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Haunted Summer

Scary, sexy summertime

Rod Lott July 6th, 2011

In the 1980s, Cannon Films primarily was frowned upon as a junk purveyor of low-rent actioners starring Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Caucasian ninjas.


To combat this, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus made the occasional stab at respectability, like 1988's "Haunted Summer." Directed by Ivan Passer ("Loves of a Blonde"), it's a dramatization of the wild week in 1816 amid a summer Switzerland paradise when horror fiction practically was born overnight.

Mind you, it's not too high-minded; a mere seven minutes in, we get the makings of a threesome, followed by a nude, full-frontal shower under the waterfall, courtesy of Eric Stoltz.

He plays Percy Shelley to Alice Krige's Mary Godwin, who soon would be Mary Shelley, of course, the creator of "Frankenstein." The yin to their yang is the coupling of Philip Anglim as Lord Byron and Laura Dern as Mary's half-sister, Claire Clairmont, whom he has knocked up, much to his annoyance.

They dine and drink and sail and philosophize, and eventually smoke opium, during which Passer's lens gets smeared with Vaseline, and Byron's guests experience terrifying visions. Of particular note is the arrival of a demon — or perhaps just a really unkempt gramma type — that freaks the eff out of Mary.

Byron manipulates Claire to an insurmountable level of cruetly, and Dr. Polidori (a miscast Alex Winter of the "Bill & Ted" movies) double-crosses Byron. Meanwhile, Percy blows bubbles. Sex is also had among characters, rendered in slow-motion; unfortunately, much of the film feels like it is, because while pretty, it's dreadfully dull.

On the plus side, the final shot is haunting, and Christopher Young's theme is brain-burrowing. Released near-simultaneously, Ken Russell's "Gothic" told the same story with less lucidity, but more memorable images. —Rod Lott
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