I'm a firm believer that Gothic cinema is for life, not just for Halloween. If we want to get technical, the rejection of science and rationality in favour of a regression to such primitive stirrings as lust and fear is something positively universal. This all-embracing universality aside, however, there remains a nameless something about these twilight months that nurtures a certain susceptibility to the genre. Perhaps a combination of the unnerving chill in the air, the ever-creeping darkness, and the swift decay of everything once green and lush...
1) Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (F W Murnau, 1922)
Horror's most infamous villain reared his bat-eared head in an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. A relatively obscure silent German expressionist film (certainly when compared to the Universal and Hammer remakes), Nosferatu for many remains the most powerful incarnation. After all, Max Schreck's interpretation has been endlessly parodied for a reason, the slowly-advancing clawed shadow inducing chills amongst the bravest of audiences...
2) The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
Quite possibly the most iconic of all gothic performances (Deborah Kerr's horror-stricken face single-handedly manning the marketing campaign for the BFI's 2013 winter Gothic season), The Innocents is the ideal demonstration of author Neil Gaiman's definition of the gothic as a slow-moving, menacing “mood”. That's not to say that the ever-so-subtle study of sexuality is exactly foreign to the genre either, the film following a young governess who discovers that her new wards are exhibiting worryingly adult modes of behaviour, and could very well be possessed by the aggressively-sexual late valet.
3) Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
The endurance of the genre is perhaps best realised in Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, with New York's own Dakota building posing as a neo-gothic castle, now host to a somewhat ancient tale of a young woman bearing Satan's child. The Innocents' gentle gaze into femininity is now a hostile stare as the gorgeous Mia Farrow's body becomes increasingly disfigured by the life-sucking creature inside.
4) Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Aesthetically, Italian horror director Dario Argento's Suspiria appears to negate what is generally understood as 'gothic'. Quite famously, a strikingly cerise-pink ballet school takes the place of the iconic ruined castle, and Eli Roth-style gore dominates any attempt of mild paranormal suggestion. But for all this, the narrative remains firmly rooted in the gothic tradition, for as Gaiman notes, there is a “mind” behind the gothic; in the case of Suspiria, this is revealed to be a coven of blood-thirsty witches.
5) The Woman in Black (Herbert Wise, 1989)
Some twenty years before young Daniel Radcliffe took to the role, Adrian Rawlins (bizarrely the actor behind Harry Potter's onscreen father) also starred as the solicitor tasked to organise the estate of the haunted Eel Marsh House. This 1989 made-for-TV movie exercises suspense in a manner quite unlike the 2010 remake and more akin with that of The Innocents, using its 'jumps' wisely and sparingly. Look out for Rawlins' cameo in the upcoming The Woman in Black: Angel of Death sequel in the new year!