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Southern Gothic

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The creepy, gothic version of the rural Southeast 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 media, characterized by bleak settings in the Deep South, flawed (and often disturbing) characters, and the darker side of the Southeastern United States 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 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. Combined with the insularity and tense social order of the region, this provided the writers who established this genre with ample inspiration.

See also Deep South, Southern Gothic's mother trope, and Hillbilly Horrors. Compare Lovecraft Country, Campbell Country, Nordic Noir, and Überwald. Compare and Contrast Weird West, 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, 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
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eve's Bayou is a drama based on affairs with a hint of the supernatural. It takes place in a Louisiana setting.
  • House of 1000 Corpses where 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 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).
  • The Waterboy is comedic example where the decay and depressing state of the world is used to highlight Bobby's cheerful and optimistic demeanor.
  • Winter's Bone
  • 1972 horror film The Other, along with the book it was based on. Set New England during 1935, and starring Creepy Twins, Niles and Holland Perry, it features old, decaying buildings, sun-parched yet oddly idyllic scenery, and horrible secrets.
  • The Haunted Mansion movie invokes this aesthetic, with its empty and decaying house.
  • 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.


  • Elements in the works of Mark Twain could be considered the Ur-Example.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's stories often have ambiguous or abstract settings, but "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 
    • "The Gold-Bug" is set near Charleston, South Carolina, and although it turns out to be a different kind of story altogether, Legrand's background and behavior initially hint at Gothic themes.
    • For that matter, although Poe himself was born in Boston, he lived this trope.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird has elements of this, as well as being set in the Deep South.
    • Carson McCullers' stories are soaked in this. She once accused Harper Lee of "poaching on her preserve".
  • 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.
  • A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner. Emily Grierson's mansion, a symbol of better days long since past, is described in the most wretched terms of rot and decay—and the house hides terrible secrets.
  • 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.
  • Pretty much anything by Flannery O’Connor.
  • 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 Priests 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.

     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.
  • 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 set in the fictional town of Trinity, South Carolina.


  • 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.
  • "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.


     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 
  • Most of the rural locations in Louisiana as seen in Left 4 Dead 2, though admittedly, a Zombie Apocalypse did strike down these places.
  • Fallout 3's Point Lookout DLC could qualify for this, as it's an area crawling with mutant hicks, radioactive swamps, and deadly conspiracies.
  • Ghost Hunter: you get to visit a haunted swamp filled with ghostly rednecks at one point.
  • The main plot of Hunt: Showdown involves the secret war of a Monster Hunter Organization and evil spirits somewhere deep South, apparently Louisiana because many of the maps have extensive swamps and abandoned plantations.
  • Nancy Drew:
    • The game Ghost of Thornton Hall dives into this full force, taking place in a creepy decaying plantation home.
    • Legend of the Crystal Skull has elements of this trope as well.
  • Kentucky Route Zero nails the dusty beige old crossroad where you'll likely encounter the Devil between this and Magical Realism while setting itself in the modern decay of the South after the the Great Recession of 2008.
  • Grand Theft Auto 2: The Rednecks' RV park. The roads are even replaced by dirt paths.
  • Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend. New Orleans is under a voodoo curse and the player character must free the inhabitants. The ghosts of murder victims can be conjured up for a chat to gather clues and the grounds of the heroine's home include a family mausoleum and a swamp with an aligator in it.
  • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is set in a derelict plantation in the fictional town of Dulvey, Louisiana, returning the franchise to its original survival horror roots in rural America.
  • Red Dead Redemption II has Lemoyne, the game's Fictional Counterpart to the real life State of Louisiana. It includes several elements of this trope mixed with The Big Easy, including several dilapidated set pieces of falling apart mansions, churches, and even an old Civil War battlefield slowly sinking into the mix of swamp mud and red clay dirt.
    • This is especially true with the several haunted locations around the state, the creepy denizens of the swamp, and the (true) tales of the Nite Folk. And that's on top of the swamp's already spooky atmosphere, particularly after dark.
    • Oh, and in Saint Denis, if you follow the writing on the wall properly, you can encounter a Nosferatu-looking vampire feeding on his latest victim.

     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 newest canon, Dixieland Nightmare Magic, is set in a heavily gothic North Florida, full of witchcraft and religiously significant anomalous objects.

     Western Animation 


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