Performing Arts and the Gothic
Performing Arts and the GothicINTRODUCTION
The English Gothic drama, like the Gothic novel, was characterized by a reliance on supernatural elements and dramatic spectacles of suffering. Generally confined to a brief period in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Gothic plays were condemned by critics as atheistic and unenlightened, but were tremendously popular with audiences seeking the escapism the works provided. Romantic poets and dramatists ridiculed Gothic productions as superstitious, and the stereotypical ghostly figure slowly rising through a trap door on the stage became synonymous with Gothic excess, often eliciting more laughter than terror.
Critics point to a number of factors that converged in the late eighteenth century to produce the sudden success of the English Gothic drama. These include domestic civil unrest in England, revolutionary events in America and France, and changes in theatrical aesthetics. According to Jeffrey N. Cox (see Further Reading), although Gothic plays appeared as early as the 1770s and continued far into the nineteenth century, the form's popularity peaked around two important political events: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the fall of Napoleon in 1815. Contemporary commentary posits a connection between the new form of drama and innovations in the political arena, between the real horrors of revolution and the staged horrors of the Gothic drama. Diane Long Hoeveler suggests that the plays convey an anarchic message to the English monarchy to reform or risk revolution. According to Hoeveler, the dramas "attempt to mediate between classes, races, and genders that were at odds over the shape and power structure of the evolving bourgeois society."
Another factor that encouraged the rise of the Gothic genre was the expansion during the 1790s of two important London theaters—Drury Lane (capacity: 3,600) and Covent Garden (capacity: 3,013)—whose cavernous size dictated that visual spectacle on a grand scale would play better than subtlety and nuance, particularly since dialogue could barely be heard by many in the audience. Increased competition from the numerous new theaters in the area added to the pressure on theatrical producers to stage the spectacular and the unexpected in order to draw substantial audiences. The period also saw advances in staging techniques, lighting, and special effects that made possible some of the ghostly apparitions associated with the Gothic.
Gothic dramas were typically set in dungeons or castles, ruined churches or cemeteries, dense forests, steep mountainsides, or other forbidding natural landscapes. Their dramatic situations were usually projected far into the past for the purpose of deflecting criticism by contemporary reviewers who found the Gothic reliance on ghosts and specters to be out of step with the post-Enlightenment age. By placing the action safely back in medieval times, playwrights attempted to make the characters' belief in superstition and the supernatural seem more plausible. Gothic themes involved terror, jealousy, violence, death, abductions, seduction of virtuous young women in the sentimental novel tradition, and revelations of crimes and punishments. Progression from enclosure or imprisonment to freedom characterized many Gothic texts, as did the influence of the past on present (and future) characters and events. Stylistic devices at the staging level included ghosts and visions appearing behind gauzy screens or rising out of trap doors in the floor of the stage, disembodied voices, and clanking armor. Because the presence of ghosts on the stage drew so much ridicule from critics, Gothic playwrights often defended their inclusion in the drama by invoking Shakespeare's use of ghosts in Macbeth (1606) and Hamlet (c. 1600–01), or by insisting that the supernatural elements were the product of a character's imagination or an elaborate hoax played on one character by another.
Romantic writers, sensitive to what they perceived as the lowbrow nature of Gothic theater, often distanced themselves from the genre by publishing their works anonymously or by writing "closet dramas," those plays intended to be read rather than staged. Despite the stigma, though, a significant number of authors associated with the Romantic school produced dramas that drew on the Gothic tradition: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Remorse (1813); Lord Byron's Manfred (1817) and Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci (1819) are among them. Playwrights such as Joanna Baillie struggled to maintain their legitimacy as playwrights while competing with the popularity of Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Castle Spectre (1797) or George Colman the Younger's Blue-Beard (1798).
The contemporary version of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Gothic drama is the horror film, which often adapts works of Gothic fiction entirely and relies upon the stock elements of the Gothic to evoke fear, dread, and suspense. Beginning in the early part of the twentieth century, film directors adapted Gothic fiction for the screen. An early notable film in this genre is Nosferatu (1922), a vampire film that offered an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). The silent film, which was directed by F. W. Murnau, has achieved notoriety not only as one of the earliest horror films and as an example of German Expressionism, but because it prompted a lawsuit by Stoker's widow, who successfully sued the film's production company for copyright infringement. As was the case with Gothic literature, horror films began in Europe with such silent films as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908) and Robert Wiene's Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and were adopted and modified by American directors beginning in the 1930s, with such films as Dracula (1931), James Whale's Frankenstein (1931), and King Kong (1933). The enormously popular horror films of the 1930s gave way in the 1940s and 1950s to science fiction films centered on alien invasions or human travels into space. The horror film regained popularity in the late 1950s with Hammer Studios releases such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Mummy (1959), both directed by Terence Fisher, and in the 1960s, with such films as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Psycho not only sparked a resurgence in interest in the horror film, it set a standard for artistic achievement in the genre that since has been only occasionally matched, in films such as Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) or Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). The vast majority of horror films are panned by critics and range in popularity from cult films—including Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Night of the Living Dead (1968)—viewed repeatedly by die-hard horror fans, to such box office record breakers as Stephen King's Carrie (1976), or the various Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works, including The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). As Stephen King has asserted, "the artistic value the horror movie most frequently offers is its ability to form a liaison between our fantasy fears and our real fears." In this respect, and in many others (including its popular appeal and almost universal critical dismissal), the modern horror film bears a strong resemblance to the Gothic drama. The numerous subgenres and classifications of horror films have been examined by such commentators as S. S. Prawer, Robin Wood, and King.
The presence of the Gothic and horror in television has not matched that of film or literature, but can be found in such works as King's teleplay 'Salem's Lot (1979), the Rod Serling series The Twilight Zone (1959–64) and Night Gallery (1970–73), and in such comic spoofs on horror as The Addams Family (1964–66) and The Munsters (1964–66). The comic expression and reception of such stock Gothic trappings as monsters and ruined mansions is common in horror films and television. As Wood has noted, "many people who go regularly to horror films profess to ridicule them and go in order to laugh." Critics Fred Botting (see Further Reading) and Lenora Ledwon have examined David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks (1990–91) in relation to the Gothic tradition. Ledwon uses Twin Peaks to illustrate her concept of "Television Gothic," and maintains that "its very fluidity and resistance to boundaries make the Gothic a particularly apt genre for television…. Twin Peaks taps into this Gothic resistance, creating a Television Gothic characterized by a polysemous mingling of 'authentic' representations which constantly forces the viewer into an uneasy oscillation between ways of understanding."
Some of the more innovative and controversial early rock bands also tapped into the Gothic as a mode of communication and entertainment. "It is a long way from the 1764 appearance of Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto to the 1968 Led Zeppelin I," asserts Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds, "but the monstrous subgenre behavior of the latter … surprisingly resembles the former, both formally and historically." Hinds goes on to correlate the subversive nature of Gothic fiction with that of heavy metal music and concludes that both "are peculiar in their purposeful deformity and evocation of the Satanic." Heavy metal music, performed by such bands as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath during the late 1960s and early 1970s, ushered in a subgenre of rock music that recalled the rebellion and culturally subversive nature of earlier rock music with a dark, violent, perverse, and overtly sexual approach. The music of these groups was excessive and designed to shock and evoke strong responses in both its proponents and its detractors. During the 1970s Alice Cooper, described by James Hannaham as an "iconoclastic, gender-bending social misfit," became the first performer to embody the grotesque in rock music, to take "counterculture to its illogical extreme," according to Hannaham. This grotesque figure became more common in the Gothic subculture (known as "Goth") that grew out of punk rock during the late 1970s. Hannaham asserts that punk and Goth music were one and the same, until Siouxsie and the Banshees—led by Siouxsie Sioux, who pioneered the combination of deathly pale skin, a bird's nest of tangled black hair, dark black eye makeup, and smeared bright-red lipstick that became what Hannaham called "a trademark of 80s 'new wave'"—deliberately moved away from the punk rock trend of deriding anyone or anything considered conformist or part of the establishment and began instead to address emotional pain, mental illness, fear, and isolation. Goth musicians such as Joy Division, Morrissey, and The Smiths use haunting melodies and imagery in much the same manner as Gothic novelists and playwrights to express the deep-seated and—most importantly, to the Goth subculture—genuine agony of both performer and fans. Hannaham explains that "Goths, by turning death, madness and violence into archetypes, depersonalize their connection to horrific events. They position themselves as reporters or tour guides to the macabre, rarely its victims."
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? [director] (film) 1962
Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte [director] (film) 1964
★A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind—Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy. 3 vols. (plays) 1798, 1802, and 1812
Rayner (play) 1804
"Bela Lugosi's Dead" [12-inch single] (album) 1979
Black Sabbath (album) 1970
Paranoid (album) 1971
Blue Oyster Cult
Agents of Fortune (album) 1976
Fontainville Forest [adaptor; from the novel The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe] (play) 1794
The Italian Monk [adaptor; from the novel The Italian by Ann Radcliffe] (play) 1797
Aurelio and Miranda (play) 1798
The Cambrio-Britons (play) 1798
Carl Boese and Paul Wegener
Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam [The Golem: How He Came into the World; directors] (film) 1920
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [director; adapted from the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley] (film) 1994
Young Frankenstein [director; and screenwriter with Gene Wilder] (film) 1974
Dracula [director] (film) 1931
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron
Manfred, A Dramatic Poem (play) 1817
Christine [director; adapted from the novel by Stephen King] (film) 1983
The Haunted Tower (play) 1789
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Remorse: A Tragedy, In Five Acts (play) 1813
George Colman the Younger
The Battle of Hexham (play) 1789
The Iron Chest (play) 1796
Blue-Beard; or, Female Curiosity (play) 1798
Feudal Times; or, The Banquet Gallery (play) 1799
Killer (album) 1971
School's Out (album) 1972
Merian C. Cooper
King Kong [director] 1933
Francis Ford Coppola
Bram Stoker's Dracula [director; adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker] (film) 1992
The Fall of the House of Usher [director; adapted from the story by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1960
The Pit and the Pendulum [director; adapted from the story by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1961
The Premature Burial [director; adapted from the story by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1962
The Raven [director; adapted from the poem by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1963
The Masque of the Red Death [director; adapted from the short story by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1964
They Came from Within (film) 1975
The Brood (film) 1979
J. C. Cross
The Apparition (play) 1794
Julia of Louvain; or, Monkish Cruelty (play) 1797
J. Searle Dawley
Frankenstein [director; adapted from the novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley] (film) 1910
Brian De Palma
Carrie [director; adapted by Stephen King and Lawrence D. Cohen from the novel by Stephen King] (film) 1976
The Omen [director] (film) 1976
Them [director] (film) 1954
The Curse of Frankenstein [director] (film) 1957
The Mummy [director] (film) 1959
Murders in the Rue Morgue [director and adaptor; from the short story by Edgar Allan Poe] (film) 1932
The Exorcist [director; adapted from the novel by William Peter Blatty] (film) 1973
The Bond, a Dramatic Poem (play) 1824
The Munsters [developer; with Norm Liebmann] (television series) 1964–66
White Zombie [director] (film) 1932
Rebecca [director; adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier] (film) 1940
Psycho [director; adapted from the novel by Robert Bloch] (film) 1960
The Birds [director; adapted from the short story by Daphne du Maurier] (film) 1963
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [director; and screen-writer with Kim Henkel] (film) 1974
'Salem's Lot [director; adapted by Stephen King and Paul Monash from the novel by Stephen King] (television movie) 1979
Songs from the Wood (album) 1977
Unknown Pleasures (album) 1979
Closer (album) 1980
Erle C. Kenton
Island of Lost Souls [director; adapted from the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells] (film) 1933
On the Beach [director; adapted from the novel by Nevil Shute] (film) 1959
2001: A Space Odyssey [director; and screenwriter with Arthur C. Clarke] (film) 1968
The Shining [director; and adaptor with Diane Johnson from the novel by Stephen King] (film) 1980
Pet Sematary [director; adapted by Stephen King from his novel] (film) 1989
The Addams Family [director; with others] (television series) 1964–66
M [director] (film) 1931
Led Zeppelin I (album) 1969
Led Zeppelin II (album) 1969
Led Zeppelin III (album) 1970
Led Zeppelin IV (album) 1971
The Song Remains the Same (album) 1976
Rowland V. Lee
Son of Frankenstein [director] (film) 1939
Das Wachsfigurenkabinett [Waxworks; director, with Leo Birinsky] (film) 1924
The Cat and the Canary [director] (film) 1927
Matthew Gregory Lewis
The Castle Spectre: A Drama. In Five Acts (play) 1797
Adelmorn, the Outlaw: A Romantic Drama, In Three Acts (play) 1801
Alfonso, King of Castille: A Tragedy, In Five Acts (play) 1802
The Captive: A Scene in a Private Mad-House (play) 1803
Cat People [producer] (film) 1942
I Walked with A Zombie [producer] (film) 1943
The Leopard Man [producer] (film) 1943
The Seventh Victim [producer] (film) 1943
Twin Peaks [director; and writer with Mark Frost] (television series) 1990–91
Charles Robert Maturin
Bertram; or, The Castle of St. Aldobrand (play) 1816
F. W. Murnau
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens [director] (film) 1922
Power, Corruption, and Lies (album) 1983
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [producers; adapted from the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson] (film) 1909
The Necklace of the Dead [producers] (film) 1910
Ghosts of the Vault [producers] (film) 1911
Richard Brinsley Peake
Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (play) 1823
Repulsion [director; and screenwriter, with Gérard Brach and David Stone] (film) 1965
The Fearless Vampire Killers [director; and screen-writer, with Brach] (film) 1967
>Rosemary's Baby [director; and adaptor, with Ira Levin; from Levin's novel] (film) 1968
Peeping Tom (film) 1960
George A. Romero
Night of the Living Dead [director; and screenwriter, with John A. Russo] (film) 1968
Dawn of the Dead [director and screenwriter] (film) 1978
The Old Oak Chest (play) 1816
Sir Walter Scott
The House of Aspen (play) 1799
The Doom of Devorgoil (play) 1830
Selig Polyscope Company
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [producers; adapted from the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson] (film) 1908
The Twilight Zone [creator] (television series) 1959–64
Night Gallery [with others; writer] (television series) 1970–73
Hamlet (play) c. 1600–01
Macbeth (play) 1606
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Cenci: A Tragedy, in Five Acts (play) 1819
The Sicilian Romance; or, The Apparition of the Cliff [adaptor; from the novel A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe] (play) 1794
A Tale of Terror (play) 1803
Invasion of the Body Snatchers [director; adapted from the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney] (film) 1956
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Juju (album) 1981
Tinderbox (album) 1986
Louder than Bombs (album) 1987
Dracula (novel) 1897
The Castle of Otranto, A Story (novel) 1764
The Mysterious Mother: A Tragedy (play) 1768
Andrew Lloyd Webber
The Phantom of the Opera [composer; and adaptor with Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart from the novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux] (stage musical) 1986
The Phantom of the Opera [composer and screen-writer; and adaptor with Joel Schumacher from the novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux] (film) 2004
Frankenstein [director] (film) 1931
The Invisible Man [director] (film) 1933
Bride of Frankenstein [director] (film) 1935
Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; director] (film) 1920
The Body Snatcher [director; adapted from the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson] (film) 1945
The Haunting [director; adapted from the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson] (film) 1963
Freak Out! [with The Mothers of Invention] (album) 1966
Uncle Meat (album) 1969
Burnt Weeny Sandwich [with The Mothers of Invention] (album) 1970
Weasels Ripped My Flesh [with The Mothers of Invention] (album) 1970
★ The first volume was published anonymously in 1798, with the author identifying herself for the second and third volumes, in 1802 and 1812, respectively. Volume 1 includes De Monfort, Basil, and The Tryal. Volume 3 includes Orra: A Tragedy, in Five Acts.
JAMES BOADEN (PLAY DATE 1794)
SOURCE: Boaden, James. "Act 1." In Fontainville Forest, a Play, in Five acts, (Founded on The Romance of the Forest,) as Performed at the Theatre-Royal Covent-Garden, pp. 1-10. London: Hookham and Carpenter, 1794.
The following excerpt comprises the first act of Boaden's popular dramatization of Ann Radcliffe's 1791 novel The Romance of the Forest.
Scene.—A Gothic Hall of an Abbey, the whole much dilapidated.
ENTER MADAME LAMOTTE, FOLLOWED BY PETER.
Seek not to fill me with these terrors, Peter:
Here are no signs of any late inhabitants,
The fugitive fears nothing but discovery.
While we are safe from all pursuit, no vain
Or superstitious fancies shall disturb me.
This is a horrid place, I scarce dare
Through its low grates and narrow passages;
And the wind's gust that whistles in the turrets,
Is as the groan of some one near his end.
Heaven send my Master back! On my old knees
I begg'd him not explore that dismal wood;
He comforted me then, but scorn'd my fears.
Woud'st have us perish here for want?
Nor let thy Mistress teach thee fortitude.
Nay, dearest Madam, do not think your
But faithful, servant backward to defend you!
From an attack but mortal, against odds
Chearful I'd risk this crazy tenement;
But here my fear is not of human harm.
