It seems a fascination with the uncanny, skin-crawling sensations of the gothic narrative has led to this genre’s continuation and success throughout the centuries. First characterized by Horace Walpole’s novel, “Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764, the gothic genre is recognizable through the portrayal of medieval architecture or opulent modern architecture; ‘madness’ and the fear, confusion, or desperation mental illness can contribute to; sexual sin, often depicted through incest or sexual violence; supernatural aspects, including specters and monsters; and lastly, evil intentioned (usually) men of power and societal rank.
Often depicted in a Victorian-esque narrative, gender roles play a key part in the haunting storylines, with women usually portrayed as victims of a brutal, masculine threat to either their bodies or minds. This is not always the case, though, and as this genre evolved, the threats to sanity and personhood have been able to become less strictly gendered, but usually still containing components of dominance, submission and resistance within the relationships. usually colliding with the horror genre through these varying elements, the two are oftentimes conflated. Though these two work together nicely, the gothic is distinct in the sense of terror or great unease it creates, along with a confusion of good and evil–seen notably in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein’s Monster”. The complications of the gothic narrative that cannot be so easily simplified into categories of right, wrong, good or bad make this genre all the more intriguing.
In popular culture, the gothic can be seen within two of my favorite shows, “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor”. These stories are both set in large secluded mansions and the question of what is real and what is not is often at play for the characters within the stories. “The Haunting of Bly Manor”draws from aspects of Henry James’ “The Turn of The Screw”, a gothic novella written in 1898; stepping further back into history, the well known novel of Charlotte Bronte’s, “Jane Eyre,” published in 1847, also shares aspects of the gothic narrative. The character of Bertha is depicted as a madwoman, a danger to society and also as an unknown phantom haunting Thorfeild. The fear and even disgust of mental illness that Rochester portrays is typical for this genre, due to the idea that there is something inherently sinister surrounding a lost mind. Jane, surrounded by mysterious sounds and an older, wealthy, yet secretive and moody ‘bachelor’ who desires her, finds herself very much within a gothic story. A novel published later, in 1966, by Jean Rhys, titled “Wide Sargasso Sea,” reimagines the character of Bertha in Jane Eyre. Antoinette–which we find out is Bertha’s true name–is the main character in this novel that revolves around shameful secrets; implications of mental illness; sexual sin related to lust; and the ‘other’ characterized not by supernatural occurrences but by cultural and racial differences seen as threats to ‘civilized’ (white) life. Prominent in this novel is also the power struggle between Rochester and Antoinette having to do with presumptions of gender roles based on masculine dominance and feminie passivity. All these shared elements are–I would dare say–common in everyday life; it seems aspects of the gothic genre through the form of secrets, sin, and power struggles pervade both fiction and reality.
This genre is so intertwined with our entertainment and culture, yet, can seem to be elusive or niche. Taking part in novels, films, and TV shows, the gothic can often be an undercurrent to more prominent genres of perhaps horror, fantasy, or historical fiction. Elusive or not, this adjective does seem to fit nicely with the mysterious genre it encompasses.
As the Halloween weekend rolls in and quarantine keeps the trick-or-treaters away, it becomes clear that the beginning of the holiday season this year isn’t exactly brimming with the same excitement you’d expect. And while there are no new horror movies or costume parties to keep you occupied this Saturday, Netflix’s Ratched might just be the perfect binge to have you feeling spooked this Halloween season.
The first season of Ryan Murphy’s Ratched comes with 8 episodes that will leave your gut twisting as you watch Mildred Ratched’s story unfold. From beginning to end, there is never any possibility of guessing what’s coming next or who’s story will be more horrific. While it’s not Murphy’s best work, it still feels like the perfect show to snuggle up with your quarantine buddy to while you drink your pumpkin spice latte and indulge in Halloween candy.
“They really are God’s angels.”
Ratched series – S1 E1
The first episode begins in 1947 and introduces us to Nurse Mildred Ratched, who quickly becomes one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever encountered in entertainment. Within one episode, her ability to manipulate any situation to her liking becomes apparent, and from this moment on you are buckled into a story that will never cease to unsettle you.
