Gothic Horror

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Gothic Horror is one of the oldest of the horror genres. Darker, edgier and on the Romanticism end of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, it tends to play on both the thrill and the fear of the unknown, and places a great importance on atmosphere. It's usually heavily symbolic, sometimes even dreamlike. In addition to being important to the horror genre, the first scifi, fantasy, romance, mystery, and adventure authors drew inspiration from Gothic horror, so it's sometimes considered the parent of all modern genre fiction.

Gothic fiction is usually used as a synonym or is the name given to Gothic horror stories that are saturated with the above mentioned scifi, fantasy, romance, mystery, or adventure elements.

The name "Gothic" comes from a kind of architecture from The Middle Ages (christened as such by those who considered it barbaric in comparison to classical architecture, the name coming from the barbarian tribe of the Goths). There were a lot of Gothic ruins lying around Britain, and people in the 18th and 19th centuries developed an interest in them because (a) ruins are always kind of mysterious and melancholy and creepy and (b) they evoked the time period they were built in, which was thought of as a barbaric time where people believed in (and did) all kinds of weird stuff. For this reason, most early Gothic horror novels were set in that era. They were usually also set in Catholic countries, because the Brits who wrote them considered Catholicism sinister (yet also kinda cool).

The renewed interest in Gothic stuff also led to the Gothic Revival movement in architecture, but for the purposes of this article we're not so interested in that.

Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, written in 1764, is considered the first Gothic horror novel. Walpole was a big fan of William Shakespeare and proudly declared that he borrowed most of the tropes from his idol's plays, particularly Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Ann Radcliffe helped popularize the genre, and authors such as Matthew Lewis, Ludwig Flammenberg, Eliza Parsons, Eleanor Sleath, and Francis Lathom finished out the eighteenth century Gothic horror writers. The beginning of the nineteenth century saw Gothic horror being parodied by authors like Jane Austen, but there were still straight examples provided by authors such as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. By the time the Victorian era rolled around Gothic horror was beginning to run out of steam, but there were still quite a few people writing it — in fact, most of the Gothic horror authors and works you've heard of probably come from this era, such as Edgar Allan Poe and the Brontë sisters. There were a few more notable Gothic authors in the early 20th century, but by the 1950s or so the genre had given way to modern Horror.

The Cosmic Horror Genre is something of a Spiritual Successor to Gothic Horror, with the genre's codifier H.P. Lovecraft explicitly listing several masters of Gothic Horror as major influences. Where Gothic Horror drew upon classical mythology and legend to provide its nightmares, however, Cosmic Horror looked to the modern world itself, and pondered what would happen as man shone a light upon the last refuges of the creatures who once haunted the empty countryside now becoming suburbs, and reached beyond the limits of what he was meant to know. Perhaps Here There Be Dragons, after all?

Universal and Hammer Films are responsible for successfully adapting this genre onto the big screen. For a modern take on the genre see Gaslamp Fantasy and Supernatural Fiction.

For an in-depth look go to Violet Books (unfortunately deceased, but resurrected — appropriately enough) and the still-active Gaslight Reading & Discussion Site. See also Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.

For a list of tropes used in the Gothic horror genre see Index of Gothic Horror Tropes.

Authors who wrote partially or entirely in the Gothic fiction genre include:

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    Eighteenth Century 
  • Horace Walpole (1717-1797). His novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) makes him the Trope Maker. Also gave us Haunted Castle.
  • Eliza Parsons (1739-1811). Better known for her novel The Castle Of Wolfenbach (1793).
  • William Beckford (1760-1844). Author of Vathek (1786) and started the subgenre of Orientalist Gothic, frightening because set beyond "civilised" Europe altogether.
  • Ann Radcliffe (1764- 1823). Author of, among others, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). Notably replaced real supernatural events with the "Scooby-Doo" Hoax.
  • Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845). Her novel The Children Of The Abbey (1796) was a best-seller of its time. But she is best remembered for the moodier Clermont (1798).
  • Carl Friedrich Kahlert (1765-1813), alias Ludwig Flammenberg. He is better known for the novel The Necromancer (1794), also known as The Tale of the Black Forest. The work was written in German and translated into English. The translator Peter Teuthold considerably revised the text and even added a chapter of his own. The Teuthold version is still the best known form of the work.
  • Carl Grosse (1768-1847) alias Marquis de Grosse. Better known for Horrid Mysteries (1796), the English translation of his novel Der Genius (The Guiding Spirit, 1791-1795).
  • Eleanor Sleath (1770-1847). Married name of Eleanor Carter. Better known for her novel The Orphan of the Rhine(1798).
  • Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810): The first important American Gothic writer, best known for Wieland (1798).
  • Francis Lathom (1774-1832). His better known work in the genre was The Midnight Bell (1798). He is also known for The Mysterious Freebooter (1806), an early work of Historical Fiction Literature.
  • Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818). His novel The Monk (1796) gave us the Sinister Minister, who, among other sins, enters into a Deal with the Devil.

