by Rhias Hall
In the Spring of 2017, Eldergoth Central began sponsoring a series of film classes at Scarecrow Video in Seattle. Eldergoth Central is a Facebook group and online resource for aging members of the gothic and punk subcultures.
The first series, Gothic Film 101, covered the basics elements of Gothic film and literature. We showed five films – Jane Eyre (1943), The Haunting (1963), Sunset Boulevard (1949), and I Walked With A Zombie (1943). In the Fall of 2017 we followed that up with Gothic Film 101 part 2: Gothic Ghosts and shadows. For this series we showed The Innocents (1961), The Uninvited (1944) , and Crimson Peak (2015).
Although every film in the Gothic Film: 101 series is different from every other, they all fall into the same genre and are defined in both film and literature by one or more of these seven tropes.
1. The Gothic heroine is usually an innocent young woman who is placed in a setting which makes her uncomfortable, often physically (drafty old castle) as well as morally/spiritually. In some films, such as Sunset Boulevard, the heroine is a male character who fulfills the same role.
2. The Gothic hero is tall, dark, brooding, and emotionally unavailable. He is often hiding a tragic secret, or hiding from a dark past. The Gothic heroine with love him and fear him in equal measure. Hero characters are not always male; in The Haunting, the role of the hero is taken on by Hill House itself.
3. The Gothic environment is always in a state of decay, whether that be a crumbling mansion, a castle that has seen better days, or an antebellum plantation slowly being reclaimed by the swamps. This environment is reflected in the crumbling sanity or emotional state of at least one of the characters. In Roger Corman’s Fall of the House of Usher, both the mansion and the Usher family are falling into ruins.
4. Hints of deviance. The Gothic imagination is rife with family secrets, murders, unhappy marriages, bastard children, and incest – whether spelled out specifically, or hinted at. It is exemplified in the unhappy relationship between Thomas and Lucille Sharp in Crimson Peak, or the strange secret moments shared by the children in The Innocents.
5. The weather. A thunderclap is the ALL CAPS of the Gothic. When there is a deafening crash of thunder, it means that something big is happening, or is about to happen. Other popular weather options include sudden gusts of wind, mists and fogs, mysterious cold spots, and pretty much anything that happens on the moors including moonlight, sunlight, and the scent of wild heather.
6. The past intruding on the present. There is nothing a Gothic writer loves more than a good old-fashioned family curse, an evocative painting with a story to tell, or a ghostly apparition. The Gothic character cannot exist fully in the here and now, but must be constantly pursued and haunted by something from his or her past. In Rebecca, the young heroine is haunted by the fear that she will not measure up to the standards set by her husband’s deceased wife. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is haunted by his disastrous first marriage to a madwoman.
7. A hint of brimstone. Not every Gothic story has a supernatural element, but many of the true classics do. In Wuthering Heights, it is the ghostly palm print of a young woman on an icy windowpane. In I Walked With A Zombie, it is the mysterious power of the Voodoo priest. In Sunset Boulevard, it’s the ghostly presence of Norma Desmond, alive but haunting her own home.
In 2018, I will be continuing with the gothic films series, this time focusing on the seven films that constitute Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle. Instead of discussing how these films fit the definition of Gothic, I’ll be talking about their influence and background. We will have the chance to read the original works by Poe, learn about 1960’s low-budget horror films, and enjoy Vincent Price in his heyday as master of the macabre.
Gothic Film 201: Corman’s Poe Cycle, will be presented every 3rd Thursday at 8pm in the Scarecrow Video screening room.
· January 18th – House of Usher (1960)
· February 15th – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
· March 15th – Premature Burial (1962)
· April 17th – The Raven (1963)
· May 17th- Masque of the Red Death (1964)
· June 21st – Haunted Palace (1963)
We will take a break during July and August, and the series will resume in September
Rhias Hall is Scarecrow Video’s resident expert on all things gothic. She has been voted “staff member most likely to put a hex on you” for two years running, and currently spends her spare time swanning around cemeteries in hopes of being mistaken for a very large, very solid, ghost.