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Gothic and Modern Horror

A creepy compendium of tales of woe, their origins and gothic influences through the ages.

Gothic origins

'Gothic' was first used in a pejorative sense by Renaissance designers to describe the 'barbaric' architecture typical of the late medieval area.

18th century English author, Horace Walpole, was obsessed with the medieval Gothic architecture and built his own house in that style, sparking a Gothic revival in England which spread to the continent.

Walpole's 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, triggered as part of the emergence of the English Gothic novel, was the term 'Gothic' as being derived from the novel's medieval setting and its focus on gothic architecture.

Walpole's novel is now widely considered to be the very first of it's genre, Gothic Fiction.

Subsequently, writers used influence of Warpole's works to create their own tales of woe, created subgenres of Gothic Fiction, including the famed Gothic Horror.

In 1818, Mary Shelley's debut novel, Frankenstein, marked a shift in gothic horror by changing the typical villain from an evil man or supernatural creature into a physical embodiment of human folly, brought to life via the power of science.

Edgar Allan Poe is often thought of one of the earliest practitioners of the short story and considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre.

Edgar Allan Poe and his influence on the genre of Gothic Horror

Poe (1809-1849) was a US author and poet, most famously known for his poem, The Raven. He was an important and innovative reinterpretor of the Gothic Fiction genre in the mid 19th century.

Poe focused less on the traditional elements of previous Gothic stories and more on the psychology of his characters in their descent into madness. He believed that terror was a legitimate literary subject.

Poe's influence is seen throughout a plethora of modern horror as his works encapsulates the drowning sorrow and despair of losing the one you love as well as the relatability of how grief can push one into their own irrationality and descent into madness.

One of the best adaptations of Poe's works was none other than the cult classic gothic film, The Crow. Based on the comic of the same name, which was in turn inspired by Poe's poem The Raven. The movie has the same dark atmosphere and ambiance one would expect of the macabre author. The use of Poe's darkness and grungy aesthetic created a film truly unique and gothic as gothic can be.

Other adaptations to Poe's work can be seen anywhere from The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror Season 2 Episode 3, to the Tim Burton stop-animation film Vincent, and soon to be released Netflix series, Fall of the House of Usher, said to be based on Poe's creepy works.

Modern Horror - Why do we love it?

Whilst more classic horror creates more heart-pounding suspense, the more modern and recent horror movies and series incorporate new contemporary elements and themes like serial killers, drama, fantasy and sci-fi, often with a hint of comedy.

The slasher films of the 80s and 90s became cult classics and elicited a cult following of the violent and gorey films.

So why do we love it so much?

Horror entices a Flight or Flight response from us which in turn comes with a boost of adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine. Once the brain then processes the surroundings and conclude that the experience is not a genuine threat, we reach a level of enjoyment and craving to experience it again. It's all science! (Calm down, Mary Shelley, not that kind of science).

Low key horror and gothic horror recommendations based on complete personal opinion (Books, Series, Games and Movies)
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (Novel)- Of course. Seeing as I literally collect different prints of the book, it would be wrong of me to NOT recommend this. See my blog on Dracula Untold: the history of Dracula for a more in depth guide of why I think it's the best.

  • Until Dawn (PS4)- I have no idea why but I lost my shit at this game. The simple fact that the game altars itself to what you choose in your psychology session based on your worst fears is wicked. Being able to have a choice in the outcome of the game was pretty groovy.

  • Haunting of Hill House (Netflix series)- I think this series was beautifully done. Incorporating genuinely very frightening themes with a gorgeous amount of depth and a deep dive into mental health and the effects of things like substance abuse etc... just overall fab. it was a refreshing an unexpected tale that was stunningly executed. Jump scares - yes. Tears - Also yes.

  • The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (Poem) - relatively self explanatory. Poe was and will forever remain a master of the gothic horror genre. His tale of The Raven follows a descent into madness of the main character after the loss of a loved one. A poem I have loved since I saw that episode of the Simpsons when I was 7. (And yes, I can recite the whole thing).

  • The Witch (Movie) - Directed by Robert Eggers, the Witch creates one of the creepiest and most eerie atmospheres which is in my opinion, essential for any horror film. Whilst it may not be full of gore and jump scares, the investment on the atmosphere of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat and feeling majorly ick the whole time.

Fun Fact: Robert Eggers also directs and co-writes a plethora of Edgar Allan Poe based movies such as The Lighthouse and The Tell Tale Heart and his upcoming movie Nosferatu (2024) is based off the works of Bram Stoker. A true gothic horror genius!

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