May there no greater danger press
The place will then yield us the needful shelter,
Your master will be safe, and I be happy.
But night is far advanc'd—his absence pains me.
He went at dusk; by the same token
The owl shriek'd from the porch—He started
But recollected, smote his forehead, and advanc'd;
He struck into the left hand dingle soon:
I clos'd the Abbey gate, which grated sadly.
Hark! his signal! How! a stranger
[A knocking against the pannel.
ENTER LAMOTTE SUPPORTING ADELINE.
Receive this fair unfortunate with
How she was forc'd to share our wretched fate,
You'll know anon! Peter, go make a fire;
The rain has drench'd our garments through the
Prepare the supper; our new guest must need
Lady, take my arm to assist you.
Gratefully.—I was born to trouble
Her spirits are violently agitated;
But kindness will restore her mind its tone.
Scarce did I ever see a face so beauteous!
The remark is womanish; I never
Distress more poignant—the best reason, wife,
To give our kind assistance and our love.
Bear her in gently—so, now close the doors.
[Exeunt Madame, Adeline, and Peter.
Misfortunes thicken on me; sorely
By poverty already, I have brought
Another now, to drain away our life-means.
Never admitted to my confidence,
My wife suspects not our decaying store.—
I have reach'd that climax of our wretched being,
When the heart builds no more on heavenly aid.
Despair has laid his callous hand upon me,
And fitted me for deeds, from which I once
Had shrunk with horror—I have no resource
But robbery—The degradation! What!
To nourish guilty life turn common stabber!
Lurk in a hedge, and like an adder sting
The unguarded passenger! Well, and what then?
There's courage in this theft comparatively—
The sharper, routed from the loaded dice,
With which he damns fame, fortune, honour, man,
Rises in morals when he takes the road.
Lamotte! He seems disturb'd! My
O, is it you? Reflection on the past
So busied me, I heard not your approach.
How fares the stranger?
Sunk to startled sleep,
In broken sentences she prays for mercy.
I listen'd while she shriek'd, "Save me! That
"My father, fly me not!—If I must die,
"Do you dispatch me;—send away that villain."
'Tis horrible and strange! Her father,
It was, who forc'd her on me—Listen where.
The evening being calm, I took my walk
To ruminate at full—wrapt up in thought,
Night stole upon me—Through the pathless wild
No signs could I discover that might lead
My erring steps back to this Abbey's towers—
The storm came sudden on, a little while
The shading trees protected me—At length,
A distant taper threw its trembling light
Across the alley where I stood; I ran,
So guided, till I reach'd a paltry cottage.
'Twas rash and unadvis'd to venture
I knock'd aloud for shelter; from
One ask'd with surly voice my name and business.
I said, a traveller, missing of the road,
And drench'd with rain, begg'd house-room for
The man within replied—"Welcome, come in."
I enter'd and advanc'd, when he, in haste,
Clapt to the door and lockt it—Stay, he cried,
I shall return anon! Then from above
Shrieks issued in a female voice—
At length the crazy stairs
Creak'd to the tread of feet, and ent'ring fierce,
A ruffian by the hair dragg'd in a lady;
She seem'd expiring. Stern he bad me swear
To take her from his sight, and ne'er return;
For, if I did, my life should be the forfeit.
I promis'd what he claim'd, and then I told him,
If he would bring us to Fontainville Abbey,
I knew the way from thence—He hid our eyes,
And led us to this gate.
Why should a father thus drive out
To want and wretchedness, or why believe
She will not name him in recover'd reason,
And make the law her refuge? By her dress
She seems to have been taken from some convent,
A holy sister, but not yet profess'd.
Of this no more; inscrutable to us
The mystery; with her returning sense
We may know all that now perplexes us.
Certain he look'd as little like her father,
As his deeds spoke him—But this well I know,
There is a state of mind, when anguish keen
For vices past, works on the heart of man,
And wrings it sore, till rising desperation
Bemonsters quite his nature—then, he spurns
The ties of blood, cancels all obligation
In which his Maker bound him to his kind,
And is the image of the fiend that tempts him.
Heaven ever shield our hearts from such despair!
And yet, Lamotte, I own you wound my soul.
Dark looks, that seek the memory's inward scrolls,
While the whole outward sense is lost, oft mark
Your self-reproach—If I, by chance, arouse
And chace you from your mood, your temper flames
In causeless anger, which you check with
And wrap you straight in silence.
I have not liv'd a life can brook distress;
He who is clear within may smile at storms,
And dread no reckoning shou'd they chance to
My crimes press heavy on me: strong compunction,
For miseries entail'd beyond myself,
Is festering here, and when I look on you,
Outcast for my offences, moody madness
Weighs on my brain, and tells my shuddering
That I am only mark'd out for perdition.
But see, an angel comes, to whisper peace,
And soothe me with one act of kindness render'd!
My honour'd Sir and Madam, I thus
From short repose, by anguish forc'd upon me,
To pay the thanks your generous pity claims;
For which my heart, in endless gratitude,
Shall daily heave to heav'n, and blessing beg
Upon your heads more bounteous than my own.
Fair Saint, a common benefit like this
Your grateful mind o'erpays. My lovely daughter,
Chance throws you on a rude and churlish soil,
That cannot yield much medicinal balm,
To heal the wound a parent's hand has dealt you.
But be of comfort, Lady; as we are,
We live to serve you, while ourselves are safe.
At some fit season of recover'd spirits,
We shall request the story from your lips,
Of what thus orphans you.
As far as I have knowledge; but my tale
Is easy told, nor do I know myself,
Why thus I fell under a father's hate.
Of that anon! Now our refreshment
Please you to enter.
I have but slender wish
For aught, save rest.—The conflict I have pass'd
Beats at my heart, and fevers every sense.
This friendly solitude, your generous pains,
Will lull the throbbing smart of my affliction,
And give me power to obey you.
Ever yours. [Exeunt.
Scene—Without the Abbey.
ENTER FROM THE GATES. (MORNING DAWNS.)
Thus, like the savage lion from his
I wake to prowl for prey. My busy brain
Riots in varied schemes of wickedness,
And drives me from my bed, before the bird,
Whose comfort springs from the return of day.
Light shews me no relief! The morn is fresh;
And hark! the distant hills ring with the sound
Of the glad horn! The hunters are abroad:
I'll dog their chace, and haply seize my prey,
Man, the destroyer, Man, and force the aid,
That misery expects not from his pity. [Exit.
MARQUIS AND TWO ATTENDANTS.
The chace fatigues—I'll rest myself
You to your sport again.—Anon, I'll join you.
If we could trust to our presentiments,
I had not ventur'd on the chace to-day.
A tremulous reluctance to the last
Flutter'd about my heart, and now I feel
As if some dreadful certainty of evil
Had led me on to meet impending fate.
Ha! what art thou?
[Lamotte rushes in, wild and dishevell'd.
A wretch, a very wretch,
Mad with despair, and fell from biting poverty.
Give me the means of life, or take thy death.
Thou'st caught me unawares, I'm in
Off, off your jewels! Come, your
Stir not! your life will answer! Followers!
Surprised! Then only speed can save me.
How's this, my Lord, you look
aghast with fear?
What wretch was that who fled at our approach?
A robber: Somewhere in these forest
Most probably he lurks: Command my train,
That there they make strict search to-morrow
Will you know the villain's face
again, my Lord?
Certain! He look'd not like a common ruffian,
One shrunk from splendour rather—hunted hard
By justice he had fled, and doom'd to wrest
His chance support from the lone passenger,
Whom, otherways, he harms not—for my life,
Unlike our robbers, he attempted not.
He shall be found, my Lord, e're morrow night,
If here he lurk.—Shall we support you hence?
Alarm has quite enfeebled me—Lead
Give up the chace to-day.
This way, my Lord. [Exeunt.
Scene.—Another part of the Wood.
Despair has lent me wings! I've burst
Through brake and briar!—Terror has steel'd my
I'scap'd unhurt.—Unhurt! O memory,
I'm all one wound, while I yet live to think!
O dearly purchas'd wealth, won by the loss
Of future peace! Up, damning baubles, up!
Close to the heart, which you have wrung from
Hence, Monster, hence, nor blot the beauteous
Hail, cavern'd glooms, to your deep shade I fly,
Darkness myself, to give you living horror. [Exit.
End of the First Act.
HENRY SIDDONS (OPERA DATE 1794)
SOURCE: Siddons, Henry. "Prologue and Act 1, Scene 1." In The Sicilian Romance, or, The Apparition of the Cliffs, An Opera, by Henry Siddons: As Performed with Universal Applause at the Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden, pp. 9-12. London: J. Barker, 1794.
The following excerpt comprises Act I, scene 1, of Siddons's operatic adaptation of Ann Radcliffe's 1790 novel A Sicilian Romance.
A Wood, and a Tower of the Castle, with the Door. The Lights down, and the Moon shining.
ENTER LINDOR AND MARTIN, DISGUISED AS PILGRIMS.
Borne on hope's deluding gale,
Yon tall turrets I explore;
Trembling fears and doubts assail,
As I tread the dang'rous shore.
Thus the sea-boy on the mast,
When he hears the howling storms,
Hopes to reach the strand at last,
Where fond love and friendship warms.
martin. Here, Sir.
lindor. Where are you?
martin. Here, Sir, against my will.
lindor. Well, thank heaven, we are at last at the castle of Otrano, the spot that contains my dear Alinda.
martin. St. James be prais'd! The fear of ghosts, and the cries of hunger have kept a continual grumbling in my poor stomach—But now we are here, there is one little trifling circumstance to be discussed.
lindor. What's that?
martin. Only, how we are to get in, Sir.
lindor. You know my Alinda arrived here last night, and is to be immediately married to the young Marquis of Otranto.
martin. He's a bold man—Why, he buried his other wife but four months ago—Zooks! he'd make a fine soldier—He'd face the devil for money.
lindor. Yes, as he never saw her, his motive must be sordid—I must contrive some means to carry her off—See the morning breaks—Knock, Martin.
[Martin makes a thundering noise at the gate. D'ye mean to knock down the gate? Why d'ye knock so loud?
martin. Right, Sir—all right. [Raps.
gerbin. [Within.] Who's there?
martin. [Through the key-hole.] Come, and see.
gerbin. Don't know you.
martin. How the devil should you? Enter Gerbin.
gerbin. What's your business?
martin. We've no business, fellow; we're two gentlemen.
lindor. Peace! We are two weary Pilgrims, my good friend, driven here by distress—For the love of Heaven, afford us a few hours shelter, from the rain.
gerbin. Why, master, I don't like to drive the unfortunate from my gate—but my young marquis is very strict—I can give you an apartment, indeed, in a tower over the rocks; but then, it's rather inconvenient.
martin. Why, pray?
gerbin. Why, a very strange apparition has been often seen to enter it, since our poor mistress died.
martin. An ap—ap—pa―O, no—very much obliged to you, but we'd rather not go in—Now, I think on't, too, this place will be so purely comfortable—so cool, and airy, and so―
lindor. I'm fix'd. Lead the way.
martin. I can't, upon my soul, Sir.
lindor. Obey, scoundrel!
martin. Well, if I must―Oh dear, I shall have my body snapt up by a blue devil, or this pretty person of mine whisk'd away in a flash of fire—Well, Sir, I'm go―Oh, dear! [Exeunt.
STEPHEN KING (ESSAY DATE 1982)
In the following excerpt from his book-length analysis of Gothic and horror in film and literature, King discusses various artistic, social, and cultural aspects of American horror movies.
Right now you could be thinking to yourself: this guy must have one hell of a nerve if he thinks he's gonna cover all the horror movies released between 1950 and 1980—everything from The Exorcist to the less-than-immortal The Navy vs. the Night Monsters—in a single chapter.
Well, actually it's going to be two chapters, and no, I don't expect to be able to cover them all, as much as I would like to; but yes, I must have some kind of nerve to be tackling the subject at all. Luckily for me, there are several fairly traditional ways of handling the subject so that at least an illusion of order and coherence emerges. The path I've chosen is that of the horror movie as text and subtext.
The place to start, I think, would be a swift recap of those points already made on the subject of the horror movie as art. If we say "art" is any piece of creative work from which an audience receives more than it gives (a liberal definition of art, sure, but in this field it doesn't pay to be too picky), then I believe that the artistic value the horror movie most frequently offers is its ability to form a liaison between our fantasy fears and our real fears. I've said and will reemphasize here that few horror movies are conceived with "art" in mind; most are conceived only with "profit" in mind. The art is not consciously created but rather thrown off, as an atomic pile throws off radiation.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
JAMES BOADEN (1762–1839)
Boaden's second play, Fontainville Forest, was first produced on 25 March 1794 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The story is derived from Ann Radcliffe's novel The Romance of the Forest (1791), but Boaden simplifies it, focusing on the central incidents which transpire "in an Abbey chiefly, and the adjacent parts of the Forest." Among the significant changes is a more sympathetic role for the character of Lamotte. Although he robs the marquis of Montault and is initially prepared to sacrifice Adeline to the marquis' lust, he is forced to it by necessity, and in a soliloquy castigates himself. We observe him distraught and torn by his struggles with his conscience, angry with his wife, Hortensia, and impatient with his son, Louis, who replaces Radcliffe's Theodore as the hero of the tale….
Aurelio and Miranda was first acted at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 29 December 1798, with music by Michael Kelly. Based on Lewis's notorious novel The Monk, this play greatly simplifies the plot and significantly alters the characterization. The play was originally called The Monk, but the title and the names of the principal characters are changed in the manuscript, presumably because the Examiner of Plays objected…. The public and the critics continued to reprehend the choice of subject, while simultaneously they were disappointed with the altered ending…. The violence and incest of Lewis's tale is omitted, and the play moves from the temptations of Aurelio by Miranda's beauty to the contrived and incredible conclusion. The monk's lust for his sister, Antonia, so prominent a feature of the novel, is omitted, as is the death of Agnes's child in the vaults beneath the convent, with all the repellent details of its putrefaction. The audience, anticipating the Gothic horrors of Boaden's source, led to expect them from the initial presentation in the first three acts, were simply disappointed in the denouement….
James Boaden's achievements form a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the theater in this period…. Boaden's plays are keenly attuned to the taste of the day, and he broke new ground in his exploitation of Gothic themes and melodramatic devices.
SOURCE: Maynard, Temple J. "James Boaden." In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series, edited by Paula R. Backscheider, pp. 25-37. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group, 1989.
I do not contend by saying the above that every exploitation horror flick is "art," however. You could walk down Forty-second Street in Times Square on any given afternoon or evening and discover films with names like The Bloody Mutilators, The Female Butcher, or The Ghastly Ones—a 1972 film we are treated to the charming sight of a woman being cut open with a two-handed bucksaw; the camera lingers as her intestines spew out onto the floor. These are squalid little films with no whiff of art in them, and only the most decadent filmgoer would try to argue otherwise. They are the staged equivalent of those 8- and 16-millimeter "snuff" movies which have reputedly oozed out of South America from time to time.
Another point worth mentioning is the great risk a filmmaker takes when he/she decides to make a horror picture. In other creative fields, the only risk is failure—we can say, for instance, that the Mike Nichols film of The Day of the Dolphin "fails," but there is no public outcry, no mothers picketing the movie theaters. But when a horror movie fails, it often falls into painful absurdity or squalid porno-violence.
There are films which skate right up to the border where "art" ceases to exist in any form and exploitation begins, and these films are often the field's most striking successes. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of these; in the hands of Tobe Hooper, the film satisfies that definition of art which I have offered, and I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country. I would not do so for The Ghastly Ones. The difference is more than the difference between a chainsaw and a bucksaw; the difference is something like seventy million light-years. Hooper works in Chainsaw Massacre, in his own queerly apt way, with taste and conscience. The Ghastly Ones is the work of morons with cameras.1
So, if I'm going to keep this discussion in order, I'll keep coming back to the concept of value—of art, of social merit. If horror movies have redeeming social merit, it is because of that ability to form liaisons between the real and unreal—to provide subtexts. And because of their mass appeal, these subtexts are often culture-wide.
In many cases—particularly in the fifties and then again in the early seventies—the fears expressed are sociopolitical in nature, a fact that gives such disparate pictures as Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and William Friedkin's The Exorcist a crazily convincing documentary feel. When the horror movies wear their various sociopolitical hats—the B-picture as tabloid editorial—they often serve as an extraordinarily accurate barometer of those things which trouble the night-thoughts of a whole society.
But horror movies don't always wear a hat which identifies them as disguised comments on the social or political scene (as Cronenberg's The Brood comments on the disintegration of the generational family or as his They Came from Within treats of the more cannibalistic side-effects of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck"). More often the horror movie points even further inward, looking for those deep-seated personal fears—those pressure points—we all must cope with. This adds an element of universality to the proceedings, and may produce an even truer sort of art. It also explains, I think, why The Exorcist (a social horror film if there ever was one) did only so-so business when it was released in West Germany, a country which had an entirely different set of social fears at the time (they were a lot more worried about bombthrowing radicals than about foul-talking young people), and why Dawn of the Dead went through the roof there.
