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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, Bram Stoker, 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 or—in the U.S.—the Southern Gothic subgenre. Spearheaded by writers such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and later picked up by the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee, Southern Gothic literature transposes Gothic gloom and terror to the post-Civil War Deep South. In Canada, some authors transposed Southern Gothic themes to Toronto and its surrounding region, creating Southern Ontario Gothic.

The Cosmic Horror Story 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 modern takes on the genre see Gaslamp Fantasy, New Weird, and Supernatural Fiction. Compare/contrast also Gothic Punk.

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. For advice on writing in this genre, see our Write a Gothic Story guide.

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 Godwin (1756-1836). His novel St. Leon (1799) introduced the Rosicrucians and the idea of forbidden knowledge granting eternal life to the Gothic genre. He was also the father of Mary Shelley, and his St. Leon was a major inspiration for her Frankenstein.
  • William Beckford (1760-1844). Author of Vathek (1786) and started the subgenre of Orientalist Gothic, set in a mythical Orient inspired by The Arabian Nights.
  • 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, as well as introducing the Wandering Jew archetype to the genre.

    Pre-Victorian Nineteenth Century 
  • James Hogg (1770–1835). Best known for The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), which gave us the Doppelgänger. The eponymous Sinner supposedly makes a Deal with the Devil, but it is never clear if this is true or all in his head. Also makes chilling use of Psychological Horror and "Rashomon"-Style.
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). The most important German author of Gothic fiction. His novel The Devil's Elixirs (1815) is a classic of the genre. His best known work, however, is the short story The Nutcracker (1816).
  • Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824). Author of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), a notable use of the Nested Story style to tell a complex tale.
  • Washington Irving (1783-1859): Author of numerous classic tales of terror. Some, like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), have rational explanations a la Radcliffe. Others, like The Devil And Tom Walker (1824), are purely supernatural.
  • Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786-1820). Wrote The Heroine (1813), a notable parody of the genre. Particularly of the Changeling Fantasy plots which had been used by several gothic novels. In these novels, characters of seemingly modest backgrounds often found themselves secret progeny of noble and/or affluent families. Barrett's "heroine", Cherry Wilkinson, is a farmer's daughter and an avid reader of gothic novels. She convinces herself that she is heiress Cherubina de Willoughby and embarks on a series of quixotic misadventures.
  • Lord Byron (1788-1824). His Byronic Hero was a major contribution to Gothic fiction. The type was introduced in the narrative poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-1818). His poem The Giaour (1813) is one of the earliest depictions of vampires in fiction. The satiric poem Don Juan (1818-1824) is not part of the genre, however.
  • John William Polidori (1795-1821). He wrote the first vampire novel, The Vampyre (1819).
  • Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Her novel Frankenstein (1818) gave us Frankenstein's Monster. She is also considered the first Science Fiction writer.
  • Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). Infamous Russian horror writer of Viy, The Nose, and Nevsky Prospekt.


  • Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936). Credited with updating the ghost story for the 20th century. His works often used Sealed Evil in a Can. His short stories were collected in volumes such as Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary (1904), and its sequel More Ghost Stories (1911).
  • Gaston Leroux (1868-1927): author of The Phantom of the Opera (1909).
  • Edith Wharton (1862-1937): Disciple of Henry James. Wrote classic ghost stories, collected in volumes like Tales Of Men And Ghosts (1910).
  • Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951). Influential writer of ghost stories. His better known works are The Willows (1907) and The Wendigo(1910). Both are influential works in the Cosmic Horror Story genre.
  • William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918). Author of The House on the Borderland (1908), The Night Land (1912), and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913).
  • Hugh Walpole (1884-1941). Author in several genres. His better known gothic horror tale is Portrait of a Man With Red Hair (1925) …and yes, he is the descendant of Horace Walpole, the Trope Maker and author of The Castle of Otranto as earlier mentioned.
  • Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952). Prolific author of gothic novels, horror tales, and historical novels. Several of her stories were collected posthumously in the collection Kecksies And Other Twilight Tales (1976). Her own life story was pretty horrific as well.
  • Dennis Wheatley (1890 - 1977), author of The Devil Rides Out.
  • Guy Endore (1900-1970): Author of the classic werewolf novel, The Werewolf Of Paris (1933).
  • William Sloane (1906-1974): Author of two classic horror novels, To Walk The Night (1937) and The Edge Of Running Water (1939, filmed as The Devil Commands in 1941 with Boris Karloff).
  • Daphne du Maurier (1908-1989). Granddaughter of the above-mentioned George du Maurier; wrote Rebecca (1938), Jamaica Inn (1936) and the original short story on which The Birds was based.
  • Two novels by Sarah Waters — Affinity and The Little Stranger — are homages to the genre; the latter, in particular, is heavily reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw.