The extravagance of costume and setting create an almost whimsical feeling, and the play on colors throughout the first episode alone sets the stage for eight episodes of a very different kind of color theory coming into play.
More than that, though, the soundtrack creates the perfect sense of unease throughout the entire season, so even when nothing particularly bad is coming, you can’t help but watch and wait for the worst to happen.
“It haunts me.”
Ratched series – S1 E3
Dr. Richard Hanover, a secondary protagonist throughout the story, provides the most unsettling storyline, in my opinion, that offers the majority of the gore. Episode three of the first season reveals the haunting backstory that brought him to where he is now in the timeline.
This episode alone is enough to make your skin crawl and your night sleepless. The intensity of the gore, the fear of what was happening in the moment, and the reality of the horror story made it difficult to watch — I actually had to pause and come back to finish it after a break.
Despite the difficulty, I actually found the horror of the episode up to par with the expectations I had going in, and even though it made me uneasy, it offered that gory horror experience I think we’ve all been lacking this spooky season.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be constantly running from who you really are.”
Netflix Ratched series – S1 Introduction
One of the most significant themes to the story is that you can’t run from your past, and that becomes apparent as it follows Nurse Ratched through all her experiences, hinders her love life, and shapes her into a person who cannot be trusted.
Not only Nurse Ratched though, but almost every character proves at some point they are not who they seem.
Edmund Tolleson is another complex character in the story, because his mass murder habits played against his inability to kill a rooster for a meal gives the audience the opportunity to feel sympathetic for him, and even question him as a villain in the story as he runs away from all he’s faced and all he’s done.
He is put in contrast to Dolly, a seemingly innocent nurse-in-training who has the killer instinct Tolleson can’t always stomach. By weaving Tolleson and Dolly’s storylines together, Murphy creates internal distress with the audience that offers less of that horror-driven fear, and more of a slow burn of anxiety as the mass-murderer gains a soul while the nurse-in-training seems to lose hers.
“This little game of cat and mouse.”
Ratched series – S1 E2
Critics seem to think the show is too disjointed and offers a disappointing storytelling experience. The first season only received a 61% on RottenTomatoes.
However, as someone who’s not looking at the show from the perspective of what it’s loosely based on, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and as someone who recognizes and embraces the unreliable narrator that trends throughout the season, I’d have to give it a much higher percentage.
While not every storyline seems necessary to the plot, the constant question in the back of my mind of; Does Nurse Ratched mean what she’s saying or not? left me sitting on the edge of my seat, clicking “next episode” over and over as I tried to figure out who she really was. This constant questioning and unreliability left plenty of room for several pieces of the story that most of the audience probably would have never saw coming.
Ratched was automatically signed on with two seasons, but I think they could have easily left the story at its current ending. The plot twist and the largely unanswered question of who will catch who first is the perfect unsettling ending to leave the audience with.
It checks all the boxes for a Halloween fright, even if it is a bit too extravagant at times with the editing, and somewhat hard to follow with the main character who does whatever she has to to get what she wants, even if it means confusing the audience.
Overall, season one of Ratched gets 4 out of 5 spooks from me.
Monsters born in the Golden Age of Universal Pictures get a new breath of life with Leigh Whannell’s new film
IT’S ALIVE! Director Leigh Whannell (“Saw,” “Upgrade”) has already been praised with multiple reviews for his latest film’s fresh take on a classic story. “The Invisible Man,” a remake of the 1933 film of the same name, was released on February 28th. The original film was a part of the classic Universal Pictures monster brigade, which featured several legends in horror, including Frankenstein’s Monster and Count Dracula.
Recent attempts have been made to revive the quintessential monster universe (“Dracula Untold, “The Wolfman”) but Whannell’s film is the first of those films projected to do well critically and in the box office. But why try so hard to reanimate the dead? Unlike Victor Frankenstein, it’s out of love, respect and paying homage to the birth of the horror industry. The classic monster movies deserve their time in the spotlight, even if it must come almost 100 years too late.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan
Is there a remake? Yes! “The Invisible Man” (dir. Leigh Whannell, 2020)
Based on the classic H.G. Wells novel of the same name, “The Invisible Man” follows scientist Jack Griffin as he works to reverse an experiment that has left him invisible. But the chemicals have made his mind warped and twisted, leading him down a path of madness, death and destruction.
