20. The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Those who have an interest in the history of horror films that stems beyond a search for just the best gothic horror movies will want to seek out Richard Siodmak’s original screen adaptation of Ethel Lina White’s novel Some Must Watch.
Even when removed from its historical context, The Spiral Staircase is a handsomely made gothic mystery but when considered within its place in the development of the horror genre in movies, it’s a groundbreaking achievement. The stalking black-gloved killer of young women that haunts the domestic drama of the story wouldn’t really be commonly seen on screen until the 1960s and the focus on the killer gazing at his victims comes shockingly close to the revolutionary POV style that birthed the slasher genre in films like Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.
19. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Set in a remote Spanish orphanage at the close of the Civil War, Guillermo del Toro’s first ghost film sent waves around the global film community that made it clear that the director was poised to become one of the leading voices in the horror genre for the early 21st century.
Steeped in socio-political subtext and quintessentially gothic passion, The Devil’s Backbone expanded the parameters of what audiences could expect from gothic horror movies, deepening themes of war and cultural grief by balancing fantasy elements with historical fiction.
18. Frankenstein (1931)
Still considered to be the definitive film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, director James Whale’s Frankenstein would in some way influence every gothic horror movie that followed it. Boris Karloff’s monster is truly one for the ages, a lumbering beast who was defined by his childlike humanity.
Parodied and homaged within popular culture more times than can be counted, whatever the film may have lost in terms of its power to frighten is more than made up for by its enduringly beguiling atmosphere made up of strikingly expressionistic imagery.
17. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
One of the most highly-regarded sequels ever made, The Bride of Frankenstein succeeded at what all great sequels excel at and amplified the most unique aspects of the first film into something even bigger and bolder.
Make-up artist Jack Pierce ran with the weirdness of his original design for the monster and created an equally unforgettable companion for him in Elsa Lanchester’s Bride. Coupled with the success of Bela Lugosi’s rendition of Dracula and Whale’s adaptation of The Invisible Man, the director’s Frankenstein movies would form a large part of the foundation of Universal’s beloved monster movie traditions.
16. The Skeleton Key (2005)
Though they are a little rarer than the standard gothic horror movie format of a haunted house in either Northern America or England, films like The Skeleton Key prove that the trappings of the Southern Gothic subgenre are equally well-suited for the big screen.
Kate Hudson stars in the supernatural mystery as a former hospice nurse who cares for a bed-ridden stroke patient in an old house secluded in the Louisiana marshlands and the tropes of conventional gothic movies are adapted quite uniquely into a distinctly disturbing story that explores themes of identity, mortality, and racism, as well as the powers of illusion and suggestion.
15. The Others (2001)
A sterling example of the classic British ghost story adapted for the big screen, The Others is driven by an award-worthy central performance from Nicole Kidman. She stars in the movie as a mother struggling to raise her children within the confines of their secluded stately home and in the shadow of both the end of the Second World War and the absence of their father, who has not returned home from it.
The intrusion of ghostly presences into their lives presents enough of a compelling mystery to distract the audience from the subversions of the traditional formula that the movie is executing, leading to an unforgettable flipping of the tables by the end. It’s certainly an ambitious take on a clearly Turn of the Screw-inspired tale but writer, director, and composer Alejandro Amenábar gives the film the requisite authorial detail.
14. The Uninvited (1944)
Though very much of-its-time in terms of how it intermingles comedy with its melodrama and horror, The Uninvited is still a starkly atmospheric gothic horror movie that revolves around an all-but-abandoned country estate in Cornwall, England. The classic ghost story is all about the unfurling of its plot and the dark family history that drives it, with the genre’s expressionistic flair cutting in at unexpected moments for chilling results.
Based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel Uneasy Freehold, which was published in the US as The Uninvited, the film remains somewhat lesser-known and harder to find than other pillars of the genre despite Charles Lang’s Oscar-nominated cinematography and the enduring popularity of the movie’s original song “Stella by Starlight”.
