Eric Thonett’s A Sweet and Vicious Beauty is an absolute must for fans of gothic horror. If you enjoy the Hammer Horror films from the ’60s and ’70s, or if you love Guillermo Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story Crimson Peak, this film is right up your alley. It’s equal parts Edgar Allan Poe and Night of The Living Dead, with some Lizzie Borden flourishes thrown in for good measure.
Something unique to A Sweet and Vicious Beauty is that both its lead protagonist and antagonist are women. One can argue that Bette Cassatt’s Narcissa Sentinel is not an antagonist at all, considering the film starts and ends with her. Narcissa is the last surviving member of a powerful, wealthy family who controls much of the lands in the nearby town of Harbor Ridge. There are old wives tales about the Sentinel Manor being haunted and that the souls of the ghosts in their graveyard ran into the surrounding river, therefore giving it magical (and spooky) qualities. We first meet Narcissa as she falls while standing in the river, to die, or so we think.
“…the Sentinel Manor being haunted and that the souls of the ghosts in their graveyard ran into the surrounding river…”
At that point, we are transported to the Mayor of Harbor Ridge’s offices. A new doctor, Ethan, has come from New York to assist Doctor Moreland in the care of the always ill Ms. Sentinel. Ethan doesn’t realize what exactly he walked into, but it doesn’t take long for him to find out. When he discovers that he can’t travel to Sentinel Manor without his horse (it’s unreachable by carriage), Felix Drake, an affluent businessman (who also doubles as Harbor Ridge’s tailor) tells Ethan to visit Ingrid’s stables. Ingrid lives outside of town but not as far as Narcissa. She agrees to escort Ethan to the woods just outside of Sentinel Manor. The horses will not cross over the river into the woods because of the spirits, or so Ingrid believes.
It doesn’t take long for Ethan to discover once he reaches Sentinel Manor that there is something a bit off about Narcissa. For a while, he accepts her rather unnatural practices to maintain her health, for the sake of money, but once he realizes she’s gone too far, it becomes too late for him and almost everyone else. Ingrid and Felix come to the rescue, but Narcissa goes way off the handle with the power she discovers she can get through an extremely gruesome method. I won’t divulge exactly what Narcissa’s evil tendencies are because it ruins the fun, but let’s just say that we end up finding out just how good she is with an ax. There are also some major supernatural consequences for Narcissa that manifest themselves in various creepy and ridiculous ways.
“…a good period piece/spook show and if that’s your cup of tea…”
A Sweet and Vicious Beauty has incredibly beautiful period costumes, particularly for Narcissa, and wonderful settings in rooms that truly look as though they belonged in the 19th century. The fight choreography and practical effects are very well executed. The only thing I can say is that not everyone acts as well as one another in this film. However, Bette Cassatt and Sara Cole (Ingrid) are wonderful as the ultimate signifiers of good and evil in A Sweet and Vicious Beauty. Overall, I can say that the film was a very entertaining watch, with a unique twist on the Gothic ghost story. I do find it annoying that there is one creepy crawling little girl ghost which has become a hallmark of all modern “haunted house” films. There are ways to make ghosts scary that doesn’t have to involve some weird contorted crawling, but thankfully it’s only one scene. Additionally, I’m sure that this is just a picadillo of mine and most other people don’t mind it. Otherwise, A Sweet and Vicious Beauty is a good period piece/spook show and if that’s your cup of tea, you will drink it right up.
A Sweet and Vicious Beauty (2012) Written and Directed by Eric Thornett. Starring Bette Cassatt, Sara Cole, Brenden McDougal, Omar Ott.
6 out of 10 Stars