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Southern Gothic

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The creepy, gothic version of the rural Southern United States. Scenes show dying vegetation, decaying plantations, rusty farm implements, foreboding swamps with something lurking within, and frighteningly expressionless folk standing around doing...nothing, except staring at the protagonists.

The Southern Gothic is its own subgenre of Gothic Horror, characterized by bleak settings in the Deep South, flawed (and often disturbing) characters, and the darker side of the South including racism, sexism, and Barefoot Poverty. If you're in Louisiana, Hollywood Voodoo might make an appearance.

Unlike The Savage South where the southern areas are teeming with life (most of which wants you dead), Southern Gothic settings have a constant feel of decay, death, and malaise. Anything living there will feel unnatural on top of possibly being very dangerous. Supernatural elements are popular, especially with themes of the undead or "things that should not be" instead of the typical wild animals and hostile natives usually seen in The Savage South. Daylight Horror in stifling heat backed by the endless drone of cicadas is as common as horror dwelling in the dark far from city lights.


This trope is deeply rooted in American history. For most of civilization fabric tended to be either uncomfortable (wool, linen) or very expensive (silk), and for early adopters, cotton farming was like being able to grow gold. However, soil degradation and the development of overseas competition (particularly from India and Egypt, and to a lesser extent Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina) caused profits to plummet, and many Southern families built mansions only to find them impossible to maintain. As a result, the South became littered with decrepit properties occupied by bitter, downwardly-mobile planters. These symbols of ruined aristocracy, combined with the insular and rigid structure of the suffering families, inspired the genre's themes of physical and social decay.

The themes of moral decay are informed by the American institution of slavery, which was intrinsic to the culture and economy of the antebellum South. Nobody could remain unaffected by this systemic evil, even if they did not directly participate. Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil, and writers are hard-pressed to imagine any supernatural horror that does not pale in comparison to the the Real Life abuses inflicted under it. In a historical setting where it is still in force, the worst of it may be hidden, but paranoia reigns as the place is implicitly filled with angry ghosts and living monsters. Over a century after its abolition, a Southern Gothic setting may invoke the history of slavery to kindle fear that the ghosts are still angry, that Evil Tainted the Place and the land itself is stained by the sins committed there. May invoke Religious Horror when these sins clash with the religious and spiritual heritage of the South. And if the sins are hideous enough, Satan himself may show up in the form of Southern Gothic Satan.


Note that this is not simply any scary story that happens to be set in the southern United States.

See also Deep South, Southern Gothic's mother trope, The Big Easy, and Hillbilly Horrors. Compare Lovecraft Country, Campbell Country, Nordic Noir, and Überwald. Compare and Contrast Weird West and Sinister Southwest, which could be thought of as the sun-scorched counterpart to the dark and humid rot of Southern Gothic. Though distinct in tone and setting, the two can blend in border areas between the Deep South and The Wild West (which is to say, mostly Texas, though Oklahoma can do in a pinch). Gothic Country Music is often inspired by this aesthetic.


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     Anime and Manga 

  • Me and the Devil Blues is loosely based on the life of legendary blues player Robert Johnson. Set in the Deep South during the Great Depression, it follows a man named RJ who barters away his soul at a crossroads for the ability to play perfectly.

     Comic Books 

  • Von Herling, Vampire Hunter is set in a small town in the remote wooded mountains of East Tennessee, where the titular protagonist has to locate and destroy a vampire.
  • "The Crooked Man," a Hellboy story inspired by the works of Manly Wade Wellman (particularly the Silver John stories), is set somewhere in the Appalachians in the 1950s. Although it features a plot and characters that wouldn't be out of place in Lovecraft Country, the theme of the past catching up with both the flawed main character note  and his community is signature Southern.
  • Swamp Thing has some elements of this, with, for instance, its monster protagonist who was once a scientist in Louisiana and—in its '80s run—plenty of Alan Moore-style grittiness and esoteria.
  • Preacher dips into this at times.
  • In Scare Tactics, a clan of ghouls dwell in the Appalachians, and have been involved in a decades-long feud with a clan of hillbilly werewolves.
  • Harrow County is the epitome of this trope, with its rural southern setting, witch protagonist, and supporting cast of Eldritch Abominations and other supernatural entities.
  • The cursed City with No Name where The Goon is set is consistently implied to be somewhere in the southern United States, and one story involved the ghosts of slaves rising up from the swamp to serve a sorceress. The Goon was able to override her control by talking the ghosts into unionizing, as unions within the city fell under his control, and he was then able to put them to rest.