Why You Should Watch It: James Whale was one of the only openly gay directors during his career as a filmmaker (1930-1941). This was essentially unheard of at the time and his bravery and solidarity in his sexuality were partially responsible for a movie being made about his last days. Whale was a groundbreaking director with a vision for the macabre. The film itself has also been hailed for its achievements in visual effects. Claude Rains (the actor portraying Dr. Griffin) was applauded for his vocal skills, as his character was either unseen or bandaged for the entirety of the run time. Overall, it’s one of the more critically acclaimed of the monster universe.
The Mummy (1932)
Director: Karl Freund
Starring: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners
Is there a remake? Two loosely based remakes are “The Mummy” (dir. Stephen Sommers, 1999) and “The Mummy” (dir. Alex Kurtzman, 2017)
British archeologists uncover the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Imhotep and one of the men reads from the ominous Scroll of Thoth found in his tomb. The mummified royal rises, causing the man who read the words to go mad. Ten years later, Imhotep returns, enamored by a woman who looks like the reincarnation of his long lost love.
Why You Should Watch It: Boris Karloff is an absolute legend. His reputation eventually led to him simply being credited as “Karloff.” The man needed no introduction. In addition to the incredible talent, the film does some really astonishing stuff with makeup and costumes, especially considering the time period. The scene in which Imhotep crumples back into his mummified state would be impressive even if it were done today. Even though the film revolves around British archeologists, the titular character is a person of color. (Karloff was of South Asian ancestry.) Yes, the film about Egypt is mostly whitewashed but sometimes you have to celebrate the wins no matter how small they may seem.
The Wolfman (1941)
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Béla Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers
Is there a remake? A convoluted answer: a direct remake is “The Wolfman” (dir. Joe Johnston, 2010) but it has inspired many other werewolf films including “An American Werewolf in London” (dir. John Landis, 1981), “The Howling” (dir. Joe Dante, 1981) and “Wolf” (dir. Mike Nichols, 1994)
Following the death of his brother, Larry Talbot returns to his hometown of Llanwelly, Wales, to mourn and reconcile with his father. Talbot soon becomes smitten with one of the women in the town and while taking her out for a stroll, he kills a wolf that is attacking another man. Terror and mystery ensue when Larry finds out that the animal he killed was no mere wolf and the bite he’d received during the scuffle will have much more dire consequences than he could have ever expected.
Why You Should Watch It: Werewolves are one of the best monster species in the horror genre. They’re grisly, terrifying and have many tropes already living about what they are and how to kill them. They’re as legendary as Dracula (arguably). To make it even better, this film features the wild fun of werewolves and the Dracula. (Béla Lugosi stars as Bela, one of the Roma people sharing fortunes with Larry.) It’s the best of both worlds. Lon Chaney Jr. had horror in his blood; his father was the iconic Lon Chaney, who played The Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera,” Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and the Hypnotist in “London After Midnight.” It’s wonderful to see the legacy live on.
The only thing harder than the transformation scene to sit through is the unflattering representation of the Romany people. It’s a very dated film and it’s important to recognize the problematic representation.
Director: Tod Browning
Starring: Béla Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners
Is there a remake? The closest to a direct remake is “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1992); both films drew from Bram Stoker’s original novel.
After hypnotizing a British soldier to be his slave, the darkly charming Count Dracula makes his way to Carfax Abbey in London. Once settled in his new home, Dracula terrorizes the town. He has his eyes set on Mina, leading her friends and family to battle this force of darkness in order to save her soul.
Why You Should Watch It: Bram Stoker’s renowned novel has been the source of nightmares for centuries. The only thing possibly more famous than the subject material is the man who brought the count to life. Béla Lugosi was essentially unheard of when he was offered the role of a lifetime. It jump started his career, leading to his roles in multiple horror films including “The Black Cat” “The Raven” and “Son of Frankenstein.” Dracula is the king of horror and this film was the first kingdom he ruled on the big screen.
