Horror fans are a more diverse bunch than people give us credit for. Listing off the different subgenres of horror would not be unlike Bubba talking about shrimp in Forrest Gump, and not every subgenre appeals to every horror fan. As such, there seem to be several different types of horror fan, each with their own preferences within the vast genre that is horror.
A very popular public preconception of horror fans is that they’re synonymous with goths. That’s not really true at all, but yes, unquestionably there are a lot of goths in the horror community. Again, not every horror fan is a goth, and not every goth is into horror (although most are to some degree, I would guess). But given that some of the major qualities of goth subculture are interests in the macabre, the spooky, the strange, the dark, and the misunderstood, it goes without saying that horror is a natural fit.
But which horror movies in particular appeal to goths? Which ones actually speak directly to the goth subculture and lifestyle? Slasher and splatter movies aren’t necessarily “gothy” movies (from this point on, I will not be using quotation marks around that word, as I hereby acknowledge it as an actual word despite the spellcheck disagreeing with me), which is not to say that goths can’t or don’t like them, but they tend not to have a particularly gothy vibe. Obviously, there’s Gothic horror (capital G), which is a subgenre that you might think I’m going to talking about exclusively in this article, but that’s not quite what I mean either. Yes, Gothic horror is the most obviously gothy subgenre of horror, with its emphasis on stylistic atmosphere (haunted castles, candlelit hallways, fog, etc.), but a horror film need not fall into the Gothic horror subgenre to be a gothy horror film. The common element between the movies I’ve chosen for this list seems to be some form of tragic, romantic, and/or poetic take on horror. But some of them were simply chosen mainly for the gothy visual style they have.
So what I’m going to do is discuss 13 movies that I think appeal directly to goth sensibilities. The title of this article should not be misconstrued as “the 13 best horror movies for goths” or anything so official. These are just 13 horror movies that I would strongly recommend every self-identified goth should see at some point. Whether aesthetically or thematically (and in most cases, both), these are horror films that just ooze goth. And speaking as someone who was, in my teen years, a full-on goth kid, some of these are movies I worshiped during the height of my goth years, and some are movies I would have worshiped had I seen them during those years. Make no mistake, I still love all of these movies (to varying degrees), and I do still consider myself somewhat of a goth at heart even if I don’t dress exclusively in all black and write morbid poetry anymore.
Just two more things before I start the list. First, I wanted to give an honorable mention to Beetlejuice just because Lydia is one of the true icons of goth culture. I decided not to count it because although it could be classified as a horror-comedy, I’m not sure if it leans enough toward the horror end of the spectrum to qualify for what I’m trying to do with this list, which is recommend horror movies to goths. It’s definitely much more of a comedy. Besides, there was a time when Tim Burton was considered the ultimate goth filmmaker, so I don’t think it’s really even worth going over his filmography since I’m going to guess that most goths are already well familiar with it. I’d even guess that Burton’s movies (the early ones, anyway) served as the gateway into goth culture for a lot of people. Granted, there’s been a lot of backlash against Tim Burton within the goth community in recent years, mostly due to the noticeable dip in quality of his films since the turn of the century, but also because he’s become associated with what some disparagingly refer to as “mall goths,” i.e. the kids whose only frame of reference for goth was Hot Topic back when Hot Topic was still a goth store (it seems like they cater much more to hipsters and nerds nowadays, what with all the ’90s nostalgia merchandise, Funko Pops, and whatnot). So yes, I’m also not mentioning any Tim Burton movies partially to avoid any potential “Tim Burton is fake goth” comments I might receive from the more stringent (i.e. elitist) goths who are still not over the briefly lived mall commodification of their subculture. (For the record, I still adore Tim Burton’s ’80s and ’90s movies.)
Secondly, I am also planning on doing similar articles for other divisions of horror fans in the future. Punks, metalheads, gore whores…they’ll all get their spotlight in due time. But for now, get your black eyeliner, fishnet stockings, and Sisters of Mercy records ready, because these are 13 horror movies I think every goth should see.
(These are listed chronologically, because again, this is NOT a ranking.)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene)
Not just an essential horror movie for goths, but obviously one of the essential horror movies in general, as this could even be argued as the first great horror film, and the one that really kicked off the entire movie genre. Many of what would later be adopted as classic tropes of the genre can be found here, but even beyond the dreamlike narrative involving a somnambulist used to carry out murders, the visual style of the film is what really sets it apart and makes it absolutely essential viewing for goths in particular. As perhaps the quintessential German expressionist film, its use of shadows (many of which were actually painted onto the sets rather than achieved through lighting), off-kilter architecture, angular sets, and bizarre perspective influenced countless movies to follow. Watch this movie and then try to imagine what The Nightmare Before Christmas would have looked like had The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari not paved the way.
