WARNING: This blog post contains all of the spoilers. Ever. You've been warned. Viewer discretion is advised.
2015 saw Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim) bring his artful vision together with outstanding actors Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston to pen a love letter to the Gothic horror genre. The result is Crimson Peak, a staggeringly beautiful film filled with meticulous detail, jarring images, and masterful effects. The movie is truly a work of visual art, and the actors' performances are fabulous. The writing was compelling and full of layers that leave the viewer talking about it and the implications well after leaving the theater.
For those who haven't seen it, Crimson Peak tells the story of a young woman, Edith Cushing, who marries Sir Thomas Sharpe, a man with skeletons in his past. Over the course of the film we learn that Thomas has three prior wives, all of whom were killed by his twisted sister, Lucille, out of jealousy.
If that brief synopsis sounds familiar to you, you're not alone. It does remind me of something.... probably something equally beautiful and poignant. Something with outstanding, Oscar-worthy performances, a stimulating plot, and a mind-blowing ending. Right?
Crimson Peak is--I presume unintentionally--a gender-swapped retelling of the 1993 Mike Myers vehicle, So I Married An Axe Murderer.
Meet The Protagonist
Crimson Peak's heroine is Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a woman battling the early 1900s sexism as she tries to publish her Gothic horror novel. She is young, vibrant and, though wealthy, she is uninterested in the trappings of society. While strong and self-assured, she still possess a naivete that viewers will recognize as trouble.
In the opening scene, Edith tells us that she knows ghosts are real because at the age of ten, she was visited by the specter of her mother who warned her, "Beware of Crimson Peak." It's only too late, a decade or more later, that she understands this cryptic warning.
Switching to our other film, in Axe Murderer the protagonist is Charlie Mackenzie (Mike Myers). Like Edith, Charlie is confident and creative. We only ever see him writing poetry. He never mentions a day job, never goes to one and has epic amounts of time to do fuckall. Clearly, he's a writer. Charlie is introduced to the audience as a serial monogamist that cannot keep a relationship for long because once things get serious, his fears cause him to create outrageous reasons to stop seeing his girlfriends. This is a manifestation of the same youthful capriciousness we see Edith exhibit by shunning society life and her expected womanly roles.
Additionally, Charlie's mother serves a similar purpose in Axe Murderer. In an early scene, she consoles Charlie that while he's an idiot, maybe there's something to be said for being single. She reads from the Weekly World News the story of Mrs. X, a serial killer who murders her husbands on their honeymoons. There are three known victims.
Enter Love Interest, Pursued By A Bear
Charlie has just sworn off love when he meets Harriet (Nancy Travis), a butcher. He helps her through a particularly horrible day at the butcher shop in a perfect movie montage complete with sexual innuendo and Myers mugging for the camera. On their first date, we learn that Harriet is also brilliant. She demonstrates martial arts talent, an affinity for languages and a clever wit. She also keeps her past heavily guarded. Their affair begins immediately with Charlie sleeping over at her home on the first night.
Similarly, Edith's romance with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) begins with her trying to help the other in professional matters. Sharpe is the proprietor of a clay mine in England. He is looking for benefactors to help him save his family's history, livelihood and home. He is highly educated, socially connected, well-traveled and scientifically inclined. We meet Thomas when he approaches Edith's father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) to be his money bag. While Cushing is not so keen to help him, Edith sees promise and vision in Sharpe and petitions her father on his behalf.
Thus begins Edith's romance with Thomas. Even with the proprieties of the time period being observed, these two quickly fall for one another.
Zero To Married
While the events that get there are vastly different, eventually both couples break up in outstandingly painful ways. For Charlie, it's his standard fear taking over. I mean, he thinks Harriet is a murderer trying to kill him like Mrs. X! For Edith, it's Thomas being cruel, breaking her heart because her father asked him to after discovering that Sharpe was already married.