This second sort of horror film has more in common with the Brothers Grimm than with the op-ed page in a tabloid paper. It is the B-picture as fairy tale. This sort of picture doesn't want to score political points but to scare the hell out of us by crossing certain taboo lines. So if my idea about art is correct (it giveth more than it receiveth), this sort of film is of value to the audience by helping it to better understand what those taboos and fears are, and why it feels so uneasy about them.
A good example of this second type of horror picture is RKO's The Body Snatcher (1945), liberally adapted—and that's putting it kindly—from a Robert Louis Stevenson story and starring Karloff and Lugosi. And by the way, the picture was produced by our friend Val Lewton.
As an example of the art, The Body Snatcher is one of the forties' best. And as an example of this second artistic "purpose"—that of breaking tabbos—it positively shines.
I think we'd all agree that one of the great fears which all of us must deal with on a purely personal level is the fear of dying; without good old death to fall back on, the horror movies would be in bad shape. A corollary to this is that there are "good" deaths and "bad" deaths; most of us would like to die peacefully in our beds at age eighty (preferably after a good meal, a bottle of really fine vino, and a really super lay), but very few of us are interested in finding out how it might feel to get slowly crushed under an automobile lift while crankcase oil drips slowly onto our foreheads.
Lots of horror films derive their best effects from this fear of the bad death (as in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, where Phibes dispatches his victims one at a time using the Twelve Plagues of Egypt, slightly updated, a gimmick worthy of the Batman comics during their palmiest days). Who can forget the lethal binoculars in Horrors of the Black Museum, for instance? They came equipped with spring-loaded six-inch prongs, so that when the victim put them to her eyes and then attempted to adjust the field of focus …
Others derive their horror simply from the fact of death itself, and the decay which follows death. In a society where such a great store is placed in the fragile commodities of youth, health, and beauty (and the latter, it seems to me, is very often defined in terms of the former two), death and decay become inevitably horrible, and inevitably taboo. If you don't think so, ask yourself why the second grade doesn't get to tour the local mortuary along with the police department, the fire department, and the nearest McDonalds—one can imagine, or I can in my more morbid moments, the mortuary and McDonalds combined; the highlights of the tour, of course, would be a viewing of the McCorpse.
No, the funeral parlor is taboo. Morticians are modern priests, working their arcane magic of cosmetics and preservation in rooms that are clearly marked "off limits." Who washes the corpse's hair? Are the fingernails and toenails of the dear departed clipped one final time? Is it true that the dead are enconffined sans shoes? Who dresses them for their final star turn in the mortuary viewing room? How is a bullet hole plugged and concealed? How are strangulation bruises hidden?
The answers to all these questions are available, but they are not common knowledge. And if you try to make the answers part of your store of knowledge, people are going to think you a bit peculiar. I know; in the process of researching a forthcoming novel about a father who tries to bring his son back from the dead, I collected a stack of funeral literature a foot high—and any number of peculiar glances from folks who wondered why I was reading The Funeral: Vestige or Value?
But this is not to say that people don't have a certain occasional interest in what lies behind the locked door in the basement of the mortuary, or what may transpire in the local graveyard after the mourners have left … or at the dark of the moon. The Body Snatcher is not really a tale of the supernatural, nor was it pitched that way to its audience; it was pitched as a film (as was that notorious sixties documentary Mondo Cane) that would take us "beyond the pale," over that line which marks the edge of taboo ground.
"Cemeteries raided, children slain for bodies to dissect!" the movie poster drooled. "Unthinkable realities and unbelievable Facts of the dark days of early surgical research Exposed in The most Daring Shriek-and-Shudder Shock Sensation ever brought to the Screen!" (All of this printed on a leaning tombstone.)
But the poster does not stop there; it goes on very specifically to mark out the exact location of the taboo line and to suggest that not everyone may be adventurous enough to transgress this forbidden ground: "If You Can 'Take It' See Graves Raided! Coffins Robbed! Corpses Carved! Midnight Murder! Body Blackmail! Stalking Ghouls! Mad Revenge! Macabre Mystery! And Don't Say We Didn't Warn You!"
All of it has sort of a pleasant, alliterative ring, doesn't it?
1. One success in skating over this thin ice does not necessarily guarantee that the filmmaker will be able to repeat such a success; while his innate talent saves Hooper's second film, Eaten Alive, from descending to The Bloody Mutilators category, it is still a disappointment. The only director I can think of who has explored this gray land between art and pornoexhibitionism successfully—even brilliantly—again and again with never a misstep is the Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg.
PAUL RANGER (ESSAY DATE 1991)
SOURCE: Ranger, Paul. "The Gothic Spirit." In Terror and Pity Reign in Every Breast: Gothic Drama in the London Patent Theatres, 1750–1820, pp. 98-103. London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1991.
In the following essay, Ranger details the various motifs, settings, stock characters, narrative devices, and themes of Gothic drama.
Neither eighteenth-century playwrights, nor members of their audiences, used the term 'a gothic drama'. It was a label applied by literary critics only with hindsight to certain types of play. Instead, words suggesting the form rather than the content described the work. Thus the St James's Chronicle referred to The Castle Spectre (Matthew Gregory Lewis, 1797) as 'a drama of a mingled nature, Operatic, Comical and Tragical' and at greater length the Morning Chronicle defined George Colman the Younger's play, Feudal Times(1799), as 'an exhibition of music and dialogue, pantomime and dancing, painting and machinery, antique dresses and armour, thunder and lightning, fire and water …'1 Yet in spite of this variety of form, there was an homogeneity about the content that prompts one to question why certain scenes or stock devices repeatedly appeared. An establishment of the common ground held by a multiplicity of plays categorised as 'gothic' would eventually be a help in arriving at an understanding of this term.
In the prologue to The Castle Spectre Lewis suggested a starting point for this exploration. He used the figure of Romance to introduce his listeners to a number of specific locations which he would deem to be gothic:
She loathes the sun, or blazing taper's light;
The moon-beam'd landscape and tempestuous night
Alone she loves; and oft, with glimmering lamp,
Near graves new-open'd, or midst dungeons damp,
Drear forests, ruin'd aisles, and haunted towers,
Forlorn she roves, and raves away the hours!
In his list of church-yards, dungeons, forests, ruined churches, castles—all locations frequently used by the gothic playwright—Lewis was harking back to Samuel Johnson's dictionary definition of the word 'Romantick':'wild … improbable; false …; fanciful; full of wild scenery'.3 Lewis wrote an epilogue to Thomas Holcroft's play, Knave or Not (1798) in which he added to the list of locations some of the other appurtenances of the gothic:
Give us Lightning and Thunder, Flames, Daggers and Rage;
With events that ne'er happened, except on the Stage;
When your Spectre departs, through a trapdoor ingulph her,
Burn under her nose, too, some brimstone and sulpher.
Miles Peter Andrews, in his preface to the publication of the songs in The Enchanted Castle (1786), listed other elements he had detected in similar entertainments:
The Clank of Chains, the Whistling of Hollow Winds, the Clapping of Doors, Gigantic Forms, and visionary Gleams of Light …4
Not all playwrights banished these listings to prologues and epilogues. The gothic motifs were so integral to the plot that the audience's attention was drawn to them in the course of the action as John O'Keeffe did in The Castle of Andalusia (1782): standing in the moonlight outside the castle of the title, Don Caesar, the leader of the banditti, sang of the baying wolf, the midnight hour, shrieking females and maurauding brigands. To modern readers it appears that playwrights were setting out markers surrounding the gothic territory in which the action was to be placed.5
Eighteenth-century novelists had fused location and action more securely for the lengthier form in which they worked. Unencumbered by the necessity to compress a story into the couple of hours allowed to the playwright, writers took the opportunity to present themes of darkness in an expanded and integrated fashion. Many would nominate Horace Walpole's romance, The Castle of Otranto, as the seminal gothic novel.6 On the banks of the Thames at Twickenham Walpole had created a miniature gothic castle, a fantasy which served as the backdrop of his own self-conscious existence. At first no more than a cottage, 'the prettiest bauble' said Walpole, his domain eventually boasted a library, the Round Tower, the Holbein Bedroom and the Great Cloister, whilst still retaining the bijou quality of the original building. Within, a warm darkness pervaded which Walpole termed 'gloomth'.7 Here Walpole wrote his chivalric romance, a tale of strange, supernatural events. But whereas the details of his real castle, Strawberry Hill, were neat and contained, Otranto was conceived on a vast scale, the stage for colourful processions and tournaments. Both castles were alike in their enveloping gloom ('Take away that light,' shouted Manfred, demonstrating the villain's hatred of the clear light of day); alike, too, in their respective owners' love of the odd and the incongruous, and in the impression given that both buildings were likely environments in which to await supernatural visitants.8 Walpole's own phobias were writ large in Otranto so that they might terrify the reader,—the giant feathers on the expanding helmet which killed the young Conrad for example.
Terror was an important constituent in the gothic novel. The literary landscape which the essayists John Aikin and Anna Barbauld viewed was one strewn with such catastrophes as murders, shipwrecks, fires and earthquakes, all events with which the gothic playwrights were familiar. A 'gothic fragment' by the two writers was set in the ruins of a 'large antique mansion' on which a storm beat while hollow groans resounded in the subterranean vault. The effect of these circumstances was, claimed the authors, to elevate 'the soul to its highest pitch', again as much an aim of the playwright as the novelist.9 With such works in mind, George Colman light-heartedly summed up the constituents of the gothic novel:
A novel, now, is nothing more
Than an old castle and a creaking door:
A distant hovel—
Clanking of chains—a gallery—a light—
Old armour—and a phantom all in white—
And there's a novel.
The writer who fashioned similar settings and circumstances into lengthy, involved works of art was Ann Radcliffe. For her the landscape was of paramount importance; through it her heroines were perpetually journeying from one great house to another. Although her settings were less overtly horrific than the Aikin-Barbauld scenery, Radcliffe supplied for dramatists many a castle in ruins, underrun by secret passages, rotting in a wild, brigand-infested landscape:
This was a scene as Salvator would have chosen, had he then existed, for his canvas; St Aubert, impressed by the romantic character of the place, almost expected to see banditti start from behind some projecting rock, and he kept his hand upon the arms with which he always travelled.'11
No wonder that her novels found adaptors prepared to transmute them to the stage.
All of the gothic plays were set in the past, the past of an indeterminate, quasi-mediaeval Europe. Precision may have seemed pedantic. Walpole, after the publication of The Castle of Otranto, wrote to William Cole that his mind was filled with 'Gothic story' and the preface to the first edition stated that the action took place between the first and the last of the Crusades; in other words, between 1095 and 1243, a leeway of over one hundred and fifty years.12 Clara Reeve, who, after Walpole, wrote a similar tale of chivalry in which a process of rationalisation was applied to supernatural events, forebore to make a precise statement about the period of her work, instead referring to it as a 'picture of Gothic times and manners'.13 The term was used as an indication of atmosphere, rather than as a reference to given dates. When gothic works were staged this vagueness was an occasion of difficulty for the scene and costume designers, as well as leaving the audience with the impression that it was suspended in an indeterminate time-scale. A writer in the Critical Review, after seeing Andrew MacDonald's play, Vimonda (1787), summed up this feeling of disorientation:
Events are supposed to have taken place in the days of chivalry: a word with which we constantly connect the idea of something wild and extravagant.14
Many spectators, however, simply accepted the vagueness. After the first night of The Haunted Tower (James Cobb, 1789) the Prompter reported that history had 'nothing to do with the groundwork of this Opera'.15 That admission made, there was no further reference to infelicities in the presentation of the past, for the interest of the audience lay in the characters and situations. The activities of these characters reflected not the actions of folk in mediaeval moralities and mysteries so much as the deeds of the dark characters of Jacobean and Caroline tragedy. Indeed, the later plays of Shakespeare and the blood-suffused dramas of Thomas Otway were highly popular in the latter part of the eighteenth century and their atmosphere seeped into the gothic.
Not until the stage management of John Philip Kemble, with his antiquarian interest demanding correct and detailed settings, aided by his scene designer, William Capon, was the visual element of the gothic drama presented with historical accuracy. Capon scrupulously kept drawing books of London's mediaeval and Tudor buildings which served as the basis for the scenes he painted in his large studio.16 Viewing the progress, in addition to Kemble, would be men such as James Boaden, the editor of the Oracle, and Sir Joshua Reynolds who commended, wrote Boaden, 'the accuracy and bold execution' of these 'scenes of past ages'.17 The result of this accurate visual portrayal should have been to root the plays in an historical truth, but this eluded most of the audience. Applause was for the spectacular nature of Capon's settings, not their veracity.
More attention was, however, paid to an accuracy in the representation of the geographical settings for the concept of place is more tangible than that of time. Thomas Gray was but one of many writers who kept careful notes of tours, whether to the Lake District or further afield.18 The upkeep of a travel diary with its detailed descriptions of scenes and the accounts of the author's response provided an important literary souvenir. These diaries were far from private: each traveller aimed to publish his thoughts, giving to library shelves such works as the Revd William Gilpin's various sets of observations made whilst in the highlands of Scotland, Richard Warner's prose account of his ramble through Wales and William Sotheby's verse compilation on the sights of the principality. Farther from home the Revd William Coxe kept an account of his travels in the Alps and Ann Radcliffe commented on her visit to Holland and Germany. This established habit of travellers putting pen to paper prompted Joseph Cradock to remark:
As every one who has either traversed a steep mountain, or crossed a small channel, must write his Tour, it would be almost unpardonable in Me to be totally silent, who have visited the most uninhabitable regions of North Wales …19
Both playwrights and novelists made reference to this literary corpus which tended to improve the accuracy of scenic descriptions. Mrs Radcliffe's Emily journeyed from one castle to another in The Mysteries of Udolpho surveying and responding to the wild scenery of her travels. Conversations, too, were full of the talk of scenery: as Valancourt conversed with Emily 'there was often a tremulous tenderness in his voice, and sometimes he expatiated on [the scenes] with all the fire of genius'.20 Even when Emily reached her several destinations she would stand by the open casement gazing at the 'wild grandeur of the scene, closed nearly on all sides by alpine steeps, whose tops, peering over each other, faded from the eye in misty hues …'21 Nevertheless, the landscape did not exist in its own right but as part of the heroine's consciousness. Aesthetically it upheld her, although its benignity was sometimes at variance with the roughness of the terrain.
Gothic romances served as a source for playwrights and the detailed visual backgrounds were helpful in creating settings in the text. They were equally helpful to the scene designer in his attempts to provide a setting for the play. James Boaden, for instance, took another of Radcliffe's novels, The Italian, which he used as the basis for his play, The Italian Monk (1797). The descriptions of the lush Italian countryside found their echo in the dialogue. But they were doubly used, for Gaetano Marinari, the Haymarket's scene painter, was in a position to use both the playwright's stage-directions, as well as the novelist's accounts of prospects and architecture, in creating the settings for the play.22
Painters travelled, as well as writers, recording in water-colour scenes which later were to be worked into easel paintings. The notes made on one of Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg's tours of the county of Derby were used as a series of scenes for an entertainment at Drury Lane entitled The Wonders of Derbyshire (1779), in which such concrete images as a view of Matlock, Chatsworth House and Gardens and the caverns of Castleton anchored the entertainment in a factual depiction of specific locations.23 The sketch-books of another scene painter, Michael 'Angelo' Rooker, reveal his detailed interest in such subjects as castles, the ruins of abbeys at Netley, Llanthony and Glastonbury and a variety of townscapes. It was this keen observation which gained commendation for his stage depictions of such locations as St James's Park, Portsmouth illuminated for victory celebrations and the view of London from Highgate Ponds.24 Designers tended to resort to clichés in their over-easy presentation of castle and convent interiors. Then the audience found the stock scenes or rapid knock-ups unconvincing. On the other hand, specific townscapes were a challenge to which designers rose with aplomb. The portrayal of the Grand Square in Moscow in Frederick Reynolds's play, The Exile (1808), was greeted with acclaim by the critic in the European Magazine and it had earlier praised extravagantly the view of Orleans seen at dawn in Valentine and Orson (Thomas Dibdin, 1804).25
In some respects the work of the stage designer was comparable with that of the garden designer in the eighteenth century for both attempted to create a scene which would induce in the spectator an emotional response. The visitor to the theatre had merely to sit and watch the progression of the scenes but the visitor to the garden was responsible for his own progression from one setting to another. In this he was guided by a circuit walk from which vistas opened before him; he also entered a series of enclosed spaces, each designed to elicit an emotional response: a prospect might arouse in him feelings of cheerfulness and alternatively the cool darkness of a cypress grove would fill him with quiet melancholy. This changing pattern of emotion was described in Richard Graves's novel The Spiritual Quixote in the commentary on Mr Rivers's garden. It was
laid out in a romantic taste with a proper mixture of the allegro and the penseroso, the cheerful and the gloomy: tufts of roses, jasmines and the most fragrant flowering shrubs, with a serpentine walk of cypresses and laurels, here and there an urn, with suitable inscriptions, and terminated by a rough arch of rock work that covered a dripping fountain, were its principal beauties.26
In the garden of fiction the novelist created the responses. The factual garden could drawn responses just as surely, as is evident from Humphrey Repton's selection of adjectives in his account of a visit to Downton Castle, Richard Payne Knight's estate in Herefordshire:
A narrow, wild and natural path sometimes creeps under the beetling rock, close by the margin of a mountain stream. It sometimes ascends to an awful precipice, from whence the foaming waters are heard roaring in the dark abyss below, or seen wildly dashing against its opposite banks; while in other places, the course of the river being impeded by natural ledges of rock, the vale presents a calm, glassy mirror, that reflects the surrounding foliage.27
Repton contrasted awe and calmness, each induced by a separate prospect. Melancholy was envisaged as the heart's cleanser and frequent opportunities were given to savour it in Alexander Pope's garden at Twickenham, which contained a gloomy grotto, dusky groves and, as a climax at the end of a grove of cypresses, the tomb of the poet's mother.28 This stress gave truth to Walpole's dictum that it was 'always comic to set aside a quarter of one's garden to be melancholy in'.29 Sheer terror could also be encountered in these garden scenes. On a visit to China, Sir William Chambers noted an oriental gothic garden:
Their scenes of terror are composed of gloomy woods, deep valleys inaccessible to the sun, impending barren rocks, dark caverns, and impetuous cataracts rushing down the mountains from all parts … Bats, owls, vultures, and every bird of prey flutter in the groves; wolves, tigers and jackals howl in the forests …30
He went on to tell of the inscribed stones set up in the garden which recorded barbarous acts perpetrated by brigands on the land over which the visitor passed. Chambers used the term 'scene' in describing these prospects.31 In this he was not alone. Thomas Whatley, gazing at one of the views at Hagley in Worcestershire, commended it as a 'perfect opera scene' and Repton contrasted the scene which the theatre-goer viewed with that of the garden visitor noting that the artist's use of perspective gave value to the theatrical scene, a technique of which the garden design was deprived.32 Whether the scene was in the garden or the theatre it was designed to induce an emotional response in the beholder. Mention has already been made of those features in a garden which produced a feeling of melancholy. Other scenes would produce different responses: wild crags and a cascade of water could strike terror, a fear that the place was the lair of the banditti and yet, on the other hand, an open prospect of hills and clumped trees could impart serenity.33 Some of the responses were, of course, conventionalised but playwrights nevertheless made use of emotional settings in order to hint at the action which was to follow allowing the mood of the scene to be anticipated in advance.
