Director Ken Russell applies his trademark excess to this surreal, experimental examination of the creative dementia which shaped Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein. The story is embellished from events which allegedly took place at the Swiss villa of Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) on the night of June 16, 1816. Byron's guests include poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) and his future wife Mary (Natasha Richardson); Mary's half-sister Claire (Myriam Cyr) and Byron's leech-happy personal physician Dr. John Polidori (Timothy Spall). Byron promises them a night of horror like only a mad poet can deliver -- after partaking of laudanum and other hallucinogens, the guests tell ghost stories while exploring the dark corridors of his home. From here, Russell dives headlong into madness, discarding plot structure in favor of fever-dream setpieces in which the guests confront living manifestations of their own fears and insecurities -- creative, mortal and sexual, among others. The raging Romantics are also given to lengthy discourse on the nature of fear and the fine line between creative genius and insanity; by the film's end, viewers may find themselves wondering the same thing about the director. Those who may prefer a more subdued speculation on the same theme should seek out Ivan Passer's Haunted Summer.
by Cavett Binion synopsis