    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.
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers is an Affectionate Parody of Gothic Horror and vampire movies, particularly those in the Hammer Horror tradition.
  • In Fabric is an homage to 1970s Gothic Horror. The witch-like staff of the mysterious department store enhance this aesthetic.
  • The Man with Two Brains is a modern day take on and an Affectionate Parody of Gothic Horror.
  • Guillermo del Toro's films The Devil's Backbone and Crimson Peak are both gothic ghost tales, set in a remote orphanage in 1930s Spain and a decaying mansion in Victorian England, respectively. His other films consistently draw influence from classic gothic fiction as well even if they occupy various other genres themselves.
  • Of all the possible films, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom goes in this route in the climax. The third act is set in a opulent Edwardian English estate on a dark and stormy night, with the characters being stalked by a bloodthirsty creature which is a product of freakish genetic mad science and slinks around on all fours in the shadows like a nightmarish werewolf/vampire.
  • The Innocents - an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw - is set entirely in an elegant country mansion (aside from a brief interview scene at the start). Although it is a ghost story, there is enough ambiguity to suggest that Miss Giddens could be driven mad by the vastness of the house. She often only sees the ghost at a distance, reaffirming that anything could be hidden in such a large house.
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? uses a Hollywood mansion to this effect - which houses two White Dwarf Starlets. One is confined to a wheelchair and the other is a recluse, and the horror comes from how the latter can torture her sister emotionally. The film was going to be shot in colour, but the lead actress Bette Davis pushed for it to be done in black and white to help with the Gothic image.
  • Baby Jane's Spiritual Successor Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte utilises a Southern Gothic touch for a decaying plantation house. Charlotte becomes convinced that the house is haunted by her murdered lover Drew.
  • Gaslight is more of a thriller than a horror, but it involves a woman being driven mad while in a spacious London manor.
  • The Reflecting Skin puts a midwestern spin on gothic fiction by setting a tale of serial killers, lust, and madness amongst amber waves of grain and rotting barns.
  • 2020's Let Him Go plays on this, by having a plot set in the mid-1960's where a couple journeys into the hills and valleys of North Dakota to confront a family living in an off-grid, dilapidated residence, with a mother and her child (the couple's grandson) being held against their will after her new husband moved them there. The climax of the film takes place during the middle of the night in the mansion, as one of the characters to rescue the mother and her child.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dark Shadows, the Trope Maker for the Supernatural Soap Opera, is famous for using every Gothic trope in the book. It had everything from witches, vampires, a werewolf, a Frankenstein's Monster, ghosts, Captain Ersatzes of Dorian Gray and Jekyll and Hyde, and even an Eldritch Abomination.
  • One of the more popular and influential eras of Doctor Who — specifically, seasons 12, 13 and 14, 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.
  • Hannibal is a strange cross between this and a Police Procedural.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, a reimagining of Shirley Jackson's novel, about a family who moved to a haunted Gothic-style mansion and subsequently had their lives torn apart by the horrifying events that transpired there. The series places as much emphasis on family drama as it does ghosts.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor, which is a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, as well as being an adaptation of another Henry James story, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes. An American au pair with a Dark and Troubled Past takes a job at an old English country manor, caring for two young children who have experienced their fair share of trauma and exhibit disturbing behaviors. The house is definitely haunted in this adaptation (in The Turn of the Screw things are kept more ambiguous), although the story also places a lot of emphasis on romantic drama and family tragedy; one character actually states in-universe that the series is more a love story than a ghost story, and Gothic fiction frequently blends the two.