13. The Orphanage (2007)
Considering the director’s involvement in the film as an executive producer, and the overall similarities that it bears to The Devil’s Backbone, it’s no wonder why The Orphanage is often mistakenly thought to be a Guillermo del Toro movie. However, J.A. Bayona’s debut feature leans far more heavily into the traditions and trappings of gothic horror than The Devil’s Backbone, while still living up to its focus on character development and emotion in the engrossing story.
The plot revolves around the search for a missing child who was last seen in an old orphanage being renovated by his parents, with the secret pasts of him, his mother, and the ornate old house blending together as the mystery unpacks itself, building to a moving climax.
12. Suspiria (1977)
While first and foremost thought of as the premier example of the Giallo subgenre within Italian horror filmmaking, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is an enchanting gothic horror story also, set in a secluded German dance school that harbors a supernatural secret within its walls.
Eschewing the slow-burning unease and intentional drabness that’s typically associated with gothic horror, Suspiria is an unforgettable explosion of sound and color, pumping shock and terror into the hearts of the audience and having a noticeable amount of fun while doing so.
11. The Old Dark House (1932)
Between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein James Whale released a much lesser-known but equally accomplished gothic horror story called The Old Dark House. Adapted from the novel Benighted by author J.B. Priestley, The Old Dark House does what it says on the packaging but that doesn’t make it a simplistic affair at all.
The novel’s themes of post-war disillusionment survive in Whale’s adaptation and create a distinctly haunting portrait of attitudes towards decaying class structures which inevitably lead up to the Second World War. Karloff reteamed with Whale in this feature also, playing a more wholly unsympathetic monster this time around, while supporting actor Ernest Thesiger would work with the pair again himself in Bride of Frankenstein as the evil Doctor Pretorious, making it a fascinating stepping stone in the development of the horror genre on screen, at the very least.
10. The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)
Edgar Allen Poe is considered by many to be the undisputed king of gothic horror. Exploring the horrors that inflict the soul, this master storyteller had created a nightmarish world in The Masque Of The Red Death, which is dictated by a wicked tyrant who terrorizes his subjects in the daylight and languishes in palatial luxury during the night. However, karma soon comes knocking at his door as a mysterious person with vengeance attends his narcissistic masquerade ball in a dreaded red cloak.
Roger Corman does justice to this story by building the perfect cinematic world for the ghastly tale to unfold, and by casting the iconic Vincent Price in the role of the dastardly prince.
9. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
While there have been many unrealized Tim Burton projects, viewers should be glad that Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was adapted by Tim for movie screens in the form of the 1999 horror/mystery-fest Sleepy Hollow.
Creating a dreamy world based in the small town of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane, a New York City policeman faces romance and fantasy in this eerily gothic moving picture. Starring Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, and Christina Ricci among others, Sleepy Hollow is a treat for the lover of gothic horror.
8. House Of Usher (1960)
Roger Corman went on to adapt many of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories during the 1960s in what came to be known as the director’s ‘Poe cycle’. However, House of Usher has to be the movie that set the tone for the rest of the Poe adaptations that followed.
Starring Vincent Price as Roderick Usher, Mark Damon as Phillip Winthrop, and Myrna Fahey as Madeline Usher, the movie immortalizes on the screen one of the best gothic horror stories that Poe has ever written. Robust cinematography and screenplay that solidify the feelings of passive acceptance and psychosexual dread make this movie an absolute classic.
7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
While not the most frightening by any means, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is extremely gothic owing to its incredible production design and costumes, an aspect that won Eiko Ishioka an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Reimagining Bram Stoker’s classic tale of Vlad Tepes in liberal strokes, Coppola brings out the subtext of Stoker’s implications of sexual repression during the Victorian era with overt starkness. Starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Gary Oldman, the movie also offers a stellar cast that is hard to ignore.