A formal appreciation of landscape painting, a privilege which educated members of the audience enjoyed, helped to foster discernment in viewing scenery. The eighteenth-century's most highly collectable painters were three artists active in the previous century, the Neapolitan, Salvator Rosa, and two French painters, Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin.
Whate'er Lorraine light-touched with soft'ning hue,
Or savage Rosa dashed, or learned Poussin drew …
wrote James Thomson in The Castle of Indolence. All three men influenced landscape design and thereby, indirectly, stage design. The paintings of Claude gave one a long vista of receding planes, as if the scene was composed of wings and back-drop. In the distance mountains and wild forests were just discernible and as the planes advanced to the foreground one was conscious of the force of natural elements: the gushing river, the waterfall, wild trees twisted into a series of frames to surround the prospect, all contrasted with the order of classical buildings, quays and the commerce of mankind. We have already noticed the awe with which eighteenth-century travellers viewed the natural setting. This was suggested in the landscapes of Claude but in those of Rosa it was more than suggested—it was exaggerated. For Rosa the natural scene was untamed and the hastily applied impasto on his canvas revealed his own response to the landscape. His scenes were dark but camp fires or the full moon highlighted the brigands and uncouth shepherds who inhabited the wild hills of his fevered imagination.
The landscapes of the gothic dramas became conventionalised; castles were always ruinous, forests set in deep gloom and the seashore lashed by the storm-driven waves. Their stock nature enabled the theatre-goer to recognise the gothic quality of a play and it was only to be expected that stock characters would perform within these locations.
Visitors to the playhouse could expect to see the clearly delineated stock characters of the romantic hero and heroine; the villain, a personification of relentless greed or self-devouring jealousy and the divided hero, a man at odds with himself who, through some insidious fault, crumbled before the spectators' eyes. In contrast to these major characters, lighter entertainment was provided by a bevy of humorous domestics or rustics whose lives were lived on a different emotional plane than that of the intense and passionate breathings of their superiors.
The conventional quality of each role allowed actors to specialise and for each type certain qualities were needed. A singing voice was a requisite for the part of the youthful hero. A sturdy figure and a bass voice through which a range of disturbed passions could be expressed was the essential physical apparatus of the older tragic hero. Alexander Rae failed vocally in the role of Ordonio (Remorse, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1813) for, in spite of his expressive face and intellectual clarity, he suffered from an 'effeminacy of tone … that [did] away with the impression of manly energy …'34 Many popular light actresses took on the role of the younger heroine. When Mentevole (Julia, Robert Jephson, 1787), looking at a cameo of his sweetheart, rehearsed her virtues he was describing not one but a hundred heroines:
O what a slender form is here! her polish'd front,
Blue slender veins, winding their silken maze,
Through flesh of living snow. Young Hebe's hue,
Blushing ambrosial health. Her plenteous tresses,
Luxuriant beauty! Those bewitching eyes,
That shot their soft contagion to my soul….
The sameness of the heroine's role posed a problem for actresses, as Mrs Lister discovered while taking the part of Barbara in a revival of The Iron Chest (George Colman the Younger, 1796):
… [she] sung her airs in her old way, which is assuredly very pleasing, but her compass is so narrow that she may be said to have a cuckoo voice—hear her once, and you have heard all that she can do.35
The villain brought dynamism and vitality to the play. William Barrymore, in spite of his 'laboured enunciation' was judged by Thomas Dutton to be 'the best stage tyrant the theatre can boast'.36 It would be possible to multiply instances of this type-casting but these few examples give an indication of the expectations the performer hoped to match.
The stock characters worked their way through repetitions of stock situations and devices. Strangely the audience seemed not to tire of these but found interest in the differing circumstances of each usage. Mention is made here of a few of the more common devices of the gothic stage. Mistaken identity was a convention which allowed a spate of horrors to be unleashed in the last act of the piece. The ending of Hannah Cowley's Albina (1779) was typical. With the darkness of night shrouding the characters, Edward mistook Editha for Albina and, whilst he embraced her, Gondibert, making the same misassumption, plunged his dagger into Editha's back. Rapidly avenging her death, Edward attempted to stab Gondibert who snatched the dagger from him and with it procured his own demise. The speed and complexity of the action, the gloom of the stage and the intensity of feeling produced a horrific but satisfying ending to the play.
Disguise was another theme which ran through many a gothic drama. It was a device which worked only within the framework of the stage, for characters were not permitted to question the identity of the disguised person, an accepted convention reliant on the eighteenth-century love of masquerading as a person other than oneself, whether at a masked ball or at the private theatricals which were so popular a feature of great houses or even at a fantasy such as the rituals Sir Francis Dashwood and his companions indulged in as the 'Monks of Medmenham', a village near Henley-on-Thames.37 Disguise offered a character an extra dimension within which to operate. It also infused the situation within which the disguised person operated with overtones of irony, strengthening the link between the performer and his audience as a bond of complicity was formed between them. For example, the central character of The Carmelite (Richard Cumberland, 1784), Lord St Valori, disguised through much of the play as the friar of the title, was able to move outside the main action and comment on it: the plot then revolved around the awaited reunion of Lady St Valori with her husband. In the early scenes of the play clues were planted which hinted at the troubled past of the friar. St Valori's disclosure of his true self was incidental but most of the disclosures made by disguised characters were a flamboyance, bringing the play to a climactic ending. In The House of Morville (John Lake, 1812) Sir Thomas attended Hugh's trial masked and disguised; both were thrown off with electric effect at the apex of the crisis. Rodmond the villain stood 'terror struck' and the presiding judge showed 'an expression of astonishment'. 'Oh, Heav'n' cried the prisoner, 'it is my father' (5.6). Here the device of the disclosure of identity was interwoven with another, the discovery of a long-lost relative.
The facility with which one recognised one's kindred, for 'relationship like murder, will out' (3.1), was parodied by Richard Sheridan in The Critic (1779): his strictures, however, did not inhibit the gothic dramatists. The speed with which recognition was achieved in The Castle of Andalusia was as rapid as in Sheridan's burlesque. With a rush the banditti, headed by Caesar their leader, entered the hall of Scipio's castle. From Scipio the briefest of questions—'Where's now my son, Don Caesar?'—instantly elicited a revelation. Follies of the preceding years were washed away in a couple of sentences, lacking in intensity and pathos:
My father! (Kneels to Don Scipio).
How, my Son, Don Caesar!
Yes, sir: drove to desperation by—
My follies were my own—but my vices—
Were the consequences of my rigour.—
My child! Let these tears wash away the remembrance.
Little more than a frivolous explanation of the cause of the rift was given. Other causes of the separation of relatives were varied, ranging from the prosaic to the fantastic—the Empress of Greece (Valentine and Orson) in flight from her husband gave birth to twins in a wood, one of whom was carried away by a bear. It was however rare for the cause itself to influence to any degree the structure of the plot.
As well as these situations, several stage properties were used with a measure of repetition and incidents were created around them; the principal properties were the intercepted letter and the phial of poison. Some letters were forgeries as lacking in credibility as the conventional disguise: 'Then this unravels all' (2.2) cried the Doge in The Venetian Outlaw (Robert William Elliston, 1805) on reading that Vivaldi had been falsely implicated in dealings with the banditti. Plans of escape could also be outlined in letters. The flight of Agnes (Aurelio and Miranda, James Boaden, 1798) from the convent was thwarted when Aurelio discovered a missive outlining the details. Similarly Bireno (The Law of Lombardy, Robert Jephson, 1797) gained written information of a plan to rescue the Princess of Lombardy which offered the recipient an opportunity to share his strategy with the audience:
Confusion! Rescue her! Come back, Ascanio!
Fly to St Mark's, collect the cohort there;
Go, place them instantly around the prison!
Bid them disarm the guard that holds that place;
And, on their lives, drive back the populace.
In each of these plays the letters were more than conveyances of information; they instigated further action and became an integral part of the plot structure.
The phial of poison was a suspense mechanism. John Kerr used it to effect in his play The Wandering Boys (1814). Roland determined on the use of a slow poison for the two sons of the Count de Croissy which he would administer by inviting them to take some refreshment. The Count, disguised as a servant of Roland's, brought in various comestibles whilst keeping an eye on the bottle of poisoned wine that his master had introduced onto the table. Throughout the meal—lengthy for a stage repast—the audience was able to watch with growing suspense the Count adroitly switch the bottles and so poison Roland. The extraordinary length of time the drug took to become effective, for poison used as a means of resolving the action on stage usually worked with a degree of speed, was a cause of renewed suspense and it was not until two further scenes had passed that the Count opportunely told Roland, still not suffering from the effects of the draught, that it was he, not the boys who had been poisoned: 'He who composed the hellish drug best knows how long or short his time of lingering, or what may be his torments' (2.3). Audiences demanded finality from the poison. This was lacking in The Inquisitor (Thomas Holcroft, 1798) when the Patriarch, like a deus ex machina, descended to the dungeon in time to prevent the young lovers incarcerated there from taking poison. This inconclusive use was condemned in the epilogue:
… if sad Melpomene must have rotation,
Let her dagger be sharp, and her poison-bowl brimful,
As Cowslip's, who brings Rusty-fusty one, creamful:
Let Juliet quite stabb'd be, and Romeo quite poison'd;
And let not, by signal of moon just horizon'd,
A Patriarch pop in, 'tween the cup and the lip so,
Nor the Hero and Heroine dally and sip so!
Recurrent devices such as these were a further means of recognising the gothic qualities of a play; they added to its atmosphere and occasionally became telling symbols, capable of arousing terror and pity in the audience.
So far we have looked at various motifs in the plays, the setting of the play within its time and place, and the stock characters and devices. Our purpose has been to discover the common ground on which the dramas were constructed. Before we can begin to answer the question 'What constitutes a gothic drama?' we must be aware of one important formative influence on the plays: the ideas of the German romantic playwrights Friedrich von Schiller and August von Kotzebue.38 The remarks of reviewers of Charles Robert Ma-turin's play Bertram (1816) highlighted objections to the German school. The British Review attacked the tone of the play:
Rotten principles and a bastard sort of sentiment, such, in short, as have been imported into this country from German moralists and poets, form the interest of this stormy and extravagant composition.39
The Monthly Review was more specific in its objections. The author was charged with sapping 'the foundation of moral principle by exciting undue compassion for worthless characters, or unjust admiration of fierce and unchristian qualities'.40 A romantic presentation of low-life or roguery together with criticism of the ruling classes was to some a cause of outrage. John Larpent, the Lord Chamberlain's Reader of Plays refused to grant a licence for Joseph Holman's direct translation of Schiller's banditti drama Die Räuber in the belief that the text offered an immoral glorification of brigandage. Holman was left to recast the subject matter, converting the banditti into Knights Templars, and to reissue the piece as The Red Cross Knights (1799).41 Spotting Germanic themes became a game for critics,—one played by the Monthly Mirror in reviewing Lewis's play The Castle Spectre:
Mr Lewis's intimacy with German literature is strongly proclaimed … the dream of Osmond, his Atheism, Reginald's sixteen years immurement, (derived, probably, from The Robbers) and the frequent appeals to Heaven, with a levity unusual to our stage, are all German.42
The dark side of human nature, its greed, lust and power, its attempts to over-reach, its suspected godlessness, when openly acknowledged by playwrights caused distress; more than that, its exemplification became a direct target for the Tory publication, the Anti-Jacobin Review.
It is difficult to define the nature of gothic drama. The gothic was not a movement in the sense that it was built on clearly formulated principles. Instead, it can be thought of as an artistic climate assimilated by practitioners of a range of the creative arts. Its early manifestations were seen in such fantasies as the gothic temple which closed the canal vista at Shotover Park outside Oxford and in the delightful circuit walk and mystery ponds William Kent designed at Rousham House near Bicester.43 It found expression in the interior design of houses which were improved to contain a gothic library and chapel, as at Milton Manor in Oxfordshire.44 The sad reflections of John Dyer on human mutability in 'Grongar Hill' were an early manifestation of the gothic spirit in words, later developed by novelists who, in the expansiveness of their romances, were able to draw out a multiplicity of dark themes. It was to the novel that Bertrand Evans in his own work on the text of the gothic dramas turned in attempting to formulate a definition:
A Gothic play … is one marked by features which have long served to identify a Gothic novel.45
There was a danger that the formulary would become imprisoned in its own cross-references. However, Evans went on to list some of the characteristics which have been considered in this chapter:
These features include specialized settings, machinery, character types, themes, plots, and techniques selected and combined to serve a primary purpose of exploiting mystery, gloom and terror.
Why exploit 'mystery, gloom and terror'? Whilst evenings of mystery, and even of terror, may be acceptable in the theatre, we might now think that there is slight hope that evenings of gloom will draw large audiences. Eighteenth-century taste would deny that assertion. In 1763 James Macpherson published translations purporting to be of the Gaelic poet Ossian's work, which was immediately admired for its wild spirit. Professor Hugh Blair, lecturing on this newly discovered poet, selected that paraphernalia in his works which appealed to readers—the darkness, hoary mountains, solitary lakes, old forests.46 These were, he said, 'ideas of a solemn and awful kind, and even bordering on the terrible'; the effect of the motifs was to raise the reader out of himself to the sublime; in some measure they recreated the effect that the actual phenomena exerted on travellers in their original experience. A fellow professor, James Beattie, looking at objects more terrifying than those Blair contemplated—vast caverns, overhanging precipices and stormy seas—realised that even aesthetic horror could, in turn, lead beholders to the sublime.47 It was in this spirit that the 'mystery, gloom and terror' of the gothic dramas were acceptable in the theatre.48
A succinct definition of the gothic drama, then, is difficult to devise. In this chapter, however, we have seen that it was a reflection of the dark and wild side of human nature, mirrored in an equally violent natural world or in architectural settings which, in their ruinous state, spoke of human mortality. Although the gothic stage represented the psyche of eighteenth-century man—his innermost fears and longings—the presenta-tions were of plays set in an undefined and romantically conceived mediaeval past. The plays were subject to Germanic influences which queried the traditional eighteenth-century concepts of social hierarchy, sympathy and respectability. Finally, we have been aware that the playwright's expression of the gothic was not an isolated art form: it was expressed through the visual and plastic arts as well as in verse and prose. The gothic was a spirit, moving where it would. Although it was a dark spirit, it was capable of illuminating some of the submerged recesses of human personality.
1. St James' Chronicle, 16-19 December 1797; Morning Chronicle, 21 January 1797.
2. Monthly Mirror, IV (December 1797), 357.
3. Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (1775).
4. Miles Peter Andrews, The Songs, Recitatives, Airs, Duets, Trios and Choruses introduced into the Pantomime Entertainment of 'The Enchanted Castle'; (1786), p. iv.
