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What Are Gothic Movies?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

Gothic movies are those in a specific genre of film that attempts to recreate the themes and environments present in classic gothic literature. The themes often revolve around dark subjects such as obsessive emotional states, villainous family plots, evil and the supernatural, although there are many others and several variations. A defining feature of many gothic movies is the setting in which the characters exist, often acting as a character itself and providing both atmosphere and plot advancement. Since the start of the motion picture industry, there have been attempts to create film versions of classic gothic literature from the 18th and 19th centuries and to capture the essence of the genre in new tales set in modern times. These movies are considered different from horror movies in that they rarely use the same devices to create suspense, generally lack scenes involving large amounts of gore, and tend to focus more on the interaction between characters as points of tension or plot.

One of the areas of gothic literature that some say has been enhanced by gothic movies is the portrayal of the environment around the characters. Through the use of lighting and realistic sets, the movies are able to convey the dark sense of mystery that some settings should hold. Special effects in movies allow scenes of busy, ambivalent cities and tall castles that could not have truly existed but project the necessary emotions for the story. The setting acts as a player in many stories by isolating characters, drawing them together or hiding truths, so set design quickly became an important part of gothic movies.

People watching a gothic movie in a movie theater.
People watching a gothic movie in a movie theater.

The characters in gothic movies also are an important aspect of the genre. Just as the novels quickly established certain archetypes that played sometimes predictable roles in the plot, the movies reflected this same device. Certain actors were so well received as playing the hero, the virgin, the comic relief or the villain that they became typecast in the archetypal roles and repeated the performance over the course of many movies.

Many Gothic movies are set in the ruins of Medieval castles.
Many Gothic movies are set in the ruins of Medieval castles.

Some gothic movies also were able to create a sense of suspense when dealing with elements of the supernatural that often appear in the fiction. Early on, makeup and other effects were used to portray a deformed character or a ghost. Later, special effects were able to better materialize the supernatural characters and events in believable ways that would help to maintain the suspension of disbelief for the viewers. More complex special effects permitted the wildly fantastical scenes described in some novels to be illustrated as they were originally envisioned.

Supernatural themes are popular in Gothic movies.
Supernatural themes are popular in Gothic movies.

A few areas in which gothic movies have not always been successful in their translation from paper to screen include stories with long ancestral histories and novels with first-person expositions. Some romantic plots are revealed in such complex ways that it can be difficult to relay the information without constant narration. There also are some gothic movies that fail to capture the subtext of a story, such as the fear of sexuality in Victorian writings, the oppression of women or criticism of social hierarchies.

Discussion Comments


In relation to the last paragraph, I have noticed that of these gothic films don't seem to translate well when they're on the big screen.

While most of the points in the last paragraph ring true, I think another reason for this is because unlike books, where you can create as many pages as you want, movies have some serious time constraints, and you can't always fit all of the material into two hours.


@Chmander - That's a perfect example of a gothic film. Besides, it's directed by Tim Burton, correct? If so, he's known for making a lot of "gothic" themed movies. Several of these include The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Frankenweenie. While I'm not a big fan of his movies, I really appreciate the work that he puts into them. Most (if not all) of his films are in stop motion, which is a painstaking and time consuming process.


Would Edward Scissorhands be an example of a gothic movie? Not only does it have a very creepy setting, but even more so, it has some very serious themes. The story revolves around a creation named Edward Scissorhands who literally has scissors for hands. Most of the movie deals with him trying to fit into society, and the ridicule and hatred that he has to face.

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    • People watching a gothic movie in a movie theater.
      By: Scott Griessel
      People watching a gothic movie in a movie theater.
    • Many Gothic movies are set in the ruins of Medieval castles.
      By: stephane41
      Many Gothic movies are set in the ruins of Medieval castles.
    • Supernatural themes are popular in Gothic movies.
      By: Vitalez
      Supernatural themes are popular in Gothic movies.