The local theater was showing a Thursday night preview of Crimson Peak two nights ago, before the actual release date on Friday. With no hesitation, I was there. Without question, my favorite subgenre of horror is the ghost story, and Crimson Peak primed us to expect some phenomenally creepy ghosts through its ghoulish previews – previous that show portions of skeletal apparitions grasping arms or swaying across the floor. Vampires are fun, witches are cool, and stories about the devil can be pretty scary, but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to a good old-fashioned ghost story. And Crimson Peak taps into a horror film phenomenon that never fails to dispense fear in generous, indulgent doses: the phenomenon of the female ghost.
To tell you the truth, I’m fascinated by the female ghost. I remember hearing the story of “Bloody Mary,” as a child. As the story went, an insidious ghost witch would appear in the mirror if you said “Bloody Mary” three times. What happened after that was up for debate: scratches on your forehead, sudden death? Heresy had many explanations. I’ll never know. I’m still too terrified to utter this name in a mirror. In fact, I don’t remember how old I was before I was able to walk into a bathroom before turning the lights on, instead of sticking my hand in the bathroom and flicking on the light before walking in. Safe to say, I had an unreasonable fear of mirrors for much of my life, and mainly because this story of a vengeful female ghost was, well, haunting me.
When male ghosts are scary they have to be sub-human, or super-human apparitions like the Boogeyman or one of horror’s latest and greatest incarnations, Mr. Babadook, a monster-esque something that comes in the night chanting, “Ba-ba-doooook” in a raspy voice and turning decent human beings into sinister vehicles for mischief and murder. (Important Sidenote: The Babadook is fantastic and worthy of the horror lovers’ time). But while men have to be transmuted into boogeymen to be scary, we females appear to be terrifying enough in our natural forms, hence the horror film phenomena of the female ghost. Insidious comes to mind first and foremost when I consider this phenomenon. When we find out that a mysterious old woman is appearing behind protagonist Josh in all his pictures, we’re immediately chilled. This tall figure in a black veil, the old woman, threatens us with hideous potential, perhaps because of our cultural mantras. Are we, as women, accused of being more vindictive, more jealous? Then certainly our spirits are more wrathful and sinister. I think women in our culture are still the misunderstood “other,” and as a mysterious “other,” we’re far more horrifying than our culture’s default model of existence: man.
Indeed, in Crimson Peak, the first ghost we see is the ghost of mom. Mom’s appearance comes early in the film. I understand the movie just came out, so I’ll say little more in the way of spoilers. Mom appears in a flowing black dress and a black veil (like in Insidious, yes), and through her apparel you can see the skeletal outline of her body. What’s delightfully perfect about the ghost of mom is that the filmmakers have used special effects, but they haven’t overused special effects. Del Torro’s vision of horror is enhanced by special effects, unlike so many horror films that suffer because the effects they use ultimately make the ghosts less creepy. (I’ll return to my previous assertion that American Horror Story: Haunted Hotel, isn’t creepy enough, and this is in part because of how ghosts are depicted). In Crimson Peak, Mom has good intentions on her visit, but when those bony black hands touch her daughter’s shoulder and her raspy voice spits out a warning, any lover of ghost stories should be simultaneously terrified and satisfied. This is a good movie ghost. This is a ghost I’ll remember.
Despite the appearance of so many apparitions, Crimson Peak, ultimately, does not strike me as a ghost story. I will say little more, in case you haven’t seen the movie yet. Ultimately, the ghosts are just a loose byproduct of the plot, and they’re not as malicious as they look. The story builds a mystery excellently. I appreciate horror movies that reveal backstories slowly, movies in which the protagonist has to piece things together and find hidden information, and in this regard, Crimson Peak definitely delivers. The acting is spectacular. After seeing Tom Hiddleston in the Thor movies, I was intrigued to see him in Crimson Peak, and he’s perfect as Thomas Sharpe. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are great as Lucille Sharpe and Edith Cushing, respectively.
Significantly, the one appearance of a male ghost in Crimson Peak isn’t intended to be scary. The preview is propelled by the appearance of these women ghosts, but as viewers, we know early into the movie that we should expect more than a ghost story. Still, those female ghosts are scary. As a woman, I laugh at the fact that my gender breeds such terror – we’re the witches, the ghosts, and the brides of Dracula – but I’ll wear the crown proudly. I would definitely recommend seeing this movie, for its vision of what a terrifying ghost looks like, for the acting, and for the mystery it provides. It’s not terrifying – it won’t give you nightmares – but it’s engaging, and who doesn’t love a skeleton woman with a raspy voice prophesying doom?