    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.
  • A Touch of Evil is an Adventure Board Game set in a secluded village of Shadowbrook in the early 19th century, where player-controlled heroes battle classic Gothic villains like vampires, ghosts, and reanimated monsters.
  • Magic: The Gathering has the plane of Innistrad which is heavily influenced by many Gothic horror tropes with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and a host of other monsters preying on the humans unfortunate enough to live there. The only thing keeping them at bay is the magic of the Church of Avacyn... which has been slowly getting weaker thanks to Avacyn's disappearance.
  • Pacesetter's game Chill.
  • In Warhammer, the entire faction of Vampire Counts is very much based on this trope.

    Video Games 
  • Haunting Ground is essentially a Gothic horror game — a young, delicate heroine ventures/flees through an incredibly elaborate castle inhabited only by Frankensteinian 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 Reconstruction of Gothic horror, with the player character being thrown into the blood-obsessed Victorian city of Yharnam to fight Beasts, which are Yharnamites claimed by a plague outbreak of lycanthropy that turns them into what werewolves would look like if they got a healthy dose of Chernobyl radiation. All of this is pretty effective at making those moldy old Victorian horror tropes suddenly scary again. Midway through the game, though, you dive head-first into outright Lovecraft Lite territort. And while it is often said that the Gothic is merely a Red Herring to distract from the game's Lovecraftian nature, it is ultimately more of creative blend of these two — and many others — flavors of horror (cf. this video examining the essential Gothic themes in Bloodborne).
  • 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. Diablo II and Diablo III continued the trend, although also expanding it to other environments as well.
  • The original Max Payne is not itself a Gothic horror, but the eponymous protagonist's Private Eye Monologue is satiated with Gothic imagery.
  • Darkest Dungeon takes place entirely on old estate grounds, ruins, and woodlands that evoke the classic Gothic horror environment, coupling it with aspects of Cosmic Horror: the player's heroes do battle with zombie and undead, as well as corrupted wildlife, twisted plant life and fungi, demonic pig-men, and monstrous humanoid fish-people, as well as facing the deformed and twisted cultists of the titular Darkest Dungeon. The Crimson Court expansion takes it even further into the realms of Gothic horror, with vampires being the main enemy, although these vampires are akin to blood-sucking insects who wear the trappings and thin demeanor of nobility to cover up their depraved cruelty and ravenous hunger.
  • Hideo Kojima's love of Hammer Horror movies caused him to incorporate prominent gothic elements in Metal Gear, despite it being largely Real Robot Genre. Both Psycho Mantis and Gray Fox's storylines in Metal Gear Solid are gothic horror (Mantis is mutilated, masked, was traumatised by the destruction of his Russian village, and possesses women; Gray Fox is a technologically-revived corpse likened to a 'ghost'), and Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 feature a vampire and a ghost respectively.
  • The Castlevania series is saturated with Gothic imagery, from having Count Dracula himself as the recurring Big Bad, to being set in giant castles haunted by classic Gothic monsters like skeletons, vampires, and Animated Armor.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a Spiritual Successor to Castlevania, inherits most of its Gothic trappings, but is rooted in medieval demonology instead of vampire lore.
  • A Vampyre Story is a parody/deconstruction of the feminine Gothic fiction (exemplified by The Mysteries of Udolpho and Jane Eyre): the protagonist Mona is a 19 years-old opera starlet who is seduced by an ancient vampire, locked up in his castle, and turned undead herself. However, the vampire is nowhere close to a brooding Byronic Hero but is actually rather pathetic and gets killed off early in the story, returning as a ghost, while Mona is largely uninterested in romance and just wants to resume her opera career, refusing to accept that she has been turned into an immortal blood-sucker and to generally be terrified of anything.



Video Example(s):

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



Bloodborne starts off as a Reconstruction of Gothic horror, with the player character being thrown into the blood-obsessed Victorian city of Yharnam to fight Beasts, which are Yharnamites claimed by a plague outbreak of lycanthropy that turns them into what werewolves would look like if they got a healthy dose of Chernobyl radiation. All of this is pretty effective at making those moldy old Victorian horror tropes suddenly scary again. Midway through the game, though, you dive head-first into outright Lovecraft Lite territort. And while it is often said that the Gothic is merely a Red Herring to distract from the game's Lovecraftian nature, it is ultimately more of creative blend of these two â and many others â flavors of horror.

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