Hide yourself from the spiteful sun, my friends; it’s World Goth Day! Whether you’re part of the subculture or just an admirer from afar, there’s plenty to admire within the goth scene, especially when it comes to film. While we most typically associate gothic films with the horror genre, the color black, and gray Victorian spires, the subculture lends itself to more than just an aesthetic, it’s also a feeling. Steeped in longing sensations, a good measure of suffering and the outsider perspective of the Byronic hero, goth movies are open-hearted expressions of humanity’s deepest, darkest, and most passionate thoughts and actions. And enshrouded in all of this is a biting, and often ironic sense of humor about that which we cannot control. So please, dust off your favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees album and join us as we count down the 10 best goth movies.
There was a brief moment in time when Underworld was the coolest blend of action and horror that could conceivably exist within the still young 21st century. A gothic answer to The Matrix with vampires, werewolves, and far less character development, Len Wiseman’s film practically cemented itself in the minds of teenagers whose lives could be changed by walking into Hot Topic. The star-crossed lovers deal has allowed for many a gothic romance to thrive and the one between vampiric Death Dealer Selene and human Michael Corvin isn’t so different from the ones we’ve seen countless times before. But that’s the thing about Underworld, it’s so easily accessible that it’s a fitting stepping stone into gothic movies and the larger subculture. Underworld is familiarity drenched in black leather, basic horror mythology, and the gothic architecture of a city that could exist anyplace or anytime. Despite its faults, or perhaps because of them, Underworld is an introduction into the blend of Victorian culture, mythology, and modernity necessary to keeping the goth subculture alive. There isn’t much in the way of substance, but we’ll feed on it anyway.
6. The Phantom of the Opera
The original French romance-drama turned Universal horror icon was given new life in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical. Joel Schumacher’s adaptation utilized nearly all of Webber’s ideas and placed them upon a lavish canvas of film. While musical theater isn’t something traditionally associate with goth subculture, music is inherent to its defining traits and reach. Webber’s musical shares similarities with a rock opera which helped the near century old story transition into the 21st century. Gerard Butler’s Phantom is about as Byronic as they come- torn between his love of Christine and his desire to remain hidden in the shadows, the Phantom is an identifiable figure for anyone who’s ever felt a romantic pull to someone who seems far out of their reach. Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera eschews all subtly and instead relies on emotional visibility that can only be communicated through music. While its aesthetic doesn’t transfer into the modern era as easily as some of these other picks, the theme of vulnerability at the core of the film has allowed the film to become a modern cult classic and one of the defining romances within the world of goth.
Despite the importance of individualism and outsider-ness, belonging is naturally a key element of any subculture. The protagonists of the previous films on this list all found some measure of companionship that allowed for a transformative experience. But sometimes, belonging is an impossibility, sometimes (as sad as it may be) some people are just too out of touch with societal norms to even function on any level we find acceptable. Enter Lucky McKee’s May, a sunny day horror film that is strangely optimistic in its exploration of tragedy and its refusal to shy away from the brutality of unrequited feelings. May gazes into the queer acceptance that makes up much of the goth subculture and explores sexuality with an attention unlike any other horror film. The film, like Angela Bettis’ May, is filled with details that define the gothic, but these elements never gel together into something recognizable. May isn’t a recognizable member of the scene, and the film doesn’t fit cleanly into the goth, horror, or dark comedy label. Instead, McKee uses the trappings of the subculture to explore individual exclusion from the weird worlds that May is too strange to inhabit. May exposes the countercultural roots that proceed subculture. Not a goth, but an evolution of its elements, May doesn’t transform but simply comes to accept herself by herself.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
There are no points for originality for this one, but it would be impossible to discuss the best goth movies without considering Dracula. The very nature of the vampire has lent itself to so much to goth fashion, music, film, and design. If the road of life is filled with unavoidable trenches of loneliness, regret, and passion then immortality would only exacerbate those factors. Because of its undeniable influence, any adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famed vampire tale would make for a fitting entry, but it is Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula that really gets to the heart of the matter…so to speak. With the tagline and thematic mantra of “love never dies,” Coppola’s adaptation focuses on a man’s renouncement of God and embracement of darkness following a tragic miscommunication that leads to his wife’s death. Gary Oldman isn’t interested in filling the shoes of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee but in finding humanity in the monster and finding reason in darkness. In many ways, Coppola’s film is about communication. Part of this comes from the audience and their prior knowledge of the story, but also in communication or missed communication between lovers, enemies, and God himself. As a bridge constructed for understanding a cultural divide, it’s easy to see the relevance this film has on the goth subculture. There may be a us vs them separation, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula at least attempts to provide an explanation for the dark and reaches a conclusion that suggests that the divide may not be as great as we once assumed.
