It was a dark and stormy night…
One rainy night in 1816, Mary Godwin and her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron and his physician, Dr. John Polidori, at Byron’s villa in Switzerland. Relegated to the indoors by the weather, the four read ghost stories, discussed science and decided to hold a competition to see who could write the best scary story. From that event came “Frankenstein” and “The Vampyre”. This is the story of that dreary night, which would change the world of horror forever.
With such rich source material, it’s amazing how badly this film misses its mark. Full of director Ken Russell’s (think “Altered States” and “Lair of the White Worm”) artistic excesses and some of Julian Sands’ (Percy Bysshe Shelly) most egregious overacting to date, the movie is more about the well-chronicled debauchery of Byron and his companions. The horrific elements of the tale play out more as a shared delusion brought on by too much laudanum and become secondary. The bulk of the film, instead, is more “Caligula” than the collection of ghost stories it could have been.
Disappointing and overdone, the film scores some points for creating a nice gloomy atmosphere – which isn’t easy to do when the story centers around a bunch of rich people hanging out at a Swiss chalet to party. Being familiar with Russell’s work, I’m pretty sure this is exactly the vision he was going for – but some darn fine story material was wasted in getting there.