    Pre-Victorian Nineteenth Century 

    Victorian 

    Post-Victorian 

    Authors influenced by Gothic Fiction 

Non-literary works of (and inspired by) Gothic horror

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    Anime and Manga 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Nosferatu (1922) is often listed as the Ur-Example of the Gothic horror film genre, being a (very loose) adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, one of the key entries in the original literary genre.
  • The Universal Horror movies of the early 20th century did not all belong to the Gothic subgenre, but their most prominent early specimen, namely the 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein laid the foundations of the then- and now-contemporary Gothic film expression. The ur-trifecta of 1931 Gothic horror films is rounded off by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was produced by Paramount and therefore isn't part of the Universal Monsters franchise.
  • Hammer Horror is a series of Gothic horror movies made by the British company Hammer Film Productions between the 1950s and the early '70s. They were influential enough for "Hammer horror" to become a distinct subgenre label that was also applied to entirely unrelated, but similar productions.
  • A Cure for Wellness is a modern take on the genre, particularly drawing influence on Dracula with a young urban professional traveling to an imposing, Germanic castle where he encounters a monstrous immortal aristocrat who engages in a form of vampirism.
  • Black Sunday's style, cinematography and story hearkens back to older Gothic horror films of the 1930s.
  • Crimson Peak is a love letter to classic Gothic literature, featuring a grand but rather creepy ancestral house in a beautiful but rather creepy landscape, Victorian-ish time period, romance with unsettling undertones, and ghosts.
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers is an Affectionate Parody of Gothic Horror and vampire movies, particularly those in the Hammer Horror tradition.
  • The Man with Two Brains is a modern day take on and an Affectionate Parody of Gothic horror.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of the more popular and influential eras of Doctor Who — specifically, season 13, featuring Philip Hinchcliffe as producer, Robert Holmes as script editor and Tom Baker as the lead — is sufficiently influenced by this movement to be known by the Fan Nickname "the Gothic Horror era".
  • American Horror Story: Asylum: Deeply flawed characters in an insane asylum run by people abusing both religion and science to their most inhumane extremes with occasional visits by enigmatic beings beyond human comprehension pretty much fits the bill.
  • Penny Dreadful is set in 1891 Victorian Britain and weaves together various Public Domain Characters from classic horror literature in a story about the supernatural.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ravenloft was the first Gothic horror adventure module for Dungeons & Dragons, featuring the Player Party trapped in a haunted castle smack in the middle of Überwald, lorded over by an ancient Tragic Villain vampire named Count Strahd von Zarovitch. The module was so popular, it was eventually expanded into an entire setting, consisting of mostly independent dark realms surrounding equally larger-than-life romanticized villains. The original module has since been rebooted as Curse of Strahd.
  • My Life with Master puts the players in the shoes of the eponymous Master's minions as they struggle to preserve the slivers of rationality and humanity — or jump head-first off the slippery slope. The nature and character of the "Master" are entirely up to the players, but s/he naturally gravitates towards an unholy fusion of Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein.
  • Blades in the Dark has classic Gothic horror as one of its inspirations, being set in a haunted Victorian-era city where it's Always Night, ghosts, vampires, and demons roam free, and technological progress causes more harm than good.
  • Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine: Much of the atmosphere of Horizon is based on this, what with vampires, ghosts and undead horrors being very common, as well as Gothic ruins, cemeteries and the like. Due to this the region is the preferred location of Gothic-genre games. And then there's the Halloween World in the Halloween Special.
  • Gloom is an Affectionate Parody of Victorian literature, but especially of Gothic horror.

    Video Games 
  • Haunting Ground is essentially a Gothic horror game — a young, Fragile Flower heroine ventures/flees through an incredibly elaborate castle inhabited only by Frankentinian servants and sexually abusive vampires whose motivations are vague but clearly malicious. Keeping her fear to manageable levels is actually a game mechanic.
  • Bloodborne starts off as a pretty traditional Gothic horror, with the player character battling classic monsters like werewolves on the streets of a Victorian city of Yharnam, before subverting it and diving head-first into outright Lovecraft Lite instead.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent features a dark, decaying, and (kinda) haunted castle, a Haunted Hero, a mysterious, morally ambiguous, (kinda) vampiric Baron, as well as lots of madness and curses.
  • Harvest is a mod for Amnesia, likewise set in a dark, decaying, and haunted castle, albeit without any vampires.
  • Clive Barker's Undying is set in a creepy house on the moors, inhabited by a cursed family.
  • Mythos is a love letter to the Gothic horror films of the early 20th Century, revolving around the mysteries of London's dreaded Harborough Asylum — a place rumored to be full of ghosts, zombies and other nasties.
  • Vampyr is set in the 1918 London, during the Spanish flu pandemic and its protagonist is a genius doctor who gets involuntarily transformed into a vampire.
  • The original Diablo had a very Gothic atmosphere, set in a remote town whose Creepy Cathedral had become a literal Hell Gate, through which a lone hero must enter the underground dungeons to defeat the outpouring demons and undead.
  • The original Max Payne is not itself a Gothic horror, but the eponymous protagonists' Private Eye Monologue is satiated with Gothic imagery.

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Alternative Title(s): Gothic Fiction, Gothic Novel, Gothic Literature

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