The Gothics

October 20, 2008 at 4:35 pm (Particle Physics) (, , , , , )

Here we are – my favorite genre.  The Gothics.  Now, to my mind, the gothics aren’t just true gothic horror (i.e., based on the stylings of the gothic novels.)  Instead, I count all the movies out there that take the subtle approach to stripping away the defenses of the characters and putting them in a horrific situation.  So my definition of Gothic includes the The Wolf Man (my personal favorite of the Universal flicks), Invisible Man, Frankenstein, The Spiral Staircase, House on Haunted Hill (watch the original *before* the remake – it’s infinitely better), and The Blair Witch Project.

As you might have gathered from the above, pretty much all of the Universal Horror flicks qualify, either as Gothics, or Monster Movies.

The gothics originated in novel form, however, with The Castle of Otranto and other novels.  They were named gothics for the medieval eras they were usually set in, and typically based off of the idea of a young person, isolated from the world around them, and in increasing danger from the forces around them, supernatural and otherwise.  It was only later that Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll were added in, expanding the genre and creating the true classics.  I highly recommend the annotated versions by Leonard Wolf, which include all manner of trivia – and information that explains some of the odd language of the time.

My personal favorite gothic novels are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula (in that order).  Of short stories, I’ve always been fond of The Monkey’s Paw, and Poe’s body of work.  While I mentioned Hell House under Torture Horror, I prefer to think of both – particularly the movie – as gothics of the 70’s.  The tone is far closer to the work of Stoker and Jackson than it is to Saw.  Other classics in the genre include Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” and King’s “The Shining” – though it should be noted that The Shining and Hell House are largely punched-up remakes of The Haunting of Hill House.

In films… the body of work is far, far too large to really work through.  Most of the novels I mentioned above have been filmed at least once, so I have to give personal nods to actors more than to particular films.  So here we have it – my personal favorite actors in the gothics.  You will rarely, if ever, go wrong looking these guys up.

  1. Boris Karloff – Perhaps the king of horror actors, Karloff is most always excellent.  You’ll rarely go wrong with his movies, but my personal preferences are Frankenstein, The Black Room, and The Terror (an underrated early start for Jack Nicholson, who later starred in The Shining.)
  2. Peter Lorre – God, I wish I could point you at more DVD gothics with his work.  Sadly… I can’t.  The one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’d call a true gothic – the Beast with Five Fingers – is delightfully wonderful.  Unfortunately, it’s not on DVD, only VHS.  This must be remedied… and the movie watched without paying over-much attention to the last 5 minutes, after the killer is caught.  If you like his work, he has several radio plays online available for free, and if you like the psychological thrillers you can’t do that much better than “M,” one of his classics.
  3. Vincent Price – You’ve no idea how hard it is to rate him below Peter Lorre, but I don’t have any film of Price’s that I love *quite* as much as Lorre’s “The Beast with Five Fingers.”  However, Price’s body of work rivals Karloff’s for size and skill.  House on Haunted Hill is just one of the most available pieces of his, and you may find “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” to be a fine example of the proto-slasher.  He portrayed the Invisible Man a few times, though not the first, and he played a key role in the first “The Fly.”
  4. Bela Lugosi – You may know him best as “Count… Dracula,” largely because Lugosi played the count thousands of times on the stage, and two immortal times on screen (the first time, and when he encountered Abbot & Costello…).  He had the wonderfully penetrating stare that made Dracula so powerful in the first film, and would have gone on to far better things… except for two little problems.  First, he had an ego that largely killed his career.  He turned down the role of Frankenstein’s Monster, which passed on to Karloff (perhaps creating Lugosi’s greatest professional rival outside of himself), and then he ended up in a number of poverty row productions that largely killed his career in larger studio films.  And then… well, to be blunt, Lugosi’s biggest problem was a heroine addiction that forced him to star in all of those poverty row productions so that he could keep his fix.  He died working for Ed Wood, a great fan who later would create the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space with the last of his Lugosi footage.
  5. Dario Argento – Not an actor, but an excellent Italian director with numerous credits to his name.  I haven’t watched many of his works, but he manages a very… Italian… take on the gothic horror (which often means that he has more sex in his films than they’d have ever gotten away with in the older films.)

So, what’s your favorite gothic movie or novel?  I’d love to get a few comments on this one – I’m always on the lookout for a good piece to fill my Netflix queue.

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