Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gothic Horror

OK, minions, time for another horror lesson. Today we're going to learn about gothic horror. Why? Because I said so.

So what is gothic horror, anyway? It's kind of hard to describe but people generally know what it is when they see it. Some popular writers of the genre include: Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, and more. Basically gothic horror writers don't write the hack-n-slash zombie-eating stuff. Gothic horror is much more...psychological, and often there is a sexual subtext within the plot. I prefer gothic horror to the unsophisticated splatter-fests so many writers rely on today.

Basic tenets of gothic horror:
1. Setting. Usually the story takes place in a dark creepy castle, or a haunted building, or a forbidden forest. Often there is lots of fog, rain, and snow. A constant foreboding atmosphere must saturate the other characters. Think Sleepy Hollow, The Phantom of the Opera, The Fall of the House of Usher. You get the idea. Setting is important to create that dark moody presence.

2. The Damsel In Distress. She's very easy to spot. She's the fragile white woman who is constantly fainting. Or crying. Or getting kidnapped. She's been phased out in most modern gothic stories but remnants of this delicate creature still exist. Guillermo del Toro's gothic fantasy, Pan's Labyrinth, uses a little girl for this role. Ophelia.

Women play a big part in gothic novels. Often they are the victims of whatever supernatural/horrific situation taking place. In my novel, I make fun of the "damsel in distress" archetype by making my heroine the "monster" (anti-hero?) of the story. My heroine falls in love with a weepy damsel in distress, but instead of being "pure" and "virginal" like most female victims, she uses her perceived helplessness to sexually/emotionally manipulate my main character.

3. The Tyrannical Male and or Villain. Yin and Yang, my friends. If there is a helpless female character cringing in terror, there HAS to be a powerful male standing over her, right? Every gothic horror has an evil villain: Dracula, Norman Bates, Roger Chillingworth, Claude Frollo, etc. In modern gothic horror stories, the Tyrannical Male can be a woman, such as Kathy Bates' character in Stephen King's, Misery. Fuck, I still can't watch this scene without groaning or flinching away! Aghhhh! *cringe* 

The Tyrannical Male pursues and captures the damsel for selfish reasons. His motivations for tormenting her aren't always sexual...but most of the time it is. In my novel, there are three Tyrannical Males; one that represents a common "evil theme" of the gothic genre. There's the Reverend (who represents the corruption of Religion/Morality), the jealous Fiancé (for the violent sexual nature of masculinity), and finally the Magistrate (the corruption of Law/Society). Gothic horror shows us where society has "gone wrong," often using speculative themes to carry out the message. Which brings me to #4.

4. The Supernatural. Magic, prophecies, demons, ancestral curses, forbidden places, hauntings and the like fill the pages of many gothic novels. Once society has "fallen," the rules of nature attempt to balance itself in some way by punishing the "fallen society" with supernatural monsters. The Supernatural element can/and often is the Anti-hero or Tyrannical Male of the story. Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Beast (from Beauty and the Beast), Lestat, Quasimodo, Dracula, The Headless Horseman, etc. The supernatural element serves a psychological/metaphorical purpose. It isn't just put there to be "cool." Most trendy urban fantasy or paranormal novels today wouldn't be considered "gothic" for this reason. *facepalm* Just cuz your story has a werewolf, zombie, or a glittery vampire, doesn't make your novel "gothic," alright? There's a difference. Gothic is more...literary. But it's kickass literary fiction. 
OK. That's enough on gothic horror. I think you guys get the idea, yeah? I think I'm going to re-watch Alfred Hitchkock's Psycho just for the hell of it. Happy writing, minons! 


Michelle said...

I agree with what you're saying about Gothic Horror. That's why I absolutely love Anne Rice's books. Lestat is my favorite vampire of all time.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Thanks for commenting, Michan! Whoop Whoop!

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