5. An extended discussion on the gothic territory may be found in: David Jarett, '"Gothic" as a term in Literary Criticism in the Eighteenth Century', unpublished thesis, University of Oxford, 1968; Alfred Longueil, 'The Word "Gothic" in Eighteenth Century Criticism', Modern Language Notes, XXXVIII (1923), 453-60; Devendra P. Varma, The Gothic Flame (1957).
6. Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764), ed. Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (1969). An evaluation of his contribution to the gothic genre is to be found in Varma, Gothic Flame, pp. 44-65.
7. Horace Walpole, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence, ed. Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (1937–80), X, 307.
8. Walpole, Otranto, ed. Lewis, p.22. Warren Hunting Smith contrasted the two buildings in 'Strawberry Hill and Otranto', The Times Literary Supplement, 23 May 1936. Walpole's eclectic taste and scholarship are explored in: Charles Locke Eastlake, A History of the Gothic Revival (1872), pp. 44-51.
9. John Aikin and Anna Letitia Barbauld, Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose (1792), p. 121 and pp. 127 ff.
10. S. M. Ellis, The Life of Michael Kelly (1930), p. 254.
11. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), ed. Bonamy Dobrée (Oxford, 1980), p. 30; see also pp. 78, 102, 227, 230, 302, 358 and 631.
12. Horace Walpole, Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Mrs Paget Toynbee (Oxford, 1903–05), VI, 195; Walpole, Otranto, ed. Lewis, p. 3.
13. Clara Reeve, The Old English Baron (1777), Preface to the Second Edition (1778), ed. James Trainer (1967), p. 3.
14. Critical Review, LXVI (1788), 359. A detailed and disapproving analysis of Vimonda is to be found in: Willard Thorp, 'The Stage Adventures of Some Gothic Novels', Papers of the Modern Language Association, XVIII (1928), 479-80.
15. Prompter, 27 November 1789.
16. William Capon's notebooks are in the collection of Robert K. Sturtz, New York.
17. James Boaden, Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble (1825), II, 101.
18. Thomas Gray, Mr Gray's Journal (1775).
19. Joseph Cradock, An Account of Some of the Most Romantic Parts of North Wales (1777), p. 1.
20. Radcliffe, Udolpho, ed. Dobrée, p. 105.
21. ibid., p. 241.
22. The influence of the gothic novel on the drama is discussed further in: Michael Booth, English Plays of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford 1969), I, 24.
23. Ralph G. Allen, 'The Wonders of Derbyshire: A Spectacular Eighteenth Century Travelogue', Theatre Survey, II (1961), 54-66.
24. Sybil Rosenfeld and Edward Croft Murray, 'A Checklist of Scene Painters working in Great Britain and Ireland in the Eighteenth-Century', Theatre Notebook, XIX (1965), 144-5; Patrick Conner Michael Angelo Rooker (1984), pp. 49-93 and 122-37.
25. European Magazine, LIV (1808), 391 and XLV (1804), 297.
26. Richard Graves, The Spiritual Quixote (1773), ed. Clarence Tracey (1967), p. 186.
27. Humphrey Repton, Sketches and Hints (1794), p. 103.
28. Pope's villa at Cross Deep, Twickenham, was demolished in the 1820s by Sophia Howe, 'Queen of the Goths', but the mutilated grotto remains.
29. Horace Walpole, On Modern Gardening (1762–71), ed. Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (New York, 1931), p. 60.
30. William Chambers, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (Dublin. 1773), p. 27.
31. Chambers, Oriental Gardening, p. 28.
32. Whatley's remark is cited in: Lawrence Fleming and Alan Gore, The English Garden (1979), p. 109; and Repton's in Peter Bicknell, Beauty, Horror and Immensity, Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibition Catalogue (Cambridge, 1981), p. 43.
33. The sentimental garden is discussed in Fleming and Gore's book (see note 32), pp. 85-180.
34. Theatrical Inquisitor, II (1813), 64.
35. Monthly Mirror, XVI (1809), 117.
36. The Times, 25 June 1798; Thomas Dutton, Dramatic Censor, I (1800–01), 46.
37. The private theatre in the eighteenth century is described in: Sybil Rosenfeld, Temples of Thespis (1978).
38. This subject is fully explored in: F. W. Stokoe, German Influence in the English Romantic Period (Cambridge, 1926), pp. 19-34.
39. British Review, VIII (1816), 70. Informative biographical details of Charles Maturin are to be found in: Samuel Smiles, Memoirs and Correspondence of the Late John Murray (1891), pp. 288-303.
40. Monthly Review, LXXX (1816), 179. Further information on the reception of the play is given in: Niilo Idman, Charles Robert Maturin, His Life and Works (1923), pp. 102-25.
41. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.: letter of Joseph Holman to John Larpent, W. b. 67 (63-63v); Joseph Holman, The Red Cross Knights (1799), pp. i-iv; L. W. Conolly, The Censorship of English Drama (San Marino, 1976), pp. 98-101.
42. Monthly Mirror, IV (1797), 356.
43. Kenneth Woodbridge, 'William Kent's Gardening', Apollo, C (1974), pp. 286-9; Margaret Jourdain, The Work of William Kent (1984), p. 80. The gothic temple at Shotover is possibly by William Townsend, see: Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (1974, rep. 1975), p. 765.
44. Stephen Wright was the architect; wood-carving by a London craftsman, Richard Lawrence; see: Suzanne Mockler, Milton Manor, Oxfordshire (n.d.).
45. Bertrand Evans, Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1947), p. 5.
46. Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1787), I, 48-9.
47. Cited in: Samuel H. Monk, The Sublime. A Study of Critical Theories in Eighteenth Century England (Michigan, 1960), p. 129.
48. The theme of the beholder's response to the sublime is explored also in: Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque (1967) and in Bicknell, Beauty, Horror and Immensity.
DIANE LONG HOEVELER (ESSAY DATE SUMMER 2000)
SOURCE: Hoeveler, Diane Long. "Gothic Drama as Nationalistic Catharsis." Wordsworth Circle 31, no. 3 (summer 2000): 169-72.
In the following essay, Hoeveler examines the social and political implications of the popularity of Gothic drama.
In Spectacular Politics (1993), Paula Backsheider suggested that gothic drama is "the earliest example of … mass culture … an artistic configuration that becomes formulaic and has mass appeal, that engages the attention of a very large, very diverse audience, and that stands up to repetition, not only of new examples of the type but production of individual plays" (150). But what is repeated in the gothic drama, and how were those repetitions—often excessive, hyperbolic, blatantly fantastical—manipulated so that the genre gained mass appeal? This essay examines the social and political ideologies that are explicit in the major gothic dramatic adaptations of the most popular gothic novels of the period: Lewis's Castle Spectre, a loose adaptation of Walpole's Castle of Otranto; Siddons' Sicilian Romance, an adaptation of Radcliffe's novel of the same title; and Boaden's Fountainville Forest, another adaptation based on Radcliffe. The essay will conclude by focusing on perhaps the least familiar of Boaden's gothic dramas, his Cambrio-Britons, a drama that, like Wordsworth's The Borderers (1796; 1842), is complicitous in constructing the new British nationalistic character that Burke was codifying in his prose.
Curiously, all of these works use a ghost, a female ghost who in three of them embodies both a socially conservative message and a direct political warning to the protagonists of the drama, and, by extension, to the audience. Examining these dramas not simply as inferior adaptations intended for a mass audience, one sees that each participates in the ongoing national debate about the proper role of the monarchy, the threat of violent revolution, the shock of sudden class transformation, the anxiety of changing gender roles within the family structure, and, finally, the construction of a newly nationalistic British empire that sought to justify its absorption of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
As Jeffrey Cox has pointed out in relation to Romantic drama and the French Revolution, when history itself becomes theatrical, theater responds by "translating the representation of revolt from history to myth" (241). Is gothic drama, as Peter Brooks observed about melodrama, essentially conservative, a means of reinstating social and political order (15), or can it be understood as a species of what Hayden White has called "anarchistic," calling for a dissolution of contemporary institutions in order to reclaim a more humane community that existed sometime in the past (24-5)? Each of these dramas is not simply politically conservative, as has often been argued, but rather constructs a distant past that the play reshapes as redeemable through the elimination of corrupt aristocrats. Each play presents a political and social warning to the monarchy: reform or be overthrown by violence, which constitutes an anarchist message. Under the spectre of the French Revolution these works introduce middle-class characters who embody the best of what Britain must become if it is to avoid the violent and chaotic fate of France. The dramas attempt to mediate between classes, races, and genders that were at odds over the shape and power structure of the evolving bourgeois society. The dramas function, then, as cathartic forms, public rituals in which the middle class haunted itself with its own act of imagined, fantasized revolution, usually depicted as some form of matricide or fratricide. In a series of what might be seen as social and political morality plays, the middle class audience encountered its own mythology of origins, its own "Hyperion"—like creation of a new order built on the backs of an aristocracy that simply did not deserve to survive.
As Robert Miles has noted, those involved in the invention of the gothic embraced the hieratic function of keeping alive the sacred mementoes of the race. But ideological conservatism intersected with the democratic nature of artistic production for the masses, creating what Foucault has called a "site" of "power/knowledge" at odds with itself. As a site of opposing strategies, the gothic drama became a "hazardous play of dominations" seeking to compose a coherent position amid rapid social, historical, and cultural transformations. It is, according to Miles, in the moments of slippage and discontinuity that the ideological business of the gothic aesthetic is most apparent (32). For him, the gothic aesthetic incorporates an idealized national identity together with a myth of origins (50).
This position is very close to James Watt's in Contesting the Gothic (1999). For Watt, the 1790s through the early 1800s were dominated by what he calls the creation of "Loyalist Gothic" romances. He sees these works as reactions to Britain's defeat in America in that they portray a proud heritage of military victory played out within a moral and political agenda. Set around a real castle in Britain, these works present a stratified yet harmonious society, use real historical figures from the British military pantheon (Arthur or Alfred were particular favorites), and consistently depict the defeat of effeminate or foreign villains. Loyalist gothics are structurally bound to depict an act of usurpation which is always arighted, often through the supernatural agency of a ghost (7).
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
CLIVE BARKER (1952–)
Barker's style is characterized by cinematic descriptions of blood and gore, as well as unabashedly graphic sexual imagery. His stories are applauded by critics as imaginative and unique. Barker has adapted several of his own short stories and novellas to the screen, in motion pictures he directed, including the films Hellraiser (1987), Nightbreed (1990), The Thief of Always (1998), and Lord of Illusions (1995). Barker is best known for Clive Barker's Books of Blood (generally referred to as the Books of Blood), his six-volume collection of short stories and novellas published in 1984 and 1985 that encompass the overlapping genres of horror and fantasy fiction. Many of Barker's stories feature monsters or apparitions, and in his fictional worlds the boundaries between life and death are often blurred. In a number of his stories, death is welcomed by the protagonist as a transformation into a higher state of being. Doppelgängers are also a staple of his stories. Barker's fiction often expresses the sense that the world of humans is as dark, violent, and evil as the monsters and ghosts who terrorize his protagonists. Volume one of the Books of Blood (1984) includes "The Book of Blood," in which ghosts exact revenge against a man pretending to be a medium by torturing him and writing the stories of their lives and deaths into his flesh. The ghosts' stories are their "Books of Blood," written in the language of pain. Volume five of the Books of Blood (1985) was published in the United States as In the Flesh: Tales of Terror (1986). In "The Forbidden," a young woman investigating urban graffiti learns of a supernatural creature, known as Candyman, who commits acts of brutal violence against the inhabitants of an impoverished neighborhood. In 1992 "The Forbidden" was adapted to the screen in the film Candyman.
One example, according to Watt, is William Godwin's early romance Imogen (1748), set in prehistoric Wales and idealizing a "pure, uncorrupted society in the mythical past as a bulwark against the hegemonic forces of English imperialism" (45). Unlike Gray's "The Bard," Godwin's novel hints that the act of trespass and usurpation made when Edward I conquered Wales could be reversed. Because "Great Britain," in other words, could only come into being through acts of usurpation of property and title condoned by the public, these acts were played out in veiled form on the gothic stage, where women were usually powerless pawns of powerful and corrupt aristocrats. The act of forming itself into a nation was, in effect, the real trauma that was occurring in England, enacted vicariously on the London stage for all to witness and accept.
The quest for an idealized national identity, however, needs to be set into the still larger historical context in which popular gothic dramas were produced. England and Scotland signed the Act of Union in 1707, ending years of hostility and territorial skirmishing. But this document was, as Tom Nairn has pointed out, a largely "patrician bargain" because the signers were mostly aristocrats (136f). The task of the next hundred years was to imaginatively separate and differentiate England and Scotland in the popular consciousness—and that became largely the province of Romantic literature's cultural work. As Benedict Anderson noted, one of the ways a country builds a sense of its own nationality is to imagine itself as antique (and thus the medievalism in Keats, Coleridge, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Walter Scott). But an equally effective way to build the consciousness of a nation state is to construct a local adversary on the very borders in order, as Anderson points out, to create a clearly defined sense of space, a newly sacred territory potentially threatened by lawless of crude infidels (xiv). Scotland, Wales and Ireland, became for the Romantic consciousness such border communities, the "others" that England had to separate from, master and suppress, dominate and oppress in order to forge its own sense of amalgamated nationhood.
Matthew Lewis's The Castle Spectre (1797) was the most popular gothic drama performed in England in the late 1790s, based on Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, although the setting and characters differ in several important ways. The contested castle has moved from Italy to the border of Wales and England during the 10th century. This shift both localizes the place and makes the gothic a British phenomenon to explore British anxieties about nationhood, borders, and outsiders—women and blacks—clamoring to breech the moats that an aristocratic and maledominated culture had constructed for itself. Angela, the besieged gothic heroine in this drama, is aided in her struggle against her evil uncle Osmond by a group of social outcasts: a fool, a gluttonous friar, servants, and finally, the ultimate outcast, her murdered mother's ghost. Osmond had murdered Evelina, his sister-in-law, in a botched attempt to kill the entire family of his eldest brother so that he could usurp the estate. At the drama's climatic moment (Osmond's second attempt to murder his brother Reginald), the ghost of Evelina appears and throws herself between the two brothers. This action so startles Osmond that he drops his sword and Angela "suddenly springs forward and plunges her dagger into Osmond's bosom." It is Angela who calmly steps forward and gives instructions for the care of her wounded father, cleaning up the mess made by the warring sons.
The same matter-of-fact presentation is made of the black servant Hassan and the Indian Saib. It is as if Lewis has invited the empire's colonial lackeys home for dinner, thereby highlighting the incongruity of Britain's involvement in the slave trade and Indian expeditions. These recent historical realities are transplanted back into the 10th century, suggesting an analogy between the treatment of women and the treatment of slaves.
Even more fraught with contradictory ideological baggage is Henry Siddons' 1794 Sicilian Romance; or the Apparition of the Cliff, which also uses the device of a daughter saved by what appears to be her mother's ghost. This drama undercuts the supernatural element by having the mother imprisoned by her evil husband so that he can marry a young and wealthy heiress. Her ghostly appearances at night, seen by many around the cliff where she is imprisoned, are resolved when the daughter Julia unbars a door and her mother magically returns, as if from the dead. When the evil Ferrand discovers the mother and daughter's reunion, he resolves to kill them both himself. As he rushes on them, the mother pulls a dagger and says, "Advance not, on your life! / Spite of thy cruelty, I love thee still, / Still live in hopes to charm thy savage soul, / And melt it into tenderness and love" (III.iv). This melting never occurs, and the father cannot be assimilated into the restored family that sings the praises of the king in the closing scene. A drama that has presented the ruling patriarch of this tiny principality as a ravening, lustful madman concludes, then, with a song in praise of George III.
Boaden's Fountainville Forest, based on Radcliffe's Mysteries of the Forest, is relevant here, as is his later gothic-historicist drama The Cambrio-Britons, his unsuccessful bid to be taken seriously as a dramatist in the manner of Shakespeare. Fountainville Forest (1794) presents a mysterious ghost, simply called a "phantom." As Adeline, the heroine, reads her murdered father's journal, the phantom speaks on three occasions to confirm her worst fears, that, yes, her uncle was the usurping murderer of his own brother and now, incestuously, pursues her, his niece. The phantom, although cowled and ambiguous, represents the heroine's dead father, so that the crime here is not matricide, as it becomes in Lewis, but fratricide. Dynastic intrigue, warring brothers, and the eroticized daughter-figure are all stock devices by 1794, but their ritualistic embodiment on stage raises the questions: what cultural work is being performed? Why does a male ghost, the dead father, haunt this play rather than the dead mother? Is the state as well as the family under social and political siege? Rapid transformations in the family structure had caused even the patriarch, it would appear, to tremble in his own domicile.
