – and specifically Charlotte's "Jane Eyre" and its influence on Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca" (not to mention Jean Rhy's "prequel" to the Bronte novel in "Wide Sargasso Sea").

Also produced for Arrow is "Violence and Beauty in Guillermo del Toro's Gothic Fairy Tale Films" (23:37), a video essay by the writer Kat Ellinger which provides the much-needed context of material on del Toro's earlier genre trio, the ways in which they tick the list of Gothic checklist, as well as how those aspects are differently played out in Crimson Peak.

The disc closes out with an international trailer (2:28), U.S. theatrical trailer (2:36), two TV spots (1:05), as well as production stills (3:00) and behind the scenes (2:50) galleries.


As with the 2019 Blu-ray limited edition, the 4K limited edition release includes a double-sided, fold-out poster, four double-sided postcards, and an 80-page, hard-bound book featuring writing by David Jenkins and Simon Abrams, an archival interview with Guillermo del Toro, and original conceptual design illustrations by artists Guy Davis and Oscar Chichoni housed in limited edition packaging designed by Crimson Peak concept artist Guy Davis (none of which was provided for review).


It remains to be seen whether Crimson Peak is truly del Toro's Gothic magnum opus, whether he will ever have resources and budget to attempt something better, but Arrow's 4K limited edition of Crimson Peak certainly gives the film the treatment of a masterwork.


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