Haunted Summer (1988)
Director: Ivan Passer
Cast: Philip Anglim, Alice Krige, Eric Stoltz
Synopsis: In 1815, authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley get together for some philosophical discussions, but the situation soon deteriorates into mind games, drugs and sex.
Haunted Summer is based on the novel of the same name by Anne Edwards, and recounts what it rather blithely refers to as ‘the first summer of love’. This was the summer of 1816 which Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Mary and Claire Godfrey and Dr John Polidori spent at Byron’s home on Lake Geneva.
Filmed on location at Lake Geneva, the movie is visually appealing yet manages to avoid allowing the lush exteriors to distract from the intriguing interplay between the five characters. Quickly establishing the ‘free-spirit’ of the main characters – Shelley in bed with the sisters, and swigging laudanum at the dinner table, Claire Godfrey performing a saucy little dance for Byron as he puffs on an opium pipe, etc – the main thrust of the movie concentrates on the dynamics within the group. Shelley, Byron and Mary form the core of this gathering – Claire and Polidori (a surprisingly good Alex Winter) are largely peripheral figures – and the interaction between them is beautifully portrayed, capturing the real affection shared by Shelley and Byron, and the mutual fascination between Mary and Byron. The film also shows a number of scenes designed to show the inspiration for Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein.
All the performers in this movie have been perfectly cast. Phillip Anglim – an actor who, on this evidence, seems to have been woefully under-used on the screen – cuts a suitably dashing and decadent figure; Eric Stoltz, a surprising choice for the role of Shelley, gives a credible performance; Alice Krige is beautiful and serene as Mary Shelley, effortlessly imbuing her character with grace and intelligence.
This movie is vastly superior to Ken Russell’s similarly themed Gothic – it actually makes you want to learn more about the characters – so if you want to see a movie about this tale make sure you choose this movie.
(Reviewed 4th March 2002)