  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the Old South be full of vampires who attack and kill Lincoln's family, incite a civil war, and eventually have Lincoln murdered.
  • The Beguiled is set entirely in a Southern plantation house/women's seminary in the midst of the Civil War, and deals with the tensions and eventual violence which are stirred up when a wounded Union soldier is laid up there.
  • Children of the Corn is a rare non-Southern example (it's set in Nebraska) with an Amish feel; however, the decay, staring unnatural inhabitants and eerie isolation are still present.
  • Like the Donald Ray Pollock book it's based on, the 2020 film The Devil All the Time depicts its southern Ohio/West Virginia setting in the grittiest manner possible, complete with serial killers, blood sacrifices, and a spider-handling preacher.
  • Eve's Bayou is a drama based on hidden affairs and family secrets with a hint of the supernatural. It takes place in Louisiana in the 1960s and concerns a prominent, aristocratic Creole family with plenty to hide.
  • The Haunted Mansion invokes this aesthetic, with its empty and decaying plantation-style house surrounded by swamps. The racist history of the South is also lightly touched on, with a doomed romance between the house's white owner and a black woman, sabotaged by the scheming butler.
  • House of 1000 Corpses: When it's not full of wild near-tribal crazies, everything is decaying, depressing and/or dilapidated.
  • Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte is set in a once-grand plantation house that's now decaying and about to be bulldozed. The protagonist may or may not be seeing the ghost of her lover who was murdered nearly forty years ago.
  • Phantasm has deliberate shades of this alongside Lovecraft Country, as the series is implied to take place somewhere in the South. The overgrown rural areas, huge, decaying houses, and remote locations the protagonists find themselves in take cues from classic Southern Gothic, while the sterile mausoleums borrow heavily from Lovecraft. Don Coscarelli may be from Southern California, but he's a noted fan of Joe R. Lansdale and all of his films display this influence.
  • The first part of the film version of Interview with the Vampire takes place in and around 18th and 19th-century New Orleans. Given that it's a vampire story based on an Anne Rice book, plenty of gothicism ensures.
  • The 1955 movie The Night of the Hunter, set in rural West Virginia with a Bible-thumping serial killer as an antagonist, is an early and iconic film example.
  • The Skeleton Key has this feel, with the primary setting being an old, run-down plantation house in Louisiana, owned by an old, run-down couple. There's also a bit of Hoodoo mysticism thrown in for an extra creepy factor which later becomes a major plot point.
  • Stoker, though set in Connecticut, was filmed in Tennessee, and takes on a low-key, manicured version of the associated tropes (albeit populated with Fake Americans).
  • Southern Comfort also has this in mind, being set in the Louisiana swamps and following a platoon of National Guardsmen being stalked by a gang of hostile Cajuns.
  • Sugar Hill (1974) is a blaxploitation/revenge movie take on this, being set in The Big Easy and featuring generous helpings of Hollywood Voodoo, with zombies who are supposed to have been slaves in life, drowned in the swamp while trying to escape captivity. The movie also deals - albeit not very subtly - with the continued legacy of racism in the American South, represented by movie's villains, a cartel of white drug-dealers who prey on the black community.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a Southern Gothic Slasher Movie, complete with a big decaying house inhabited by a family of Hillbilly Horrors. The subsequent films in the series qualify to varying degrees as well.
  • The Waterboy is comedic example where the decay and depressing state of the world is used to highlight Bobby's cheerful and optimistic demeanor.
  • Just about any film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, especially the 1951 version of A Streetcar Named Desire (starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando) and the 1958 version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman) will make the most of the sweltering Louisiana setting, twisted relationships, and simmering sexual tension.
  • Winter's Bone: The setting is an unfriendly, twisted town in the Missouri Ozarks, with an eerie swamp full of twisted decay nearby. There are also supernatural elements, and bits of folklore and legend are woven into the novel.
  • John Huston's 1979 adaptation of Flannery O’Connor's classic Southern Gothic novel Wise Blood is itself a classic of the genre on film.


