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Gothic Film in 13 Genres

The British Film Institute is currently running a Gothic movie season, so I thought I’d explore the diverse world of Gothic cinema through 13 different types of film…

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1. German Expressionism

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This movie genre from the 1920s is often credited with producing some of the earliest examples of horror, and still remains popular among Gothic horror fans today. The movies were highly stylised and employed striking visuals. Examples include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Metropolis (1927 film), and the first vampire movie, Nosferatu (1922).

2. Classic Gothic Horror

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During the 1930s-40s, a number of horror movies based on the Gothic classics (Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde etc.) were produced, the leading studio being Universal Pictures. The theme was continued by Hammer in the 1950s, who would go on to be one of the leading producers of classic Gothic horror movies and continue to this day. One of their most famous movies is their 1958 version of Dracula, with Christopher Lee.

3. Thriller

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Thriller overlaps considerably with horror, and have become part of the Gothic staple thanks to their gritty nature and focus on psychology and mystery. Alfred Hitchcock (creator of Psycho, Rebecca, Vertigo etc.) is the master of the genre, but there are plenty of other good thrillers being made by other producers right up to this day. A good example of a modern thriller with a lot of Gothic overtones is Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 movie Black Swan.

4. Film Noir

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A rather nebulous genre encompassing 1940s-50s Hollywood crime movies. Not all Film Noir can be considered Gothic, but as the genre borrows from German Expressionism and is characterised by moody visuals and dark themes, you’ll inevitably find some movies in this genre that cross over into Gothic territory. The 1950 Film Noir “Sunset Boulevard” has many Gothic characteristics – a mansion of faded splendour, decaying beauty, insanity, death.

5. Surrealist

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The Goth subculture (and especially the Industrial subculture) has occasionally looked to surrealism and the Dadaist art movement for inspiration. Surrealist movies, first made in the 1920s, often use bizarre, shocking and dark imagery, hence their appeal among Goths. The movies of the original surrealist movement were generally short and made by French artists; modern commerical pieces that incorporate surrealist elements include the works of David Lynch including “Lost Highway” (1997) and Terry Gilliam films such as “Brazil” (1985).

6. Folk/Rural Horror

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A small horror movie genre, in which the action takes place out in the countryside. There’s a difference between Folk and Rural – Folk Horror Movies are usually European and have strong elements of paganism and other pre-Christian folk beliefs, while Rural Horror Movies are usually American and feature crazy “Rednecks” (think “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). The location and occult focus is what gives this genre its Gothic tone. My absolutely all-time favourite horror movie, the 1973 movie “The Wicker Man,” belongs in the Folk Horror genre.

7. Asian Horror

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In the late 90s, Western movie fans began to notice that in Asia, particularly in Japan and Korea, some truly terrifying horror movies were being unleashed – horror movies that used minimal music or dialogue and intense visuals to create real suspense. Japanese and Korean horror is similar to Western folk horror, in that it tends to incorporate a lot of old superstitions, ghost stories and urban legends . Well-known Asian horror in the West includes “Uzumaki” (2000), “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003) and the film that got Asian horror recognised within the Western mainstream, “Ring” (1998).

8. Urban Gothic

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In contrast to the isolated castles and dreamy unreal quality of Classic Gothic, Urban Gothic takes place in the gritty cities of the modern world. But just as the setting of the castle or abbey is an important feature of Classic Gothic, dark cityscapes and industrial backgrounds are essential to Urban Gothic. In the movie world, Urban Gothic tends to cross over with thrillers, action movies and sci-fi. The 2005 movie “Sin City” could be defined as Urban Gothic (interestingly, it also borrows a lot from Film Noir).

9. Dark Fantasy

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Because of its elements of magic and frequently historical settings, Fantasy already has a lot in common with Gothic; Dark Fantasy merely notches up the horror element a little. Movies include “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) and “The Company of Wolves” (1984).

10. Cyberpunk

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Dark sci-fi, particularly that focusing on dystopian societies and technology. Sometimes called “tech-noir.” The genre most closely linked with Cyber Goths and Rivetheads. The classic example of this genre is “Blade Runner” (1982); others include “Akira” (1988), “The Terminator” (1984) and, one of my favourite movies of all time, “The Matrix” (1999).

11. Period drama

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Any slightly dark movie that takes place pre-war will probably automatically have some Gothic appeal, even if it isn’t a horror movie. Mystery/crime period dramas tend to fit well in this genre, such as the many Sherlock Holmes movies and the 1986 movie “The Name of the Rose,” featuring dark cloisters and creepy monks.

12. Black Comedy

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Most Goths have a dark and twisted sense of humour, and many will be into Black Comedies of all kinds. However, there are some Black Comedies that appeal to Goths more directly than others, especially those that parody the Horror genre. These include The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and Beetlejuice (1988).

13. Comic Book Adaptations

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There are now so many movies based on comic books that have Gothic appeal (I’ve already mentioned a couple above) that this genre is now a very important part of the world of Gothic film. These include the Batman franchise, Hellboy (2004), Constantine (2005) and the most famous of all among Goths, The Crow (1994).

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