Guillermo Del Toro returns to the classic gothic horror genre with his latest endeavor, Crimson Peak (see review here). In the 30s and 40s, Hollywood churned out a large number of gothic romance and horror films, including popular classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which were all released in 1931). Taking a look at the last couple decades, several directors have brought back the genre with rousing success, lead by notable filmmakers like Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)
The adaptation of Anne Rice’s widely popular vampire novel revived the decades old gothic, vampire genre, inspiring countless other books and films. Interview with the Vampire focused on the moral and spiritual existence of vampirism, delving deeply into topics like the consequences of immortality, the fear of loneliness and the dangers of excess. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and a young Kirsten Dunst all give great performances in a thoughtful and beautiful gothic romance that improves upon each viewing.
SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)
Tim Burton is undoubtedly the largest producer of modern gothic films today, and his iconic, stylistic aesthetic choices are instantly recognizable. In 1999 Burton took on the popular legend of Sleepy Hollow, and besides the hit T.V. show, it is the only successful adaptation of the fable. Frequent collaborator Johnny Depp plays one of his most understated, but nevertheless rewarding, roles as the slightly neurotic and anxious Ichabod Crane. Though not as gory as a Quentin Tarantino film, Sleepy Hollow fully dives into horror territory, as decapitated heads are often pictured alongside an unsettling score from Danny Elfman.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Arguably Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, Pan’s Labyrinth brilliantly combines fantasy with fascism in this tale of a young princess struggling against her evil stepfather and bizarre trials. Visually breathtaking and horrifying creepy, Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect modern gothic horror film, twisting the delicate fabric of reality and myth to create a truly remarkable experience.
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola brought to life one of the oldest and most renowned horror villains in a classic return to the 1930s genre. Stylish, dramatic and grandiose, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of the quintessential gothic horror film. Gary Oldman’s performance as the titular character rivals the famous portrayals of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, as he stalks, threatens and taunts the main heroes draped in fabulous costumes.
SWEENEY TOOD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)
Returning to form a few years later, Tim Burton succeeds yet again with a deliciously bloody adaptation of the popular Sondheim musical. Johnny Depp again plays the titular character as wrongly imprisoned barber who enacts revenge by slitting the throats of anyone who wants a shave. Although it might seem as though a musical could never be a horror film, Sweeney Todd’s grim setting, haunting score and gory murders fit perfectly in the genre.
THE OTHERS (2001)
A seemingly old-fashioned ghost story, The Others narrates the story of a widow trying to take care of her photosensitive children as ghosts invade her home. Unfortunately hindered by a plot twist at the end, The Others does not view as well the second time around. However, a captivating performance from Nicole Kidman and great production design have helped to make the film more enduring in retrospect.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
Another adaptation of a play, The Woman in Black stars Daniel Radcliffe in one of his first roles outside the Harry Potter films. Already chilling and terrifying as a play, the film takes all of the best elements from the stage and intensifies them to create a thoroughly spine-tingling and hair-raising experience, utilizing its Victorian setting as its greatest advantage.
MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (1994)
Sir Kenneth Branagh took a short time away from his goal to adapt every Shakespeare play to create a faithful adaptation of the famous Mary Shelley novel. Channeling the classic 1931 original, Branagh befittingly included dark thunderstorms, clashing lightening bolts and steaming cauldrons into Frankenstein. As in the book, the underlying story belongs with Robert De Niro’s conscious and reflective monster, as the tragic Byrion hero of the film.
THE ORPHANAGE (2007)
Although Guillermo Del Toro did not direct The Orphanage, his influence shines through in the role of producer. J.A. Bayona writes a heartbreaking tale about lost children in search of a maternal figure. Melancholy visuals and high suspense transfix audiences as they are left to figure out what is real and what is supernatural. At times more tragic than scary, The Orphanage still earns a place as a well made gothic horror film.
CORPSE BRIDE (2005)
Although it is the only animated movie on this list, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride fits the mold of a gothic horror film through its dark visuals, Victorian setting and morbid story. The film illustrates Burton’s return to macabre stop motion animation, as it shows Johnny Depp’s Victor accidentally marrying Helena Bonham Carter’s dead Emily, and attempting to return to the land of the living. Poignant and bittersweet, Corpse Bride is also more delicate and affecting than the other films in this list, and probably the best way to end a gothic horror movie marathon.