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark
Is there a remake? There have been lots of renditions/inspirations but the most direct remake is “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 1994)
Based on the esteemed novel by Mary Shelley, this film follows a power-hungry scientist looking to use his own godly powers to create life. Despite warnings from his loved ones and colleagues, Dr. Victor Frankenstein brings a creature to life. The creature is innocent and childlike but society refuses to accept the “monster” they’ve deemed horrendous.
Why You Should Watch It: Mary Shelley birthed the legend of Frankenstein’s Monster whilst at a lake house with two of the most prominent male writers of her time (Percy Shelley and Lord Byron). Although her immortal tale has problematic elements, Shelley persevered against her male counterparts and won the writing competition they held between them. To me, she was a strong woman and writer in a time when women were supposed to be seen and not heard. Even today, her stories are resounding around the globe. In addition to the source material, the film is another by our dear friend Mr. Whale and Boris Karloff got his big break in horror with this film. Plus, both Frankenstein and the Creature are quite a bit more likable than they were portrayed in the novel. Overall, it’s a wonderful ode to Shelley and the dark world of horror.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester
Is there a remake? Not really; the closest adaptation was “The Bride” (dir. Franc Roddam, 1985)
Following the events of “Frankenstein” (1931), Dr. Frankenstein is recovering from his injuries as his Creature aimlessly wanders the land, longing for a friend. Dr. Frankenstein’s old mentor, Dr. Pretorius, returns to the disgraced Frankenstein and urges him to continue his experiments. The Creature finds his way back to his creator and gives him an opportunity to create again; he wants a mate.
Why You Should Watch It: In my opinion, I’ve saved the best for last. Of all of Whale’s films, this one is by far the closest to my heart. The Bride is arguably one of the most iconic movie characters ever and Elsa Lanchester is absolutely stunning. The only downside to this film is the fact that the Bride only has about five minutes of screen time, if that. But it’s fun, beautiful, innovative and features a glimpse of Lanchester as Mary Shelley herself! It checks a lot of boxes for me and, hopefully, it will for you, too.
Unfortunately, none of these films are available for free on any online platform (at least that I’m aware of). But you can rent them on YouTube, Google Play or iTunes anytime. There is also a bundle you can buy that contains all of the movies on this list!
Also be sure to catch Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man,” now in theaters!
Oz Perkins’s latest horror project reignites a Grimm look on life
Oz Perkins, director/writer of horror films “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” and “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” released his latest project in the genre on January 31st with “Gretel and Hansel.” It’s an even darker spin on the original Brothers Grimm tale that follows brother and sister, Hansel and Gretel respectively, as they get lost in the woods and stumble upon a house made of candy. Perkins’s film focuses more on Gretel’s story (hint the name) and her strange attachment to the eerie woman that has taken them under her wing.
“Hansel and Gretel” is a household name but how many people actually know how the story goes? Are people aware that the witch that lured the children into her home to fatten them up intentionally so that she can feast on their flesh? Do they know that Gretel turns the tables on the witch and pushes her into the fiery oven that was originally meant to cook the children?
Hopefully this makes you curious as to what other grisly facts lie in the stories told by the famous German brothers. I can tell you know that they don’t all end in “happily ever after…”
The Pied Piper
If you’re familiar with “Shrek: The Musical,” then your interpretation of the Pied Piper is a grumpy man that just wants his rats to dance. Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly as endearing.
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is supposedly based on true events. In 1284, a mysterious man dressed in colorful clothes promised the town of Hamelin, Germany that he could rid them of their rodent problem. Hoping the man was telling the truth, the town struck a deal with him. Later that night, the man played beautiful music from a fife, luring all the mice and rats to follow him. He led the rodents into the River Weser and the animals drowned in the water. Now free of their problem and regretting the promise of a large sum, the townspeople refused to pay the piper.