  • Elements in the works of Mark Twain could be considered the Ur-Example.
  • Though he was born in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his life in Virginia and Baltimore and essentially lived this trope. While his stories themselves often have ambiguous or abstract settings, "The Fall of the House of Usher" checks a lot of the thematic boxes—aristocrats in decline, an all-pervading sense of physical and spiritual decay, isolation, insanity, and yes, incest.note 
  • William Faulkner is widely considered Trope Codifier for the genre, and Southern Gothic themes pervade virtually all his work. Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury are two major novel-length examples, while his short story "A Rose for Emily" gives a classic Gothic setting in the form of the title character's mansion: symbolic of better days but described in the most wretched terms of rot and decay—and hiding terrible secrets within.
  • After Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor is pretty much regarded as the queen of the Southern Gothic. Absolutely everything she wrote fits soundly within the genre, though she herself may have disagreed; she once wrote that "[a]nything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
  • Carson McCullers' stories and novels, mostly published in the 1940s, are soaked in this and helped codify the genre. She once accused Harper Lee of "poaching on her preserve".
  • As indicated in the prior example, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has elements of this, with its Deep South setting, its concern with the legacy of Southern racism, and a mystery component involving a spooky house.
  • Likewise, Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote dabbled in the Southern Gothic with works like his debut novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, and was similarly accused (by Gore Vidal this time) of plagiarizing McCullers.
  • Eudora Welty was a contemporary of Faulkner and McCullers whose work was often grouped with theirs under the Southern Gothic umbrella, though she herself resisted the classification, famously saying "They better not call me that!"
  • Anne Rice's Blackwood Farm has more mausoleums than people, not to mention an entire house sunk to the second story in a swamp.
    • Pretty much everything Anne Rice does is Southern Gothic—with an emphasis on the Gothic part.
  • George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream is very much this. Nineteenth century, steamers in the South, vampires with slaves and a creepy mansion.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu abandons the traditional New England as a setting for monstrous buried secrets, wandering Southwards to the dank swamps of Louisiana, where Cthulhu's cultists gather for celebration with orgies and human sacrifices.
    • "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (that'd be the story that ends with "You fool, Warren is dead!") is also set in the Big Cypress of southern Florida.
  • John Saul set his horror novel The Right Hand of Evil in backwoods Louisiana and The Unloved in South Carolina.
  • Robert E. Howard's short story "Black Canaan" fits here. Also "Pigeons from Hell", which adds Hollywood Voodoo to the mix.
  • Cherie Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds mixes this with Magic Realism is a story of a girl who sees ghosts dealing with the legacy of her great-great grandfather, an evil sorcerer. In fact, most of Priest's work fits here.
  • Many of the novels by V. C. Andrews.
  • Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre.
  • Shane Berryhill's Zora Banks Urban Fantasy series is a modernized example with Chattanooga, TN's genteel Southern heritage contrasted against its modern-day sleaze and supernatural crime.
  • The Caster Chronicles is not as horror-y as the classic model, but features a lot of the same atmosphere and elements, showing the Deep South as being full of things that aren't what they seem, that can't be explained, and that are often very dangerous.
  • Eden Green is a modern take on the genre, mixing smartphone GPS and mysterious needle monsters. It also takes place in Gothic, an expy of the author's home city of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  • Charlaine Harris' The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, the TV series based on them and her non-supernatural Lily Bard mystery series all fit in here.
  • Hellboy: Emerald Hell takes place in the swamps around Enigma, Georgia where Hellboy has to find a missing woman Sarah Nail and keep her safe from the former backwoods preacher Brother Jester, who seeks revenge against Sarah's father. In the swamps Hellboy finds allies in swamp witches, Brother Jester's former apprentice, and a lost town of mutants against the horrors of the Emerald Hell such as a pair of beautiful but murderous brothers, a giant tree-woman and her "daughters" that kill men to feed it's roots, and man-eating swamp gators. A lot of man-eating swamp gators.
  • Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories are Fantasy Americana works set in an Appalachia, haunted by monsters, ghosts, and witchcraft. John himself, however, is always up to the task of keeping people safe with his quick wits and Magic Music.
  • Toni Morrison's Beloved can be read as a slightly postmodern take on the Southern Gothic novel, complete with a haunted house with a tragic history, a ghost/revenant, and a woman who is considered to be mad. It's also a brutal and heartbreaking story about the legacy of slavery in America.
  • Jesmyn Ward's novels frequently showcase Southern Gothic themes from an African American perspective.
  • Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time is a particularly gritty 21st-century example, which was also adapted into a film.
  • Daniel Woodrell—author of the books which were adapted into the films Winter's Bone and Ride with the Devil—usually puts out Southern Gothic-adjacent work set in and around the Missouri Ozarks.
  • While many of Cormac McCarthy's most famous works are more Sinister Southwest than this, his first several novels were all set in Appalachia and dipped deeply into Southern Gothic themes. Given that McCarthy grew up in Tennessee and was majorly influenced by William Faulkner, this makes perfect sense.