6. The Changeling (1980)
While many viewers would prefer to watch southern gothic movies like The Devil All The Time, or others, there is something about the traditional gothic horror genre that attracts larger audiences. Peter Medak’s 1980 classic The Changeling is one such movie that takes into account every single gothic trapping and arrests the viewing audience with a sense of the supernatural and an eerie creeping sensation of dread.
Starring George C. Scott as the protagonist John Russell, The Changeling includes tricky staircases, haunted wheelchairs, mysterious noises, eerie children’s toys, séances, and of course, a spooky and empty manor; all making up for the perfect recipe of a hugely enjoyable gothic horror movie.
5. Interview With The Vampire (1994)
One of the best movies of Brad Pitt’s career, Interview with the Vampire co-stars the charming Tom Cruise and a brilliant Kirsten Dunst, portraying two love affairs, one between Pitt’s character and that of Cruise’s, and the other between the former and the character of Dunst; as well as the plight of immortality.
Shot in New Orleans, director Neil Jordan makes use of all the instruments a gothic horror should have, including tight corsets, decaying corpses, and plenty of coagulated blood. It keeps intact the sensibility and tone that is typical of a gothic horror while proving to be a great adaptation of Anne Rice’s modern horror classic.
4. The Innocents (1961)
A movie that takes unease and discomfort to another level is the masterpiece by Jack Clayton, The Innocents. This gothic movie makes use of black and white cinematography, courtesy of the wonderful Freddie Francis, to an eerie level where viewers are left wondering about what lurks in the shadows.
Adapted from the Henry James novella named The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents is co-written by the amazing Truman Capote, best known for his non-fiction true-crime novel In Cold Blood. Dealing with themes of repressed sexuality, perverseness, and the past infringing with the present, The Innocents plays with the power of suggestion rather than blatantly stating things, thereby successfully keeping the audience guessing at all times.
3. Crimson Peak (2015)
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith who finds love in the charming and alluring Sir Thomas Sharpe and relocates with him to his gothic and archaic mansion situated in a remote locality within the hills and moors of England. There she meets the mysterious sister of Thomas, Lady Lucille, who seems to be protecting the dark secrets of the Sharpe Manor.
Being a medium who has communications with the dead, Edith tries to unearth the mysteries that surround the house but soon realizes that it is the living who should be dreaded more. Director Guillermo Del Toro paints an eerily beautiful world in this astounding gothic romance, with set pieces, visual effects, background score, and costumes that are both enchanting and bone-chilling.
2. The Haunting (1963)
Throughout his career Robert Wise has dabbled with many different genres, so it does not come as a surprise that he also has a gothic horror movie under his belt, that too a splendidly good one. The Haunting has been adapted from the novel The Haunting of Hill House written by Shirley Jackson and narrates the story of an evil house, a paranormal researcher, a clairvoyant, an emotionally damaged female lead, and the heir of the manor.
This gothic masterpiece involves the obvious plotlines of an emotionally vulnerable female character and the themes of repressed sexuality; but never aims to question the existence of the supernatural, with the very opening narration making it clear that the house is evil. Cinematographer David Boulton makes sure that the scare quotient is kept to a maximum high with the use of long tracking shots, low/high angle shots, as well as the use of distorted and flawed lenses. No wonder Martin Scorsese named this movie as the scariest he has ever seen.
1. Rebecca (1940)
Alfred Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense and his movies have inspired many thrillers in later years. However, his first venture in Hollywood was one that dabbled with horror. Adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s eponymous book, Rebecca is a movie that displays subtle gothic horror elements, while tantalizing the audience with the psychological unrest that the protagonist, ‘the second’ Mrs. de Winter, played by Joan Fontaine, goes through.
While other movies in Hitchcock’s repertoire, like Vertigo, The Birds, and Jamaica Inn have strong gothic-horror elements in them, it is Rebecca that proves to be the most prominent. Special mention should be given to the chilling on-screen personification of Mrs. Danvers, played exceptionally by Judith Anderson.