The piper grew angry and returned with a vengeance. When he came back to the town, he played his fife once more. Only this time, it wasn’t animals that were drawn to his sounds; it was the town’s children. Their mothers screamed and cried bitterly but the children only had ears for the music. 130 children are said to have followed the pied piper through the streets and into the faraway mountains. They were never seen again. To this day, the street that led the children through the town gate is called bunge-lose (drumless, soundless, quiet) because no dancing or music is allowed to honor the missing.
Fans of Disney’s “Tangled” will be delighted to know that the legendary Mother Gothel was originally in this old tale.
In the story, a couple is expecting a baby when the wife gets a desperate craving for a neighbor’s crop. The husband sneaks into the neighbor’s yard to steal some of the plants for his wife. He eventually gets caught by the owner of the house, Dame Gothel. In order to appease her, the husband must promise his newborn to the woman. Once the baby is in her possession, the enchantress locks the child in a tower.
Baby Rapunzel grows into a beautiful young woman, one that the king’s son falls in love with. He makes frequent visits to her tower, climbing her long hair to reach her window. Dame Gothel eventually finds out and enacts her revenge on the lovers. Gothel cuts Rapunzel’s hair, throws the prince from the tower, blinds him with the thorns in the rose bushes and banishes Rapunzel to the desert. Even though all hope seems lost, the prince eventually finds his way to Rapunzel and her tears magically heal his eyes. A charming happily ever after, if your idea of “happy” is marriage.
Rumpelstiltskin has made his way into pop culture on more than one occasion. In “Shrek 3,” he was an angry man who enjoyed wearing wigs and in the television show “Once Upon a Time,” he was a strangely sexy Robert Carlyle in crusty gold makeup. As you could’ve guessed, both adaptations are not true to the Grimm facts.
There once was a miller who swore to his king that his daughter could spin straw into gold, for reasons unknown; he was probably just a bad dad. The king was intrigued and decided to test the girl to see if it was true. Locked in a room full of straw and her life on the line, the girl cries bitter tears because she knows she cannot do what has been asked of her. A creature-like man makes his way into the room and claims that he can help the girl. He will spin the gold for a price: once for a necklace, twice for a ring and thrice for her first-born. She agrees and relishes in her “success.”
Over time, the girl marries the king and they have a baby. Upon the baby’s arrival, the girl, now queen, obviously doesn’t want to give up her baby. The man promises she can keep her baby if she can guess his name within three days. After the first two days, things didn’t look too good. However, a townsperson overhears the man speaking his name and tells the queen. The queen tells the man that his name is Rumpelstiltskin. He grows so enraged that he tears himself in two. Happy ending for the queen, not so much for the trickster.
Ah, our beloved blonde princess. Lots of renditions have been told of this poor servant girl, including the fantastic live-action with Lily James, but none are as bloody as the German version.
Much of the premise is the same as the Disney retelling. Cinderella is a sweet young woman that is stuck living with her evil stepmother and snotty stepsisters. They make her do horrid chores around the house and torment her with emotional abuse. One day, the family is invited to a festival. Excited to go, Cinderella begins to get ready but is stopped by her stepmother, who claims Cinderella would be an embarrassment if she shows up. Upset, Cinderella runs to the tree that stands guard over her mother’s grave. She begs the tree to help her look presentable for the festival. The birds in the tree give her beautiful clothes, she dances with the prince, loses her shoe, blah blah blah.
When the royal party arrives to try the shoe on the women of the house, the stepsisters rush to put it on. After it doesn’t fit either of the sisters, the stepmother slices off one of their toes and hacks off the back of the other one’s heel in an attempt to make the shoe fit. Cinderella is proven to be the true owner of the shoe and is finally free of her wicked family. As punishment, the birds that aided Cinderella peck out the eyes of the sinister stepsisters. Gotta watch out for karma, right?
This odd, basically unheard-of tale makes the love and betrayal in “Game of Thrones” look like a preschool game.
It begins with a young man that wins the hand of a princess through his success in battle. The princess has one rather unusual demand; when one of them dies, the other must be buried alive with their body. The man reluctantly agrees, sure that it would be quite a long time before they’d have to worry about that. Soon after, the princess falls sick and dies. As promised, the prince is buried alive with his deceased wife. While waiting for death in the crypt, the prince is attacked by a snake. He chops the serpent up but another snake revives his dead comrade with magical leaves. The prince suddenly gets the idea to use the leaves on his beloved princess. It works and the princess comes back to life; a happy ending, right? In the words of Cher Horowitz: as if.