     Live-Action TV 
  • American Horror Story: Coven, which takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana. And American Horror Story: Freak Show takes place in Jupiter, Florida in 1952 (back when Jupiter was still part of the South, rather than the Northern-and-Cuban sprawl emanating from Miami). American Horror Story: Roanoke takes place in rural North Carolina and has so far included hillbilly stereotypes and extremely violent ghosts.
  • The [adult swim] series The Heart She Holler wallows in the clichés of the genre, gleefully cranking the trashiness and degeneracy Up to Eleven.
  • Justified has the Truth family, a household full of brash, maladjusted criminals in rural Kentucky.
  • True Detective: The first season features two detectives investigating an occult-themed serial killing in the suburban and rural areas surrounding New Orleans. Although nothing is definitively supernatural, it's very much portrayed as a southern version of Lovecraft Country, with Thomas Ligotti being a major influence.
  • The Walking Dead dove headfirst into this territory the moment the survivors left the Atlanta Metro Area.
  • The Originals is set in storied and beautiful New Orleans. It weaves her extremely eventful history into the narrative, and makes use of the sometimes macabre beauty of the city's streets, cemeteries, and churches for visual interest. The story also ventures out into the surrounding rural areas of Louisiana—whose swamps and woods are both very different from the city, yet still have a similarly spooky beauty.
  • As with the novels, True Blood is set in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps. The show focuses on the town's inhabitants (including the main protagonist) encountering vampires and other supernatural creatures. One of the characters is an undead Confederate veteran.
  • Outcast, about Kyle Barnes, who lives in a small West Virginia town plagued by demonic possessions fits this trope. It helps that the comic it's based on was created by Robert Kirkman, who also created The Walking Dead.
  • American Gothic (1995) set in the fictional town of Trinity, South Carolina.
  • Much like the comic it's based on, Preacher does this a lot, dealing with Christianity-based supernatural forces while taking place in the South, especially Texas and Louisiana.

  • Sons of Perdition fits this trope to a T.
  • A lot of the imagery in Beyoncé's visual special for her album Lemonade falls into this, much of it being shot in Louisiana.
  • The country song "Southern Gothic" by Dan Tyminski has heavy religious and political overtones, but it presents them using imagery that absolutely lives up to the title. And that's without counting the music video itself.
    Blackbird on the old church steeple
    Spanish moss hangin' in the settin' sun
    Every house has got a Bible and a loaded gun
  • Some of Delta Rae's music videos fall into this, particularly "Bottom of the River".
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' music includes many songs that were heavily inspired by southern gothic themes. Nick himself also wrote a novel in the genre, And The Ass Saw The Angel.
  • "Shadows" by Alabama rapper Yelawolf is a rare fusion of horrorcore and Country Rap, as the narrative spares no detail in describing the everyday horrors of rural Southern life (drugs, crime, and crushing poverty) with mention of ghosts, demons, goblins, The Fair Folk, and The Grim Reaper.
  • The Bobbie Gentry song "Fancy", later made famous when covered by Reba McEntire is all about the titular Fancy, a wealthy woman with a mansion in a Georgia and a stately flat-house in New York, remembering her past in poverty in rural New Orleans. After her father runs off leaving her family destitute, her terminally ill mother, unable to provide for her and her infant sibling, is forced to turn the then 18 year old Fancy over to prostitution, using the last of their money to buy Fancy a Red Dress, to give her daughter a fighting chance, with Fancy remembering the final words her mother tells her "Here's your one chance Fancy, don't let me down!" before regrettably forcing her onto the street, never to see her again. Shortly after this Fancy learns that her baby sibling has been taken by social services and her mother has died from her illness. Fancy uses her beauty and charm to seduce her way to becoming a rich woman. At the same time she comes to terms with what her mother had to do to ensure her daughter's survival.
  • Marilyn Manson's The Pale Emperor has a strong influence from southern gothic rock.
  • Some of Tom Waits' songs edge into this genre, along with Gothic Country Music. "Don't Go Into That Barn" is probably the best fit.
    Behind the porticoed house of a long dead farm
    They found the falling down timbers
    Of a spooky old barn
    Out there like a slave ship upside down
    Wrecked beneath the waves of grain
    When the river is low
    They find old bones and
    When they plow they always dig up chains
  • Pretty much everything by gothic country artist Jay Munly fits here, with the bulk of his lyrics concerning various degenerates and grotesques living godforsaken lives in the post-war South. His most recent project, Munly and the Lupercalians, adds Fractured Fairy Tale and Fantasy Americana into the mix, with their first album being a darkly comical retelling of Peter and the Wolf.