3. The Craft
There are few better atmospheres for communal isolation than the halls of high school. Andrew Fleming’s movie, The Craft examines the social hierarchies of high school through the lens of witchcraft. Sarah finds a sense of belonging within a small coven of like-minded girls who use their power to gain leverage within a system that rejects them. Their “craft” is an internal projection of the external signifiers that members of the goth subculture use to guard themselves; it is the use of “strange” as a protective barrier from the judgement that comes from being seen as nakedly strange in the face of normalcy. The coven’s leader, Nancy, loses empathy after engaging in a dangerous ritual, which speaks to the threat of becoming so detached from personal identity that the subculture becomes the self. While the film was released three years before Columbine, The Craft does speak to a growing public insecurity about outsiders and the discriminatory looks that would soon become even more associated with those dressed in black and engaged with the darker side of the world. While The Craft is rooted in 90s camp and propelled by an absolutely bonkers performance by Fairuza Balk, the film contains shades of what would soon become larger societal concerns.
2. Edward Scissorhands
There’s no director who has been more influenced by goth subculture than Tim Burton. The challenge here wasn’t finding a Burton film that best spoke to the interests and aesthetics surrounding goths, but in limiting the pick to one so this list wouldn’t become overrun with the work of a single director. There’s a measured amount of delight to found in Edward Scissorhands, mostly a result of the stark contrast between Burton’s pasty man-boy avatar and the pastel world of suburbia. Edward Scissorhands finds the beauty in abnormalcy when surrounded by normalcy, so it should come as no surprise that the film is considered one of the essential works within the subculture. There’s a quiet relatability to Ed. While many of our other goth protagonists cast long shadows perpetuated by myth and status, Ed is literally without a past, an imperfect figure created through a mechanical birth. It is through his humanity that his myth becomes created by the film’s end which sees our titular character partially transform the world into his image. Edwards Scissorhands is a gothic Jesus, and he just happens to be one of two.
1. The Crow
Life. Death. Rebirth. Alex Proyas’ The Crow is not only one of the greatest comic book adaptations but it’s also peak gothic cinema. Proyas’ effortless take on James O’Barr’s comic series, and the film’s tragic production which saw the death of Brandon Lee, propelled The Crow beyond its status as mere superhero movie and transformed it into a subcultural totem. A beacon of darkness, The Crow’s gothic nature drenches every frame, suffocating the external manifestation of light and allowing the eventual internal manifestation of beauty to be all the more powerful. Nearly every element that has defined the goth subculture can be seen in this film, and what didn’t exist before its arrival surely became a key part of the scene in its wake. And why wouldn’t it? The Crow wasn’t interested in looking at goths as outsiders but in portraying a world where gothic spires and rain-drenched streets were as normal as white picket fences and rose gardens. And at the center of it all, was a second Gothic Jesus, one whose tragedy allowed for the emotional alignment of his audience instead of judgement that had allowed for so many other gothic protagonists to be labeled as monsters. Eric Draven’s white make-up and black leather getup aren’t simply a costume, but an expression of the love and anger he feels after his life is ripped away from him. For a youth culture born into an unstable world, a little make-up and black leather provided a stability that projected fear and a fragile beauty that could all be washed away in the rain. Draven’s transformation into the love and vengeance-seeking Crow is a coalescence of the aesthetic, music, and emotion that defined goth individuals during the 90s and beyond. The Crow provided a framework for goth subculture to not only be cool, but also a valid expression of the feelings and fears that drive us all.
Featured Image: Miramax Films