After the couple is reunited in the land of the living, they take a sea voyage to visit the prince’s father. Unfortunately for him, the princess falls in love with the sea captain and they plot the prince’s murder. The diabolical new lovers throw the prince off of the boat, drowning him in the sea. One loyal servant rows after his prince’s body and saves him by using the leaves. Alive once more, the prince teams up with his savior and they report the attempted murder. The treacherous princess and problematic new boyfriend are captured. They are executed for their crime against the prince. Happily ever after?
It’s the spookiest time of the year and for horror fans, ‘tis the season of ghosts, gore and games. However, the horror video game market may be lacking as we near the end of 2019.
This year is a horror game drought from large gaming studios. These large publishers, also AAA games, are hesitantly testing the waters of the genre. Like Frankenstein’s monster, horror is being brought back to life with the new franchises and quality remakes of classics. The success of the “Outlast” series, “Resident Evil 7” and the recent “Resident Evil 2” remake have introduced new players to old franchises and inspired unique storytelling within the industry. The real success story, though, lies with independent developers.
Large gaming studios, also AAA studios, have had financial success with the continuation of horror series, but indie games have drawn more critical praise. According to SteamSpy, the top selling horror game on the Steam marketplace is “Undertale,” with about 2 million copies owned. Undertale was created by one-man team Toby Fox, indie developer and creator of “Homestuck.” The game was funded through Kickstarter, raising over $50 thousand in 30 days.
The game was one of the breakout hits of 2015, receiving huge critical praise and commercial success. And “Undertale” isn’t a unique story.
“The Room,” a point and click puzzle game, has the most overwhelmingly positive reviews out of the horror games on Steam. This beats franchise titles like “Resident Evil,” “Left 4 Dead” and “Amnesia.” The game was developed and published by Fireproof Games, an 18-person team based in England that rocketed to fame with “The Room” series.
There are countless other stories like this. So, what’s the secret?
A lot of it has to do with the money, money, money. Players are sick of micro-transactions in mainstream games. Let’s face it, no one likes forking over money to big companies, especially after paying $50+ for the game in the first place. Big budget games have to draw a big profit and it’s easy to tell when a publisher values money over the game. Indie developers have smaller budgets, so while lack of resources is an issue, these games are often the passion projects of talented individuals.
Without the money for hyper-realistic graphics and flashy environments, indie games often rely on atmospheric elements to create the tension. This can be as obvious as the monster making a creepy noise or just really going all in on violins in the soundtrack. The science backs this up; simple is better.
According to an article from the Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces, straightforward setups often create unpredictable situations, which provide the best scares. Researchers observed people playing “Slender: The Eight Pages,” another indie game that hit stardom. There’s not much to it; you’re in a forest and you need to collect eight pages before the Slender Man gets you. Easy, right?
Despite the low definition graphics and simple gameplay, participants gave “Slender” a high fear rating and were in a state of suspense for most of their playtime.
What was so scary about a bunch of pixels? The sound effects and the music. These elements created a suspenseful atmosphere that heightened the participants’ fear, even when there was nothing disturbing on screen. Visuals certainly play a large role in the fear factor of a horror game, but there’s a difference between a good-looking horror movie and a good-looking horror game.
Watching a movie is a passive experience. The audience can’t influence the decisions of the characters or follow the story at their own pace. With nothing to do but sit and watch, realistic or interesting visuals are essential to a good horror movie. Within a game, though, the player has an active role and is reacting to everything around them. The game needs an immersive environment so the scares feel real to the player.
These atmospheric elements fulfill the adrenaline rush we seek from horror games and indie games often add new twists on these elements, providing a more interesting scare. AAA studios may be scratching their heads on how to sell a mainstream horror game but there are still plenty of undiscovered options.
Looking for your next favorite horror game? Try picking out a title you’ve never heard of before. If anything, you’re guaranteed a horror experience you’ve never had before.