     Professional Wrestling 

  • The Wyatt Family - a Charles Manson-meets-True Detective stable of evil southern cultists - play upon this in a way that's so legitimately chilling that it's probably inappropriate for what is, ostensibly, family entertainment.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Rage Across Appalachia, a supplemental book for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, runs on this trope. Memorable examples of horror from the book include the Bledsons, a rural family of bane-possessed men, and the Pigeon River Howlers, a bluegrass band made up of Black Spiral Dancers who corrupt their audiences through music and dancing.
  • Realms Of Cthulhu, by Reality Blurs, is a Savage Worlds setting that uses Charleston, South Carolina, as the default location for its Cosmic Horror adventures.


     Theme Parks 

     Video Games 

     Web Original 

  • Marble Hornets takes place in Alabama, mostly shot in abandoned and wooded areas. Nobody is who you think they are, and the forest is hiding something supernatural.
  • The SCP Foundation's Dixieland Nightmare Magic canon is set in a heavily gothic North Florida, full of witchcraft and religiously significant anomalous objects.
  • Alastor from Hazbin Hotel has a hint of this, being a demon who was a serial killer in 1920's New Orleans when he was alive. There are also subtle implications that his powers have a connection to hoodoo.

     Western Animation 

  • Scooby-Doo has visited these once in a while. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is one of the best examples of the trope.
    • Scooby and Shaggy both have ancestral (probably on mother sides) southern gothic homes. As depicted in "Scooby's Roots" and "Boo Brothers".
  • Played with on King of the Hill when we get to meet Bill Dauterive's family. He's from Louisiana and his family home is a typical crumbling plantation with weird family members and a secret. In this case barbecue sauce, but still.
  • Featured in Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation.
    Babs: (donning a Frankenstein's monster costume and adopting a Boris Karloff voice) Nice place to live, if you've got a bolt through your neck.
    Buster: Rope it in, Boris.
  • The DuckTales (2017) episode "The Forbidden Fountain of the Foreverglades!" has the Duck family going to Florida to look for a Fountain of Youth, crossing paths with Scrooge's old enemies from the past who have now turned to zombie-like beings (one freed from being cryogenically frozen and the other now a Frankenstein's Monster). Oh, and said fountain actually transfers youth instead of granting it, as was discovered by a hotel owner who is a really a 500-year-old conquistador who had been stealing the youths of innocent people by using the fountain's waters for the hotel's swimming pool.


Video Example(s):


Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Set after the events of Resident Evil 6, the games revolves around a foreboding, derelict plantation mansion belonging to the Baker family in Dulvey, Louisiana. The protagonist, a man named Ethan Winters, has made the trip to the abandoned estate to look for his wife Mia, who went missing in 2014 and was pronounced dead after she wasn't found. After three years, the supposedly dead Mia sent Ethan a message telling him to come get her, along with an address for the Baker house. Unfortunately, the estate is crawling with mutant creatures, and there is more than meets the eye with Mia and the Bakers.

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