Also, the central character of Cesare the somnambulist (pronounced “CHEZ-a-ray,” which might not be evident from watching the film given that it’s silent) is goth incarnate before goth was even a thing. Siouxsie Sioux, Peter Murphy, and Robert Smith all owe something to his look, as do fictional characters such as Edward Scissorhands, Eric Draven, and Dream.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
At first glance, it may seem like this shouldn’t be the Universal monster movie I choose for this list since it has a much campier, at times even comedic tone than, say, Frankenstein or Dracula, but there are a few things that I think make this film required viewing for goths. First of all, despite the campier tone, it still drips with Gothic atmosphere, which is always a plus. But more than any other monster movie — Universal or otherwise, I might argue — this film is about the misunderstood outcast, which is a huge theme in goth culture. The Monster learns how to talk this time around, and his quest for friendship — at first platonic, eventually romantic — is likely to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt alienated or unable to relate to most of their contemporaries.
The introduction of Ernest Thesiger’s delightfully eccentric (some might say flamboyant) Dr. Pretorius accounts for a good portion of the movie’s campier tendencies, but there is still a real element of tragedy in the story of Frankenstein’s Monster, who is portrayed even more sympathetically in this second outing. And once the titular Bride is finally revealed in the movie’s climactic scene, another goth icon is born. With her Nefertiti-inspired hair (complete with white streaks, which is now a staple of goth hairstyles), rigid movements, and legendary scream, the Bride needs only a few minutes of screen time to etch her place in horror iconography and become a huge influence on goth style in the process. The film also contains one of the best lines of dialogue in horror movie history, and one that I’m sure would resonate with goths: “We belong dead.”
The Seventh Victim (1943, Mark Robson)
This is a different sort of horror movie, even for a Val Lewton production. Whereas the better known movies made by RKO under Lewton’s supervision — Cat People, The Leopard Man, I Walked with a Zombie — were essentially low-budget exercises in seeing how effective a horror movie could be while showing the least amount of onscreen horror possible, this one is more of a psychological noir horror film. It doesn’t play up the “what you don’t see is scarier than what you do” aspect like the other Lewton productions, because there’s no monster or other physical terror to be hidden.
The movie is about two sisters and their connection to a Satanic cult in Greenwich Village. Aside from the supremely atmospheric tone typical of these Val Lewton movies, the primary reason this is a movie that every goth should see is the character of Jacqueline, the missing sister played hauntingly by Jean Brooks. Yet another character from early horror cinema who could be considered goth before goth existed, her straight, jet-black hair, all-black wardrobe, morose manner of speaking, and obsession with death (“I’ve always wanted to die…always,” she says laconically in a crucial scene) elevate The Seventh Victim into the highest echelon of gothy goodness.
Black Sunday [a.k.a. The Mask of Satan, a.k.a. Revenge of the Vampire] (1960, Mario Bava)
And here we have what might be the most Gothic (capital G) movie ever made, which of course makes it an obvious choice for essential viewing for goths. This was the first credited film of Mario Bava, one of the greatest and most influential directors in the history of the genre. The same year that Psycho innovated the modern horror film, Bava made this film and brought the Gothic horror film — by that point widely regarded as passé despite the popularity of Hammer — to its apex. If Gothic horror was on its way out, then at least it got to go out on the highest note imaginable.
This tale of witchcraft, Satanism, torture, and the undead is imbued with the most mesmerizing sense of Gothic and gothy doom by Bava’s unorthodox shots and absolutely stunning black-and-white cinematography (which he did himself in addition to directing). Filtered through anyone else’s lens, this might have been merely a creepy witch movie about revenge, but through Bava’s, it’s a goth masterpiece. This was also the breakthrough role for Barbara Steele, who is utterly transfixing in her dual role here. Her big, hypnotic eyes seem to penetrate through the screen as she’s put to death whilst vowing revenge in the film’s opening scene, and once again, her all-black attire coupled with the liberal use of fog makes for instantly iconic goth imagery.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964, José Mojica Marins)
Why Coffin Joe isn’t more widely idolized in the goth pantheon is a mystery to me. Director/star José Mojica Marins’s alter ego was the lead character in a series of films as well as the host of several horror television shows in Brazil, and everything about him screams goth god. This was his first appearance, and it alone should have been enough to grant him a permanent place in the black hearts of goths everywhere. I guess these movies just still aren’t that well known outside of their native Brazil, but that’s why I’m highlighting them here. All of the Coffin Joe movies are worth watching, but it’s this first one that’s truly essential.