Boaden (1762–1839) wrote eight dramas during his lifetime, but is best known for his five theatrical biographies, notably the Life of John Philip Kemble, a primary source for materials on the late 18th and early 19th century theatre. Following his adaptations of Radcliffe's novels, Boaden wrote Cambrio-Britons, an historical drama in the style of Shakespeare, first performed on July 21, 1798, at the Haymarket. A play that depicts the conquest of Wales by England in the 13th century, the drama was relevant to the contemporary war against France. As Boaden noted in his Life of Kemble, he used the play to meet "the menaces of foreign invasion, in the year 1798, with patriot sentiment." Written at the height of invasion fever, as Cohen observed, the play opened one month before France actually attempted to invade (xxvi). In the same biography Boaden explained that dramas should not be the venue for party politics, but that the theater would be "deficient in its noblest duty, when it inspires no ardour against an invading enemy" ("Preface" to Cambrio-Britons). Further, Boaden thought that the play would inspire every one in the audience to "thank" him for "seeking to sustain the independence of his country" (qtd in Cohen, xxvii). But he misunderstood, according to Cohen, that the sympathies of the play are with the Welsh, who are struggling to maintain their independence against the oppressive and corrupt English, led by King Edward in 1282. The drama's analogy actually works against England, aligning the 1798 England with France, an unlawful and greedy usurper of land not its own. Like Lewis's depiction of the African slave Hassan, the gothic is fissured, the exterior working against and undercutting the interior of the argument that the drama actually makes through both the action and the resolution.
Beyond the confusing and contradictory political allegory, Boaden uses a female ghost, just as Lewis does. In this drama the dead mother of Prince Llewellyn and his traitorous brother David appears on the altar of a church, urging her two warring sons to reconcile and join to fight their common English enemy. This ghost garnered the most attention for the play, leading critics to accuse Boaden of plagiarizing Lewis's Castle Spectre. In defense of himself, Boaden pointed out that if anyone were the plagiarist, it was Lewis, whom he accuses of stealing Boaden's earlier ghost in The Fountainville Forest ("Preface" to Cambrio-Britons).
Boaden's play begins with an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, as every soldier, including Llewelyn's own brother, is suspected of disloyalty to the preservation of Welsh independence. As one Welsh soldier remarks after accepting a bribe to change allegiance, "We have now no safety but in the conqueror's mercy" (I.i.8). Interestingly, one of the first figures to speak in the drama is the Irish minstrel, O'Turloch, who entertains the Welsh royalty with a song about King Arthur, said to have been imported by Scottish minstrels. The song concerns a woman who pleads with Arthur to avenge her against a knight who has raped her, a situation that parallels Llewelyn's wife who has been pursued aggressively and incestuously by David, his twin brother. The presence of Arthur, the last Celtic King, became a stock device in a number of Loyalist gothic texts that were trying to recall an idealized Celtic golden age, pre-Norman, pre-aristocratic, and pre-Hanoverian. But the bard, according to Katie Trumpenet, in Bardic Nationalism, "For nationalist antiquaries,… is the mouthpiece for a whole society, articulating its values, chronicling its history, and mourning the inconsolable tragedy of its collapse. English poets, in contrast, imagine the bard (and the minstrel after him) as an inspired, isolated, and peripatetic figure. Nationalist antiquaries read bardic poetry for its content and its historical information; their analyses help to crystallize a new nationalist model of literary history. The English poets are primarily interested in the bard himself, for he represents poetry as a dislocated art, standing apart from and transcending its particular time and place" (6). For Trumpener, the contrast points to the collapse of Celtic clan culture (in Ireland, Wales and Scotland) and the rise of a form of individualism and literary commodification in England that eventually triumphed over the earlier oral-based culture.
The high point of the drama occurs in a gothic chapel at the shrine of the mother, Lady Griffyth. Informed by his wife Elinor that his brother stills pursues her and has traitorously thrown in with the English invader, the "haughty Edward," Llewellyn confronts his brother before their mother's tomb. As they each draw swords to settle their longstanding rivalry, the ghost of their mother suddenly appears and speaks: "Forbear!" As the swords magically fly out of the brothers' hands, their ghostly mother goes on to pronounce: "Have I not loved you?—Be peace between you! / Confirm it at the altar!" After the two men kneel and embrace, their mother gives her blessing and the chorus of spirits declares: "Grateful the voice that bids your hatred cease, / A mother's mandate of fraternal peace." In the elaborate stage directions, the funereal dress falls off the mother and "her figure seems glorified; and through the opening window she is drawn, as it were, into the air, while music, as of immortal spirits, attends her progress. The brothers gaze silently after the vision" (II.v.58). This miraculous disrobing and ascent appears to replay aspects of the bleeding nun legend in which a murdered woman can have no eternal peace until she is avenged and buried in hallowed ground. Boaden's adaptation of the legend suggests that the mother cannot ascend to Heaven until her two sons are reconciled, but as a political allegory, the image is loaded with contradictory freight. Reconciled, the brothers fight the tyrant Edward to a standoff. After much singing, Edward recognizes Llewellyn as the Prince of Wales, and declares to him, "Be my friend—/ My nearest, best ally; and, in her perils, / Let England ever find her warmest champion, / Her grace, her glory, in the prince of Wales!" (III.iv.88).
Politically, the drama appears to affirm a reconciliation of rival claims to land through the appearance of a beneficient maternal presence, ghostly but powerful, absent but present. The dead mother, rising from her grave to demand cooperation from the warring brothers, suggests at least the avatar of Elizabeth I, the dead but undead political mother, wise, skillful, and infinitely diplomatic in the ways of avoiding direct conflict and open warfare. Is it possible that the anxieties about the condition and suitability of the heir to George III's throne precipitated the dynastic emphasis in popular gothic dramas? Beyond nationalistic debates or fear of French invasions, British gothic dramas expressed tangible fear that the House of Hanover had come to an inglorious end in all but name? The infant daughter of George IV, Princess Charlotte (b. 1796), appeared to be a fragile hope for the British monarchy. In order to buttress her potential status, the spectre of the last great female queen appears, disguised as a female ghost haunting the disputed borders of Wales and England, Scotland and England, England and its own colonies abroad. The intense mourning that gripped England when Charlotte died in childbirth a mere twenty-one years later found expression in, as Behrendt documents, a huge "Charlotte industry," poems, broadsides, and souvenir trinkets (122ff). If her death caused such intense, hyperbolic, and theatrical displays of mourning, might it not be conjectured that her birth was also the subject of a certain amount of concern?
The female ghost who appears in these dramas also suggests an intense uneasiness about the role and nature of women in the coming century. That these ghosts are mothers, murdered, displaced, separated from their children, also suggests a deeply conservative agenda. Women, it would seem, are being properly positioned on the stage in their maternal roles, because the gothic visual aesthetics presupposes a masculine subject dazzled not simply by an eroticization of the female body but also by her maternal function. (I am thinking in particular here of Lewis's ambivalent presentation of Mathilda/Rosario in The Monk in contrast to Melmoth the Wanderer's presentation of Isidora). In addition, the aesthetics of the sublime presupposes a female subject-position disciplined through the presence of the male gaze (Miles 51)—or what I would call the bourgeois gaze. The mass audiences that flocked to the gothic dramas remembered the ghost scenes because those were the most dramatic, most frightening, most uncanny appearances of either dead mothers or dead fathers on the stage. In a nation struggling to consolidate land it had only recently claimed, as well as land it was claiming abroad on a tenuous basis at best, the political guilt and social anxiety must have been intense. At the same time that the national borders were viewed as precarious and diffuse, so were the psychic ones. The ghosts haunting the gothic stage were the ghosts of empires lost and found, mothers and fathers and children displaced and replaced, used and abused.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. 1991; Backsheider, Paula. Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England. 1993; Behrendt, Stephen C. Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte. 1997; Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination. 1976; Cohen, Steven, ed. The Plays of James Boaden. 1980; Cox, Jeffrey. "Romantic Drama and the French Revolution." In Revolution and English Romanticism. Ed. Keith Hanley and Raman Selden. 1990; Lewis, Matthew. "The Castle Spectre." In Seven Gothic Dramas: 1789–1825. Ed. Jeffrey Cox. 1992; Miles Robert. Gothic Writing 1750–1820: A Genealogy. 1993; Nairn, Tom. The Break-Up of Britain. 1977; Trumpener, Katie. Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire. 1997; Watt, James. Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764–1832. 1999; White, Hayden. Metahistory. 1973.
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ON THE SUBJECT OF …
BORIS KARLOFF (1887–1969) AND FRANKENSTEIN
In 1930, Universal Pictures decided to capitalize on the public's newfound taste for horror movies with Frankenstein (1931), in which Bela Lugosi was cast as the monster. When the studio informed Lugosi, who did not like the role, that he would only be released from his contract if he could find another actor for the part, Lugosi suggested Boris Karloff.
Directed by James Whale, Frankenstein became an immediate classic. Karloff, whose strong features, athletic build, and considerable height were perfect for the role, gave a subtle and sympathetic performance that won over critics and touched the hearts of audiences. Universal immediately cast the versatile actor in two more leading roles, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Mummy (1932). The two films cemented his popularity and, in 1932, 45-year-old Boris Karloff became a star. Throughout the 1930s, Karloff starred in a string of popular horror pictures for Universal, including The Black Cat (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Raven (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939), in which he portrayed mad scientists and tormented monsters.
Unlike many Hollywood stars, Karloff never fought his typecasting. He understood that he owed his fame to Frankenstein and thus was good-humored about spoofing his horror image in films such as Abbot and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949). By the early 1960s, with horror movies once again in vogue, the aging actor found himself a cult hero and very much in demand. He appeared with fellow horror stars Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price in two popular films, The Raven (1963) and The Terror (1963). He brought his deep, resonant, and chilling voice to the role of the Grinch in the television version of Dr. Seuss's children's Christmas tale, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). Karloff appeared in his final film at the age of eighty-one, portraying an aging horror-movie star in Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968).
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S. S. PRAWER (ESSAY DATE 1980)
SOURCE: Prawer, S. S. "The Making of a Genre." In Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror, pp. 8-47. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
In the following excerpt, Prawer traces the history and development of the horror film genre, highlighting seminal figures and works throughout the twentieth century.
Quite a good scene, isn't it? One man crazy—and three very sane spectators!
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
BELA LUGOSI (1882–1956) AND DRACULA
With his aristocratic accent, distinctive profile, slicked-back dark hair, spidery fingers, mesmerizing eyes, and swirling black cape, Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi helped to create cinema's definitive Dracula, the vampire as sexual and charming as he is villainous. Born Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blask¢ in Lugos (the town from which he derived his stage name) near Transylvania, Lugosi came to the United States in late 1920. His break came with the title role in the play Dracula, which ran for 33 weeks on Broadway in 1927 and successfully toured the West Coast in 1928–29; this led to the 1931 Universal film, whose romantic settings and sexual undercurrents revolutionized the horror film genre and established Lugosi's place in Hollywood history. Lugosi, however, quickly became the victim of his own success. Despite the stardom that he achieved through Dracula, Lugosi resisted typecasting and aspired instead to the romantic leading roles he had performed on the Hungarian stage. Unfortunately, his poor judgment resulted in a series of bad career choices, long periods of unemployment, and perpetual financial problems. Perhaps his single worst mistake was rejecting a major role in Frankenstein (1932), Universal's next big film after Dracula. Originally slated to play the monster, Lugosi disliked both the heavy makeup and the character's lack of dialogue, and so the part went to Boris Karloff, who soon surpassed Lugosi in salary as well as fame, becoming his lifelong rival. When Universal teamed Karloff and Lugosi in such films as The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), and The Body Snatchers (1945), Lugosi received second billing and played a decidedly supporting role to Karloff.
The Gothic terror-fictions which were so distinctive a legacy of the eighteenth century to the nineteenth lent themselves, not only to theatrical stage adaptation, but also to various kinds of light-and-shadow play: E. G. Robertson's 'phantasmagorias' of the 1790s relied a great deal on nocturnal churchyard and castle scenes, on skeletons and ghostly apparitions that seemed to move when the lenses and reflectors behind lanterna magica slides were pushed forward or back-ward and screens agitated. A hundred years later similar apparitions could be seen in the pioneering fantasy-films of the conjurer Georges Méliès: devils (usually played by Méliès himself) were ubiquitous, bodies turned into skeletons, selenites frightened travellers to the moon, in Bluebeard's Chamber a row of well-dressed ladies appeared to be hanging from hooks, a living head seemed to be blown up with a pump and finally to explode, a seven-headed hydra writhed on the ground, and devils cavorted with torches as Mephistopheles made off with Dr. Faustus … The double exposures, jump-cuts, and other technical tricks which Méliès played with the shots he had taken from a fixed position corresponding to a fixed seat in the stalls of a theatre—these amused rather than frightened their audiences, and, in the end, wearied them sufficiently to ensure Méliès's bankruptcy. What audiences failed to derive from Méliès's delightful fantasies were sensations of safely terrifying shock: the kind of shock that the Lumière brothers provided when they photographed a train pulling into a station head-on, so that it seemed about to hurtle out of the screen on to the spectators in the cinema; or the kind of shock provided in 1895 by Alfred Clark's The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, where interrupted camera-cranking and the substitution of a dummy gave startled spectators the illusion that they were seeing a human head being chopped off on the executioner's block; or that purveyed by Edwin S. Porter, when he introduced into The Great Train Robbery (1903) a close-up in which a bandit pointed his gun directly at the audience. Méliès's fantasy, Clark's intimate view of extreme situations, and the Lumières' as well as Porter's apparent assaults on the audience were all to become important ingredients in the cinematic tale of terror.
This genre began to define itself in the first decade of the twentieth century when the Selig Polyscope Company brought out a brief adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908); the Danish Nordisk Company followed suit with an adaptation of the same tale (1909) and with two 'premature burial' films entitled The Necklace of the Dead (1910) and Ghosts of the Vault (1911). The Edison Company was first in the field with an adaptation of Frankenstein (1910), which was followed by three further adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde—including one produced by 'Uncle' Carl Laemmle, whose Universal Studios were to corner the market for stories of this kind in a way equalled only by Hammer Films during their period of gory glory. These early productions, together with Griffith's The Avenging Conscience, a cento from the works of Poe first shown in 1915, and Maurice Tourneur's Trilby (also 1915), which introduced the figure of the demonic hypnotist long before Krauss, KleinRogge, and Wegener made it their own, are the beginnings of a wave whose crest is reached in the silent German cinema, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Richard Oswald's terror-compendium Uncanny Tales (both 1919) to Galeen's Alraune (1928); in the grotesque creations of Lon Chaney in the U.S.A., from The Miracle Man (1919) to The Unholy Three (1930); in the films of other nations from Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage (1920) and Carl Dreyer's Leaves from Satan's Book (1921) to Teinosuke Kinugasa's A Page of Madness of 1926 and Jean Epstein's The Fall of the House of Usher of 1928. On the last-named film Epstein's assistant was Luis Buñuel, whose collaboration with Dali on An Andalusian Dog in the same year laced surrealism with violent elements that recalled the tale of terror. The setting for all this was, of course, the First World War, its anticipatory rumbles, and the social and political upheavals that followed in its wake.
A second wave of terror-films emanated from the U.S.A. almost immediately after the coming of sound—Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and White Zombie (1932) were all made in Carl Laemmle's Universal Studios, where German influences proved particularly powerful. Key figures in the dissemination of that influence were the director Paul Leni and the director/cameraman Karl Freund. The peak of this wave was reached with the masterly King Kong of 1933; it rolled on, with apparent vigour but slowly diminishing force, until it receded in mechanical compilations and parody towards the beginning of the Second World War. The background here is clearly the Depression in the U.S.A. and its worldwide repercussions.
The next wave comes on, against the dark sky of the Second World War and what led up to it, with a curiously muted roar. The dominant figure is the producer Val Lewton, whose modestly budgeted films, from Cat People (1942) to Bedlam (1946), tried to civilize the horror-movie into subtler evocations of terror—evocations that made the audience supply a good deal of what the screen only suggests. Arthur Lubin's remake of The Phantom of the Opera (1943) also toned down considerably the shocks of the original (how feeble Claude Rains's make-up looks when compared with Chaney's in the same role!); and the talkative British movies about ghostly apparitions that belong to an afterlife but set this world to rights, Thunder Rock (1942), for instance, or The Halfway House (1944), were likely to scare only the most susceptible. This cycle ended, however, with one of the universally acknowledged classics of the cinematic tale of terror: Dead of Night, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, and others in 1945. In assessing the impact of Lewis Allen's The Uninvited (1944) and Dead of Night, one has to remember that before these tales of supernatural happenings ghosts appearing on the screen tended to be garrulous moralizers, as in The Halfway House, or were played for comedy, as in Clair's The Ghost Goes West (1935), or were rationally explained away, as in The Ghost Breakers (1940). In the history of the sound-film it was The Uninvited and Dead of Night which signalled the confluence of the ghost-story properly so called with the tale of terror.
The time had now come for a fourth wave, stirred up by the reverberations of the rockets that had terrorized England during the last days of the Second World War, and the beginning of space exploration. From the outset, from the earliest Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde films, the cinematic tale of terror had shaded over into science fiction; their coincidence now increased as George Pal's Destination Moon (1950) latched on to Fritz Lang's pioneering Woman in the Moon (1924) and pointed forward to Christian Nyby's (and Howard Hawks's!) The Thing from Another World (1951) as well as to the peak of this whole sub-genre in the 1950s: Don Siegel's The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Siegel's title, suggested by that of Jack Finney's novel and imposed on him by the front office, bespeaks another interesting continuity—for it recalls, deliberately, the restrained exercise in terror which Val Lewton and Philip MacDonald had adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson, and which Robert Wise had directed, under the title The Body Snatcher, in 1945. Television now not only rivalled but fed the cinema: a process dramatically demonstrated by the small British firm Hammer Films, whose first post-war success with the public came with their 1955 production of The Quatermass Experiment, based on a science-fiction thriller in serial form which had kept the BBC's audience in breathless suspense for several weeks.
