The story is less a frightening tale than a homage to several horror traditions. It makes direct references to the likes of Mary Shelley and Arthur Conan Doyle, an author as adept at creating tales of suspense as he is at inventing a super sleuth. But its strongest link is with the Gothic fiction tradition, particularly Edgar Allan Poe. Contrasting the decaying, inescapable past that is England with the hope for promise that is American, as well as featuring an old, ancestral house made up of as much history and sorrow as it is mortar and succumbing to the weight of its trouble (ala “The Fall of the House of Usher”), the film is clearly enamoured with this rich trove of literature, and knows how to use its tropes. But director Guillermo del Toro takes yet another horror tradition, from the very medium of Crimson Peak itself. With its rich colour palette (especially blood reds, emerald greens, and deep blues), as well as the dense melancholic haze of its atmosphere, and its melodramatic tone, it is as much a tribute to the 1950s and 1960s film adaptations of Poe’s work, as well as the Hammer Horror films. Yes, this does mean much of the film is overwrought, and the links with the aforementioned film traditions may possess some creaks of campiness, but it nonetheless delivers a rich, mesmerising development of those traditions.
While its frights may lack the chills one may expect, Crimson Peak’s rich tone, striking visuals, and astute use of its varied influences will leave many very pleased with its macabre tale.