First of all, just look at the title. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul. Is that not the gothiest movie title you’ve ever heard? In this film, Coffin Joe is an undertaker who is on a quest for a woman to bear his immortal child. He is also cursed by a witch, dresses in all black with a top hat and cape, brutally murders people (it’s really quite graphic by 1964 standards), and constantly talks about how much he despises religion. How can this not be essential viewing for goths? In some alternate reality, there must have been Coffin Joe t-shirts flying off the shelves of Hot Topic in the early 2000s.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964, Roger Corman)
Edgar Allan Poe could rightfully be called the Godfather of Goth. Vincent Price is possibly the most revered actor in the goth community. That Vincent Price starred in not just one but at least TEN Poe adaptations (depending on what you count as a Poe adaptation, given that some of them are very loose adaptations) is surely proof that there is such a thing as goth heaven. I could have chosen any number of them (The Pit and the Pendulum might be the most popular), but I’m going with The Masque of the Red Death. I think it’s the most fully realized of Roger Corman’s Poe cycle (it was also the last in the series, so maybe he thought he had perfected it with this film), complete with beautiful Gothic imagery and weird psychedelic sequences that on the surface seem like they shouldn’t fit, but they absolutely do.
It also features Vincent Price at his sinister best as the diabolical Prince Prospero. In addition to his wardrobe being full of all sorts of gothy designs, his expressed worldview is as bleak as most teen goth poetry, but far more charismatic in its delivery thanks to Price’s at times delirious but somehow fully convincing performance. “If you believe, you are gullible,” he exclaims authoritatively. “Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease, and Death…they rule this world.” A morbid yet thoroughly enjoyable gem, hence perfect for goths.
Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)
Like I said in the introduction, not every movie I’m discussing here falls into the category of Gothic horror or is even overt in is gothiness. Carrie might not seem like an obvious choice for this list, and in many ways it isn’t, but think about it: a friendless high school girl who is picked on and outcast for being “the weird girl” discovers that she has supernatural powers and uses them to revolt against both her cruel classmates and her strict religious mother. Sounds pretty damn gothy to me.
This was the very first Stephen King adaptation, and only a handful of the countless ones that followed have been on its level. The climactic scene of Carrie drenched in pig’s blood catatonic in her telekinetic rage walking through the burning high school gym is one of horror’s most enduring images, and I would suggest an iconic goth image too.
The Hunger (1983, Tony Scott)
David Bowie as a vampire. Do I need to continue?
Okay, I’ll sweeten the deal. The opening scene depicts Bowie and Catherine Deneuve on the prowl in a goth night club where Bauhaus is performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” arguably the gothiest song ever written. It may be the most “goth” scene in movie history. Bowie’s character soon mysteriously ages drastically over the course of a few days, which prompts a visit to a doctor played by Susan Sarandon, and a kind of bizarre love triangle (I didn’t set out to make a New Order reference there, but it just kind of happened) forms between the three lead characters. It’s a visually striking movie with style to burn, and let me reiterate that IT’S DAVID BOWIE IN A VAMPIRE MOVIE THAT FEATURES BAUHAUS IN THE OPENING CREDITS SEQUENCE. This movie is goth, and goth is this movie.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)
Pretty much any adaptation of Dracula is bound to appeal to goths, but I simply had to go with this one. It’s not that it’s the best (although there are definitely those who would say it is), but it’s the most faithful to Bram Stoker’s novel (hence the decision to put his name in the title), and it’s the one with the most focus on the doomed romance aspect. It still works as Gothic horror for sure, but the element of tragedy is at the forefront in Coppola’s adaptation, and that’s why it seems to be particularly popular among goths.
There are still some campy, occasionally hokey parts of the movie (many of which involve Anthony Hopkins’s rather hammy performance as Van Helsing), but a lot of that has to do with the extraordinarily stylized manner in which Coppola chose to film it. The sets, the costumes, and the cinematography are all bursting with lavish colors, and I’ve seen people say that it can be distracting how much the shots can call attention to themselves at times (it doesn’t bother me, but then again, I like hyper-stylized movies). I think that only adds to the near-operatic tragedy and romance that drive the story. Subtlety is not in this movie’s vocabulary, but that’s why it works so well as a Gothic (and gothy) romance in addition to it still being a great horror film. Above all, though, is Gary Oldman’s towering performance as Dracula. Going through almost as many costume changes as a Madonna concert, he can be menacing when needed, but he never loses focus on just how sad a character Dracula also is. Even people who don’t like the movie tend to praise his performance in it, and although nearly every incarnation of Dracula has become something of a goth icon, his interpretation is the most overtly gothy of the bunch.