A great deal has been written about the science-fiction films that populated the screens in the fifties and sixties, and from this general discussion five main thematic categories have emerged:
(i) Invasion from outer space:
Works embodying the neurosis of the Cold War, like The Thing from Another World, belong to this category, as do The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and countless films in which earthmen face the task of destroying some Bug-Eyed Monster or other undesirable alien. Soon, however, significant variants began to appear, showing different relations between earthmen and visitors from beyond. In Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still, made as early as 1951, the 'invader' comes, not to destroy, but to warn men against their selfdestructive course. From this two developments were possible: towards a film like Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), where the visitor from beyond is enfeebled and corrupted by the commercial civilization into which he comes; and towards one like Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), where plainly benevolent visitors are received with an almost religious veneration and awe.
(ii) Monsters from our own earth and seas:
An atomic test or accident rouses The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms (Eugene Lourie, 1953), Godzilla (Inoshiro Honda, 1956), or some other prehistoric giant from his slumbers, or brings about mutations (the giant ants, for instance, in Gordon Douglas's Them, 1954) which then go on the rampage. The hero of Them, the ultimate conqueror of the mutants, is an F.B.I. man haunted by fears of atomic explosion and subversion by an enemy within—a fact whose connection with American anxieties of the 1950s has not escaped film historians and commentators. Beings belonging to an earlier stage of evolution can also be discovered, and dangerously aroused, by expeditions into unknown territories, as films deriving ultimately from Conan Doyle's The Lost World showed frequently and impressively. King Kong had belonged to that tribe in the 1930s; in the fifties his worthiest successor was Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). But monsters need not be discovered; they can also be made, like the radioactive children created by an unholy alliance of scientists and politicians in Joseph Losey's The Damned (1961). And if Lourie's Beast from 20 000 Fathoms still had to fall victim to the 'search it out and destroy it' philosophy of so many 'monster' films, his successors in Gorgo, made by the same director in 1960, were allowed to return to their own element in peace. In the seven years between these two films ecology concerns and the Vietnam War had done much to throw doubt on the morality and wisdom of destroying alien modes of life that seem to threaten us.
(iii) Atomic catastrophe and after:
Characteristic works in this category are Stanley Kramer's film of Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1959), which depicts a dying world after a disastrous atomic war; Franklin Shaffner's Planet of the Apes (1968), in which we see a group of men preserved by chance fighting for survival in a society of monkeys that have taken over the earth; and Boris Sagal's The Omega Man (1971), which portrays another battle for survival after a cataclysm, this time against post-atomic mutants.
(iv) The journey to the stars:
This extension of the imaginary voyages of Jules Verne has many variants, from George Pal's Destination Moon to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Such works may include intergalactic battles, whose apogee comes in the naïve but technologically wondrous Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), with its simple-minded hero fighting for good against evil much as Flash Gordon used to do in the old serials. Star Wars and its imitations have been seen, by several social commentators, as a reflection of the early Carter era, with its post-Watergate longings for clarity, simplicity, moral perspicuity, and a revival of the old frontier virtues.
(v) The tyrannous future:
A multitude of films show us governments that forbid books (Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, 1966) or forbid natural expressions of the human affections (Lucas's THX 1138, 1970) or heighten in various ways what are seen as undesirable features of our technological civilization (Godard's Alphaville, 1965). If the ultimate inspiration behind star-journeys, or journeys into the human interior like Richard Fleischer's Fantastic Voyage (1966), is Jules Verne, the inspiration behind 'tyrannous future' films are the dystopias of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Most frightening of all is the (near) future depicted in Joseph Sargent's The Forbin Project (1969), in which super-computers reveal 'ambitions' that outrun and outwit those of their makers and would-be controllers, and come to rule the world without human interference.
The anxieties which are mirrored in science-fiction films from the U.S.A. are connected, in more obvious ways than those of the horrormovies, with socio-political anxieties: fears of invasion during the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis, fears of being 'taken over' mentally and spiritually during the McCarthy era, a compound of fear and uneasy conscience during the Vietnam War, dread of brainwashing, genetic engineering, computerized policing, and bacteriological warfare, as well as growing ecological fears connected with atomic power, aggressive defoliation techniques, various kinds of man-made pollution, the growth of populations, and the penetration of outer space by more and more manmade objects. Fairy-tales like Star Wars would appear on this grid as an escapist reaction against the serious or bitterly satirical symbolization of this kind of anxiety. Even Star Wars has plain and obvious links with the horror-movie—one remembers the galactic bar with its assorted monsters, supplied by a London firm called Uglies Limited; but entertaining films of this nature have little in common with such serious projections of the plight of man trying to cope with his own technology as Stanislav Lem's Solaris, memorably filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1971.
It was, in fact, their venture into science fiction laced with horror which encouraged Hammer Films to believe that their public was ready for a new treatment of the old Universal favourites; a treatment which would take account of the possibilities opened up by larger screens, better colour processes, and greater permissiveness in the depiction of violence and sexual activities. The Curse of Frankenstein, made in 1957, proved them right: and so they started a fifth wave of terror-movies which bore with it not only Hammer's own vampire-, zombie-, and mad-scientist-films, but also films on similar themes from Italy, France, Germany, Japan, and—above all—Latin America, where there had always been a keen interest in such things; an interest sufficiently translatable into commercial terms to induce Universal to accompany their Dracula of 1931 with a Spanish-speaking version of the same film, shot on the same sets but employing different actors. Japan, indeed, which had evolved a marvellous cinematic tradition of cinematic ghost-stories, culminating in two crucial episodes of Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) and in Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1964), produced, with Shindo's Onibaba (1964), the most horrifying unmasking scene since Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and all but cornered the market in powerful monsters with Gojira (usually known as 'Godzilla' in the West) and his manifold progeny from 1955 onwards. Unlike the prototype, however, from which they derived—Lourie's The Beast from 20 000 Fathoms—the monsters in Japanese movies could occasionally be helpful; they could become man's allies in his fight against technological destruction and dessication. The Swedish cinema, in the meantime, through the films of Ingmar Bergman, showed the world what psychologically meaningful use could be made of the iconography the terror-film had evolved since the days of the silent German classics. There is, beyond doubt, a straight line running from Wiene's Caligari over Lang's Destiny (or Tired Death, 1921) and Pabst's Secrets of a Soul (1926) to the terror, dream, and fantasy sequences of Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), The Face (or The Magician, 1958), and Hour of the Wolf (1967). The Hour of the Wolf pays a self-conscious tribute to that German inspiration by means of characters who bear names like Kreisler and Lindhorst; names familiar from the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann which had proved such a powerful influence on the early German film-makers. Even Bergman's masterpiece Persona (1966) can be, and has been, seen as a series of variations on the vampire and Doppelgänger themes of the terror-film and the literary tales that preceded it.
While Hammer were reviving the Universal monsters in their own way, American International Pictures began a cycle whose appreciation was almost entirely tongue-in-cheek—a perfect example of 'camp' manufacture and reception of the iconography of terror. The first film in this series bore the (now notorious) title I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957); it purported to show how a college student acquired bestial form through an experiment that went wrong. The absurdity of plot and acting, and the relentless pop music that filled the sound-track, gave various kinds of pleasure to young audiences and encouraged the film-makers to follow this pilot movie with I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, and with Teenage Monster and Teenage Zombie creations that were as awful to listen to as they were to see. Part of the profits from this Teenage cycle went into the financing of a more memorable series of films based, rather loosely, on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The first of these was The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), directed, like most of those that were to follow, by Roger Corman, written for the screen by Richard Matheson, photographed by Floyd Crosby, imaginatively designed by Daniel Haller, and starring Vincent Price. While many of these low-budget films were meant to be taken straight, a series of deliberate spoofs were interspersed with them: The Raven, for instance, directed by Corman in 1963 and bringing together Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price, and The Comedy of Terrors, directed in the same year by Jacques Tourneur.
As I write this, early in 1978, I feel myself borne along by yet another wave of terror-films, a wave whose crest is formed by what is frequently called 'meat' or 'road accident' movies—films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which provide shock through the maximum exhibition of flesh in the process of being mangled and blood in the process of being spilt (all simulated, of course, as one must hasten to add in view of some disturbing recent developments); by sensationalist marriages of terror-film and science-fiction idioms, as in Donald Cammell's The Demon Seed (1977), which has Julie Christie raped by a computer; and by films of demonic possession, destructive paranormal faculties, and eerie reincarnations represented by such works as Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), de Palma's Carrie (1976), Frankenheimer's The Heretic (1977), and Skolimowski's The Shout (1978). Particularly characteristic of our time are suggestions, in American films of the post-Watergate era, from The Werewolf of Washington (1973) to The Omen (1976), as well as in some British films, that if we want to look for demons, monsters, and devil-worshippers, we shall be most likely to find them in the offices of those to whom the destinies of nations have been entrusted. The crest of this wave seems to have been passed, if one may judge by the uninventiveness of the imitations that are now about; but plentiful supply suggests that the demand continues.
It must not be forgotten, by those who trace the history of the terror-film in this linear way, that no development is ever as neat as the historian would have it; that, at a given period, older types and models may exist alongside more recent ones. Mexican terror-films, for instance, as Carlos Clarens and others have reminded us, managed to perpetuate the Browning-Lugosi type with all seriousness into a time in which other countries saw this merely as a subject for parody, children's amusement, or nostalgic recollection.
Three characteristic groups have been isolated in the most recent history of the terror-film: Charles Derry, in his book Dark Dreams, describes them as centring, respectively, on 'horror of personality', 'horror of Armageddon', and 'horror of the demonic'. In the first, the monster or monsters at the heart of the film resemble you and me rather than Frankenstein's creature, or King Kong, or Godzilla—but owing to some kink in their psychic make-up, or some pressure felt as intolerable, these beings perform the dreadful acts we read about in the newspapers when we absorb our daily ration of rapes, mutilations, and sadistic killings. The key work here is Hitchcock's Psycho, released in 1960; but a year later Robert Aldrich's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? popularized that characteristic and particularly unpleasant variant which has become known as the 'menopausal murder story'. Ageing actresses are engaged to perform gory mayhem or be subjected to grotesque tortures not only in Baby Jane, but also in Strait Jacket (1964), Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965), Fanatic (1965), and Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969). In such works the line that divides exploration from exploitation is unmistakably crossed.
The second or 'Armageddon' group dwells on large-scale rather than individual destruction, either performed or threatened: again our newspapers, ever since the dropping of the first atom bomb, have constantly fed that existential anxiety. Among the key works are not only the science-fiction films already discussed above, but also Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and, more recently, Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1978), an intelligent Australian film which shows civilized man seeking a better understanding of nature through contact with an aboriginal culture—but not until his own culture has upset nature's balance with apocalyptic results. As for Derry's last category, the demonic: our newspapers have not lacked, in recent times, graphic accounts of satanic rites, witchcraft, and exorcisms in a world whose religious sense has sought other outlets than the traditional modes of worshipping God. Key works in the group of films which reflect this state of affairs are Jerzy Kawalerowicz's austere black-andwhite transportation of the 'Devils of Loudon' story into seventeenth-century Poland under the title Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) and that film's more garish and more popular successors in the English-speaking world: Ken Russell's The Devils (1970) and Friedkin's The Exorcist.
Two things deserve to be noticed here. Firstly, although Derry has correctly described dominant trends, and has given many well-chosen instances of the different ways in which the themes he isolates have been treated in recent years, the themes themselves are not new, either in the cinema or in literature. All of them, in fact, had played some part in the German cinema of the twenties: 'horror of personality' in The Student of Prague, a man-made Armageddon in the flood sequences of Lang's Metropolis, demonic possession in Caligari. Secondly, in two of the three cycles a key work comes from the cameras of Alfred Hitchcock, best known as a maker of suspense-thrillers not usually thought of as horrormovies. This demonstrates the fluidity of genres (what would the 'horror of personality' film be without the film noir, or the 'Armageddon' film without science fiction?); suggests that a genre can be powerfully affected by the work of eminent auteurs even if these are not primarily working in that genre; and reminds us once again that though the horror-movie or fantastic terror-film exists to scare us in delightful ways, it does not have a monopoly of terror-sequences or terror-themes. It should also turn our thoughts, once again, towards Germany; for Hitchcock worked at the UFA studios in the twenties and learnt a good deal from the German terror-film. 'The Lodger', Hitchcock said to François Truffaut, 'is the first picture possibly affected by my period in Germany.' Lang would seem to have been a particularly powerful influence. It may be regarded as a kind of homage that a film made by Hitchcock for Gainsborough Pictures in 1926 starred Bernhard Goetzke, who had portrayed Death in Lang's Destiny or Tired Death (a film the young Hitchcock particularly admired), and that two films he made for Gaumont British in the early thirties prominently featured Lang's latest terror-star, Peter Lorre, the psychopathic murderer of M—a work that had managed to transplant the Romantic fantasies of the early German cinema, and its central Doppelgänger image, into a realistic setting and an almost documentary story-line.
The film-makers who brought about the revival of the German cinema after the Second World War have, on the whole, trodden paths remote from those of Wiene and the early Murnau. There are continuities, however. Peter Lorre returned to Germany for a while to direct, and star in, The Lost One (1951), which made the psychopathic killer he had portrayed in earlier films a homicidal Nazi scientist. Fritz Lang returned to project his master criminal Mabuse into the world of electronic surveillance (The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, 1960). The atmosphere of mystery and terror characteristic of the Weimar cinema has been to some degree preserved in a large number of films based on the works of Edgar Wallace; the actor Klaus Kinski has added to the cinematic repertoire a notable gallery of madmen, paranoiacs, sadistic killers, and drug addicts which recalls the Weimar period in its intensity and demonic power; Rainer Werner Fassbinder has been able to introduce Gothic-expressionistic elements into such films as Chinese Roulette (1976) with its monomaniac characters, its oppressive house whose obtrusive furnishings imprison the characters in geometric patterns, its sinister crippled child at the centre of the intrigue. The most talented of the younger directors, Werner Herzog, has shown an interest in unusual states of mind and soul that even led to an experiment, Heart of Glass (1976), in which the whole cast was filmed while under hypnosis. Herzog's Even Dwarves Started Small (1970) may be seen, in part, as an ironic modern variation on Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). For the plot of his claustrophobic Signs of Life (1967), Herzog went to a tale by the Romantic writer Achim von Arnim, whose evocations of terror Heine had rated above those of Hoffmann himself. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) is dedicated to Lotte Eisner, the chronicler of the 'Haunted Screen' of the early German cinema and author of the standard work on Murnau; and the conjunction of Herzog and Klaus Kinski, thrillingly exhibited in Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), inevitably pointed towards Murnau country—not least because Kinski had shown his mettle as a traditional horror-actor by his triumphant assumption of the part of Renfield in Jesus Franco's Count Dracula of 1970. Writing in Écran in 1975, Herzog characteristically said of his Aguirre: 'This film, I think, is not really a narrative of actual happenings or a portrait of actual people. At any level it is a film about what lies behind landscapes, faces, situations and words.' It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find Herzog and Kinski collaborating on a version of Nosferatu (released in 1979) which plays a respectful game of theme and variations with Murnau's famous film of the same name, first shown in 1922.
Herzog's deep respect for the Weimar cinema, and his determination to make its traditions valid for his own contemporaries, are shared by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, whose trilogy of films on the lives of Karl May, Ludwig II of Bavaria, and Hitler (completed in 1978) introduces images from Caligari and other German movies of the same period; and by H. W. Geissendörfer, whose Jonathan: Vampires Do Not Die (1970) pays tribute to Murnau along with Bram Stoker. Despite its technical accomplishment and its memorable political overtones and implications, however, Geissendörfer's film had so little success at its first release that the exhibitors refused to handle it further unless scenes of explicit sex and violence were spliced in—an inverted form of censorship which has been becoming more and more common since nude shots of Brigitte Bardot were inserted into Godard's Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963) at the behest of investors anxious to secure better returns.
