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Director Guillermo Del Toro indulges his taste for old-school horror in "Crimson Peak," a haunted-house thriller with more style than substance.

"Ghosts are real," intones our blood-stained ingénue, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), at the movie's beginning. Then we go back in time a few months to turn-of-the-20th-century Buffalo, where Edith is an aspiring writer and only daughter to an industrialist (Jim Beaver).

Mr. Cushing receives an investment pitch from Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English nobleman trying to get his family's clay-mining business going. Thomas and Edith fall in love, over Mr. Cushing's suspicions of Thomas' true intentions. But after Mr. Cushing is killed under mysterious circumstances, Edith marries Thomas and goes to live in his rundown English mansion, which is overseen by his spinster sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), and overrun with terrible ghosts.

Del Toro pulls out all the stops in creating this house of horrors, drawing inspiration from the old Hammer films and Italian goth master Dario Argento in his elaborate production design. The look is more interesting than the script (by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins), which has a disappointing payoff.

The highlight is Chastain's delicious turn as the tightly wound Lucille, who outcreeps all of Del Toro's impressive effects simply by scraping a spoon across the rim of a china bowl.

'Crimson Peak'

Opens Friday, Oct. 16, at theaters everywhere; rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language; 118 minutes.