However, through vastly different processes, the couples reunite and immediately get married. Edith leaves her New York home and moves to Allerdale Hall, the family homestead in England.
Both Thomas and Harriet have a sister who is more than a little....unstable.
Meet Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), Thomas' older sister. She is a virtuoso pianist who doesn't speak often, and when she does it is quietly strange. Similarly, Harriet's sister Rose (Amanda Plummer) is mostly silent except when she opens her mouth to airily spout crazy shit.
Also? Both sisters try to get the details on the sex with their respective siblings.
After their first date coitus, Charlie walks in on Rose showering, awkwardly mistaking her for Harriet. Lucille waits until after Edith and Thomas are married (again, propriety of the time) to prod her newly-minted sister-in-law for details on her brother. And she watches through the keyhole to see if they're scrumping.
Speaking of the sex....
Both films have a buttshot. You get Hiddlebum from Crimson Peak, and Myers' ass in Axe Murderer. (Picture unavailable.)
It's not until after Charlie and Harriet have married that we discover she has been married three times previous. What a coincidence! Thomas has three ex wives, too! (And it's at this time that we're all sad that there isn't a video somewhere of Tom Hiddleston doing the Woman, Woman Woman poem.) Harriet's husbands all bailed on their honeymoons while Thomas' ex wives still hang out around Allerdale Hall. Although, they're a little .... um...
Super Friends: Lightning Round.
I know it seems like the protagonists have a lot stacked against them with murder and secretive lovers and creepy sister people hanging around. But they aren't alone! Both of them have a super friend with astoundingly similar qualities. For Edith, it's Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunam), and for Charlie it's Officer Tony Giardino (Anthony LaPaglia). Both of them....
- Are met in an early scene to help set our protagonist's world and deliver exposition.
- Have jobs of authority.
- Have eccentricities. While Alan is a doctor and a member of high society he is allowed to dabble in the study of ghosts, how cute. Meanwhile, Tony is an undercover cop who dresses like a "circa 1970s pimp", wants to be Serpico, encourages his peaceable boss to scream at him like it's a Lethal Weapon movie, and visits Alcatraz enough to be on a first name basis with tour guide John "Vicky" Johnson.
- Both of them discover the truth about Harriet and Thomas before Charlie or Edith, respectively.
- Both try to commandeer vehicles to warn their friend. While Alan can't get a carriage, he's forced to take a horse through a snowstorm. Poor Tony has to deal with Charles Grodin and Steven Wright.
- They are both outrageously useless in the actual end fights. Alan bleeds all over everything while Tony arresst the wrong person and is an idiot.
- And both of them have a close relationship with their respective friends' parents.
And in the End...
As if I haven't spoilered these movies to hell and back, here's how both of them end:
The sister did it.
Lucille killed all of Thomas' exes because she was jealous (and had been having an incestuous relationship with him for several years). While Rose hadn't been schtupping her sister, she was jealous of the way Harriet's husbands took her away. So Rose had been leaving notes in honeymoon suites for years, leaving Harriet to think her new husbands just ran. Meanwhile, Rose had been killing them all.
So the sisters are discovered to be jealous murderers and more than a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. As mentioned above, the Super Friends are useless after that reveal. Lucille, enraged by the fact that Thomas loves Edith, kills him. So he's out of the picture. She and Edith play a lethal game of hide-and-seek in an eerie winter landscape full of billowy nightgowns and snarling. Eventually Thomas' ghost helps distract Lucille long enough for Edith to kill her with some blunt force trauma to the face.
Nothing so horrible happens in Axe Murderer. Tony detains Harriet so that she can't help as Charlie and Rose have a battle on the roof. Rose is wearing a billowy poncho and calling eerily into the stormy night. Neither of them die, but there are a disturbing amount of nutshots.
So there is the evidence, dear reader. Now I ask you to be the jury.
Is Crimson Peak a cleverly disguised reboot of a 90s comedy? Or are there just no new ideas under the sun?