The Crow (1994, Alex Proyas)
In all seriousness, this movie isn’t even strictly speaking a horror movie, or at least not entirely. It’s more of an action revenge movie, and since it’s based on a comic book, it even gets referred to as a superhero movie quite often. But there are plenty of horror elements, and while the movie isn’t really aiming to be a pure horror film, it does so much right with its gothy horror vibe that it’s at the very least an honorary horror movie. Regardless of its genre classification, though (it’s definitely a hybrid of several different genres), there’s no denying its goth appeal. Did this movie invent the black trench coat in the rain trope? I think other movies did it before this, but The Crow claimed it for its own. It’s one of the quintessential goth cliches, and while it may not have been invented by this movie, this is easily the film it’s most associated with. WCW wrestler Sting even remodeled his entire look to be based on Eric Draven shortly after this movie’s release, just to give an example of how far the stylistic influence of The Crow has reached.
Tragedy looms over the movie not just in terms of its plot (which has its roots in classical revenge and tragic romance…dare I call it Shakespearean?), but of course also in terms of the tragedy that occurred during the filming of the movie when star Brandon Lee was killed in a freak accident onset. Suffice it to say this lends the entire movie an undercurrent of deep melancholy. He’s been immortalized through this role, however, and especially among the goth community, his legacy has achieved mythic status.
The Craft (1996, Andrew Fleming)
If you were a goth teenager in the ’90s and The Crow wasn’t your favorite movie, then chances are it was The Craft. Released the same year that Sabrina the Teenage Witch premiered on television, this movie offered a decidedly darker take on the brief “teen witch” craze of the mid to late ’90s. While it still contains many classic high school movie tropes, this stands apart from the rest for reasons that should be obvious. Anyone who ever felt like an outcast or the weird kid in high school (e.g. most goth kids) will find a lot to relate to here, even if your own path of self-discovery didn’t lead to quite the extremes that the characters in this movie go to (or maybe it did…I’m not judging). While each of the four main characters is memorable in her own way, it’s undoubtedly the beguiling Fairuza Balk as Nancy Downs whose character would be inducted into any hypothetical Goth Hall of Fame with her manic, chilling, and in many ways sad performance which completely steals the show. I guarantee interest in witchcraft and the occult skyrocketed among teens after this movie was released.
Ginger Snaps (2000, John Fawcett)
Yet another movie about high school outcasts, but isn’t that how most people decide to become goths in the first place? While this was not the first movie to use lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty (you can go all the way back to 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and possibly even further), this is definitely the one that capitalized on it the most and took the idea to its logical conclusion. The first third or so of the movie is pure high school goth fodder (although I suppose the characters’ style is more grunge-goth than traditional goth…10 years earlier they definitely would have been into Alice in Chains), as the death-obsessed Fitzgerald sisters spend most of their time lamenting the stupidity and shallowness of their classmates and staging gruesome fake deaths of themselves to photograph (look, some people do stuff like that…how do you think horror makeup artists get started?). Then — spoiler alert — the older sister (the titular Ginger, that is) gets bitten by a werewolf.
The most impressive thing about this movie is how it continues the same narrative thread once it becomes a werewolf movie. In other words, Ginger becoming a werewolf doesn’t change the momentum or tone of the film; it’s a natural development of where the story had already been going, and it’s integrated seamlessly into the story and handled as though this were something that could happen to teenage girl. In doing so, it achieves a great gothy feat indeed by turning everyday high school life into a classic monster movie, which is how I suspect a lot of goths in high school feel anyway.
May (2002, Lucky McKee)
While I wouldn’t necessarily call May — the title character in this excellent and still underrated independent horror movie — a goth, her extreme introversion, social awkwardness, and interest in the morbid and the macabre (which takes an increasing hold on her as the film progresses) make her a perfect candidate for goth canonization. Like Carrie, she doesn’t fit the traditional image of what a goth looks like or for the most part acts like, but her situation and place in society are all too relatable to many goths, and I suspect that’s why this movie has struck such a chord with its small but passionate cult following.
As she makes more of an effort to have a social and romantic life, she unfortunately learns that things aren’t always as simple as they might seem when it comes to meeting people, and it’s not at all like having a doll as your best friend like she’s accustomed to. So like anyone in her situation would do, she decides to…well…make befriending people more like having a doll, if you get what my drift. If not, watch the movie for yourself, because it’s full of nasty little twists and surprises. But more than the shock elements of the film or the horror exterior, what makes it such a resonant movie (particularly to goths, I think) is that it’s a really tragic and unique study of alienation, loneliness, and the lengths we’ll go to in order to feel some sense of belonging…even if it ultimately means turning the tables so that you’re finding unusual ways to make people fit in with your life rather than the other way around.