A host of other German directors of the most recent past have tried their hand at the evocation of Murnauesque terrors: Niklaus Schilling, for instance, whose Shades of Night, first shown in the early seventies, to be followed by Expulsion from Paradise (1977) and Rhinegold (1978), suggested the sinister, demonic aspects of the German landscape with considerable flair; while Johannes Schaaf, whose Dream City, also released in the early seventies, successfully adapted to the modern screen motifs from Alfred Kubin's uncanny novel The Other Side (1909). The Tenderness of Wolves (1973), made by Uli Lommel with the cooperation of the ubiquitous Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is often spoken of as a 'vampire'-film; it turns out, however, to be a study of a homosexual murderer, well played by Kurt Raab; its graphic presentation of killings and mutilations—Raab is even shown licking blood off a table—deliberately distances it from Fritz Lang's M, which had dealt with a related theme in 1931. Lang had only suggested the actual murders through shots of abandoned balloons, sweets, empty stair-wells, and so on, and had explained the philosophy behind his procedures in words very pertinent to the theme of this book:
If I could show what is most horrible for me, it may not be horrible for somebody else. Everybody in the audience—even the one who doesn't dare allow himself to understand what really happened to that poor child—has a horrible feeling that runs cold over his back. But everybody has a different feeling, because everybody imagines the most horrible thing that could happen to her. And that is something I could not have achieved by showing only one possibility—say, that he tears open the child, cuts her open. Now, in this way, I force the audience to become a collaborator of mine; by suggesting something I achieve a greater impression, a greater involvement, than by showing it …
(Bogdanovich, 1967, pp. 86-7)
Lang here builds on one of the most important facts about the cinema-experience: that the spectator is never just the passive recipient of a message, but that he helps, in varying degrees, to create the experience he is enjoying. What the film-maker has to do is activate the imaginations that reach out to meet his own. Modern audiences, unfortunately, have acquired a craving for the literal and explicit which makes such artistic restraint less and less profitable in the competition for shrinking screen space.
One vitally important factor determining the state of the market for modern films is, of course, the competition and the patronage of television. In recent years the small screen has not only introduced older terror-films to a new generation of viewers, whose response is significantly conditioned by the domestic setting in which they—unlike cinema-goers—watch such works, but has also evolved its own variations. Examples are legion; they range from ghost-stories based on the tales of M. R. James or specially written by Robert Muller and others to TV movies like Dan Curtis's The Night Stalker (1971) and its sequel The Night Strangler (1972), scripted by Richard Matheson, which wittily and frighteningly revived the vampireand rejuvenation-tales of the terrorcinema. The continuities between such works and the old 'B' movies are not only thematic: they are made under similar restraints of money, location, and shooting-time, though flexible and sophisticated technical equipment, specially adapted to the lower definition of the TV screen, is apt to disguise this. To discuss the relation between film and television is not part of this book's purpose; but it must mention, at least in passing, the effect that the rediscovery of avant-garde devices—'violently clashing images, unusual angles of vision, frozen frames, shooting through gauze, negative prints etc.'—by the makers of TV commercials has had on the iconography, the rhetoric, and the tempo of terror-films all over the world. 'Most of us', Pauline Kael has justly said, 'are now so conditioned by the quick cutting and free association of ideas in TV commercials that we think faster than feature-length movies can move. We understand cinematic shorthand' (Toeplitz, 1974, pp. 240, 242).
Let us now retrace our steps to look at a sequence from one of the undoubted classics of the terror-film—a seminal work of the cinema, a work that stands at a point to which many roads lead and from which many roads flow; a work, moreover, from which our culture has derived one of its most powerful, most easily recognizable, and most influential, visual images. That work is James Whale's Frankenstein of 1931.
By its very title this film places itself in a tradition which looks beyond the cinema: a tradition going back to an evening in the Villa Deodati in 1816 at which translations from German ghoststories were read aloud, and to a day in 1818 when Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was launched on to a receptive public. That the majority of those lured into the cinema by the advertising campaign which preceded the film's release would not be aware of this provenance does not matter—though James Whale felt strongly enough about it to bring Mary Shelley, Shelley, and Byron into the rather embarrassing prologue which introduced a sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, in 1935. In Whale's original Frankenstein enough survives of the work that has been adapted to reevoke the literary climate of an age in which a German-sounding name in the title of a work at once brought suggestions of uncanny terrors; to suggest something of the cultural debates and heart-searchings that went on in the circle around Shelley and the Godwin family, with its passionate concern about the place of the natural sciences in the modern world, the nature of families, the acquisition of language, and the problems of moral choice; and to make probable that the central incident did indeed come to its author (as Mary Shelley assured her readers it did) in a dream. Between the elaborately structured and talkative novel—in which even the monster learns to speak learnedly and at length about Milton, Goethe, and Volney—and the straightforward story-line of the film, a large number of stage adaptations interposed themselves: Peake's version, for instance, which introduced a superstitious servant called Fritz and deprived the monster of speech (T. P. Cooke had only grunted in that part); or, a century later, the version of Peggy Webling, in which Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval interchanged their first names, and which also brought the monster face to face with a crippled girl, confronted him amorously with Frankenstein's betrothed, and made him entranced by the sun when he first beheld it. These features were taken over, in slightly varied form, by the writers of the scenario and shooting-script, who included Robert Florey, Garret Fort, and Francis E. Faragoh. They added many new motifs, however: it was Florey, for instance, who suggested the monster's final confrontation with his maker in a wooden flour-mill, as well as the motif of the 'criminal brain' inserted, through human error and muddle, into the poor monster's skull. Despite all these additions, and despite the many omissions and simplifications necessary for the translation of the signifiers of written or printed texts into the iconic signs of the sound-film, a good deal of Mary Shelley's original conception remains: not least those associations which she sought to evoke by her allusion to the Prometheus myth in her sub-title. Whale's feelings that his film enshrined a myth—an ultimately religious myth, like that of Prometheus—is suggested by the famous answer he gave to members of his team who wanted a central scene to end in a different way. 'No', he said, 'it has to be like that; you see, it's all part of the ritual.'
The circle around Shelley took pride in the scope of man's intellect revealed in science as well as in poetry; but as Mary Shelley's novel showed, it was no stranger to worries about the ultimate effects of scientific endeavour and achievement if these outstripped social sympathies, responsibil-ity, and imagination. Such worries had intensified in the century that elapsed between the novel and the film—a film which bears as distinct and complex a relation to the time within which it was conceived, the early thirties of our century, as did the novel to the time of Godwin, Shelley, and Erasmus Darwin. Part of a cycle of cinematic tales of terror conceived and executed in the Depression years in the U.S.A., James Whale's Frankenstein deals in terrors that have an underground relation to the frightening economic and social world in which they took shape: a world in which manipulations of the stock-market had recoiled on the manipulators; in which human creatures seemed to be abandoned by those who had called them into being and those who might have been thought responsible for their welfare; in which men were prevented from being men, from feeling themselves full and equal members of society, and were thereby filled with destructive rages such as those the poor monster gives way to after his taunting by the sadistic hunchback who is just a little better off than the monster himself. Like other films in this cycle, Frankenstein not only gave expression to such resentments but also offered escape from the burden they placed on the consciousness, through delicious thrills, through cathartic acts of violence and destruction, and through scenes of baronial high life and ethnic merry-making which have worn least well in a film that still has power to excite a modern audience.
One of the charges that have been brought against Whale's film is that it betrays its genre, and lets down the side of ever-advancing cinematic art, by failing to make use of the rich language of camera angle, camera movement, and editing which the great pioneers—Griffith, Eisenstein, Murnau—had evolved by the time James Whale came to make his celebrated movie. Even Richard Annobile, who chose this work above all others to open his Film Classics series, makes a complaint of this kind. One has only to look at the film's opening sequence, however, to convince oneself that this charge is as mistaken as similar charges brought against The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. That opening sequence does three things superbly well:
(i) placing the film which is to come within not a literary but a cinematic tradition, already well established despite the comparative newness of film art;
(ii) presenting the forces which will be set clashing in the unfolding story through predominantly visual, cinematic means, without underlining by the portentous mood-music that spoils so many Hollywood films;
(iii) introducing objects, characters, and actions which are essential elements of the unfolding story but which may also be seen to have symbolic significance. Several of them, in fact, become recurrent motifs, leitmotifs, when they are recalled in later shots and sequences.
Let us look for a moment at the way all this is done. The film begins with a prologue, spoken by Edward Van Sloan in a pretence of stepping in front of a theatre curtain. This prologue links itself directly and deliberately to the original epilogue (now cut from most copies in circulation) of Tod Browning's Dracula, spoken by the same actor in a very similar role; and the design behind the opening credits which follow in Frankenstein, with its two eyes emitting beams of light, recalls the play made with Lugosi's eyes in Dracula, where pinpoints of light had been directed on to them by Tod Browning and his cameraman to make them shine out hypnotically. Indeed, an early poster of Frankenstein announces that Lugosi would play the central part and includes a visual allusion to his magnetic gaze. The 'clawing hand' motif behind these same opening credits of Frankenstein also refers us back to Dracula, and beyond that to a whole clutch of horror-movies and horrorcomedies—culminating in Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary (1927), a key work in the transition from the fantastic cinema of Weimar Germany to the American terror-film—in which this motif played a thrilling part. No less surely, however, does the design refer us forward—to the role which staring eyes and clawing hands will play in the early sequences of Frankenstein itself. Before we come to them, however, another design appears behind the titles: a revolving collage of eyes, which bears a striking and surely not accidental relation to the famous collage of eyes in the false Maria's dance sequence of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). The shadowy demonic face that appears behind these eyes has what was known in those days as 'the German look'; it recalls advertisements for German films which concentrated on the angular features of Conrad Veidt, or the demonic apparition that materializes in Rabbi Loew's study in the conjuration scene of The Golem: How it came into the World (1920). This is only the first of several visual allusions, in Whale's film, to the German cinema of the macabre: the central creation-scene embodies reminiscences of a similar scene in Rotwang's laboratory in Metropolis, while The Golem is recalled, no less surely, by the impressive staircase down which Dwight Frye scuttles in Frankenstein's tower laboratory, and by the lakeside confrontation of the monster and a little girl. Like Rex Ingram in The Magician of 1926 (a film which Whale would seem to have studied very carefully indeed) and like Tod Browning and Robert Florey, Whale was able to draw on German traditions as well as on the American tradition of the grotesque exemplified in the films of Lon Chaney Senior.
It must be stressed, at this point, that the town and countryside constructed for James Whale in the Universal studios by Charles D. Hill and others are much less stylized than the medieval Prague Hans Poelzig had built for Wegener and Galeen in 1920. Jack C. Ellis (1979, p. 100) has described Poelzig's sets admirably: 'The abstractly fashioned medieval town, with its sharply angled roofs and tilted chimney-pots, looks like twisted gingerbread; there isn't a straight line visible. A gigantic gate dwarfs the human beings. Irregular arches and inverted V's predominate. The camera frequently shoots through the archways, imposing their strange shapes on the frame itself …' Nevertheless, Whale's film demonstrates that he is quite consciously working in an established and developing genre that includes the Scandinavian and German along with the American cinema, and that he is playing a significant game of theme and variation. The iconography of his own film, in its turn, influenced the developing genre indelibly, and has been a source of inspiration and allusion for a multitude of film-makers—though no one has ever paid to it as moving and as meaningful a tribute as Victor Erice, who in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) confronted a little girl growing up in Franco's Spain with Whale's Frankenstein, showed what a central part Karloff's monster assumed in her fantasies and dreams, and demonstrated how it helped her to interpret and to come to terms with her own world….
Whale's first Frankenstein film has its detractors—but there is one thing on which there is almost universal agreement: the scenes in which the monster appears must be reckoned among the classics of the cinema. Here much of the credit must again go to Whale; but he shares it, as every director must, with his cameraman (Arthur Edeson), with the special effects department which set up the impressive laboratory-scene, with the make-up designer Jack Pierce, and—above all—with Boris Karloff. From the moment its hand twitches into life while face and body are yet hidden beneath their shroud, Karloff's monster is unforgettable: nothing can ever quite efface the thrill of watching the successive views Whale's mobile camera allows us of the lumbering figure first announced by the sound of its heavy footsteps: a medium-shot view from behind is followed by one of head and shoulders as the monster turns around; only then are we given our first look at those infinitely sad features in two close-ups that fill the screen as no others will in the course of the whole film. A hundred imitations and parodies cannot dull the impact of the images created by Whale, Edeson, Pierce, and Karloff when we see the monster raise his misshapen hands towards the light from which he received life, to have that light immediately shut out by his creator and to be confronted with another kind of light, the flaming torch wielded by Dwight Frye's malevolently hunched figure, the fire in which the monster will ultimately find his death, in mocking inversion of the Prometheus myth of Mary Shelley's sub-title; when we see Karloff's monster discover his own humanity by comparing his hands with those of the little girl who befriends him by the lake, and when we watch him being taught the delights of play by this little girl—how can one ever forget the radiant happiness that illuminates and beautifies his charnel-house features at this point? No later debasements, in countless sequels, parodies, and exploitational variations—not even Mel Brooks's charmingly conceived comedy Young Frankenstein (1974)—can ever dispel the magic of that classic, wordless performance.
Karloff's performance was not without its precedents, however. If his make-up in Frankenstein occasionally reminds us of Cesare's in Caligari, his whole demeanour recalls even more forcibly the animated clay-figure that Paul Wegener had portrayed in the Golem films of 1914 and 1920. Here is a contemporary reaction to the first Golem:
What makes the film worth discussing is only Wegener's embodiment of the Golem—the affecting portrayal of a creature struggling out of mere existence towards some sentient connection with the world, struggling to become a man … In lyrical passages Wegener demonstrates possibilities of the film which transcend those of the theatre: a mere creature, he stands on the dream-breathing earth and slowly lifts his arms in astonishment, in half-conscious joy, in agitation—an image never to be forgotten. This creature of inadequacy is surrounded by an atmosphere of sadness: a melancholy sense of doomed efforts to reach the unattainable, as if the animal kingdom had sent a representative to mirror the human environment in its soul; as if, on an enchanted midnight, the gates of a felt beauty, a soul-suffused landscape, had been opened before the animal—but there it stands, in perplexity and anguish, unable to grasp what is before it; and the hour goes by.
(Die Schaubühne, xi, 1915, 225-7)
What Arnold Zweig here says of Wegener's Golem in 1915 he could have applied verbatim, sixteen years later, to Frankenstein's monster as Boris Karloff played it….
As everyone knows from seeing comedythrillers in the cinema and watching The Munsters or Monster Squad on television, terror and laughter are near neighbours in our reaction to the iconography of the cinematic tale of terror. We are here in the presence of grotesque art, in which impulses towards horrified recoil are stirred up at the same time as impulses to laugh; these inhibit one another and what results is a characteristically complex response. The masters of this kind of grotesque film have worked out all sort of devices to prevent us from laughing at the wrong moments. They introduce figures specifically designed as comic relief, to drain off our laughter, or induce the sort of double-take which Ivan Butler has described as characteristic of James Whale's The Old Dark House: the hideous apparition everyone has been waiting for turns out to be a harmless-looking little old man; but almost as soon as this anti-climax has taken effect the camera focuses, for a moment, on that little old man's expression when he thinks himself unobserved and freezes laughter by making us realize, in a flash, that the real horror is, indeed, here. Nor have the masters of the macabre shown themselves averse to pushing their own effects towards the response of laughter through controlled experiments in parody. Paul Leni followed up the 'Ivan the Terrible' and 'Jack the Ripper' episodes of Waxworks with a classic comedy-thriller, The Cat and the Canary; James Whale succeeded his serious and dignified Frankenstein with the more tongue-in-cheek Bride of Frankenstein, where the grotesquely amusing element is most effectively concentrated in Ernest Thesiger's performance as Dr. Pretorius; and the Polanski who made Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) is the same director who also made the parodistic Dance of the Vampires (1967)—a parody in which large portions, particularly towards the end of the film, are played chillingly 'straight'.
With his usual virtuosity, Alfred Hitchcock has memorably demonstrated the improbable affinity of farce and terror at the opening of Vertigo (1958). The hero of the film, played by James Stewart, is discovered in that very position of peril at which cinema-audiences had laughed again and again in the films of Harold Lloyd: clinging perilously to the window-sill of a high building, while a city street is held in focus far below him. The terror we are made to share in that sequence is in no way diminished—is, if anything, intensified—by our recollection of such comedies as Safety Last. Within the terror-film, however, the bravest confrontation of the risible remains the central figure of Murnau's Nosferatu. The vampire's huge ears and claws, his long pointed nose, his rabbit teeth, his jerky movements would seem to be made for laughter; yet the power of the film's imagery is such that even modern audiences watch, for the most part, in awed and thrilled silence.
Comic and parodistic elements enter the various terror-film cycles with increased force as they near their end: one need think only of the sequence Caligari—Waxworks (with its parodistic 'Haroun al Rashid' episode)—The Cat and the Canary; or of the way in which the terrifying creations of the early thirties were made to encounter Abbott and Costello, the Dead End Kids, the Ritz Brothers, and Old Mother Riley; or of the fun poked at Universal and Hammer films in Carry on Screaming and What a Carve Up (1961), Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Young Frankenstein. In each case, however, such spoofs are accompanied and succeeded by seriously meant exercises in terror as a new cycle gets under way: the Universal cycle of the early and mid-thirties, the Val Lewton cycle in the forties, The Exorcist, The Omen, and Burnt Offerings in the seventies.
The cyclic development of the terror-genre which I have just sketched is accompanied by a more linear, temporally more straightforward development conditioned by the film-makers' desire to test out various degrees of explicitness and thresholds of acceptability. Early terror-films showed monsters, but had perforce to be very reticent in showing sexual activity and violence: the only blood I can remember seeing in the Dracula films from Universal is that which oozed from Renfield's finger when he had cut it accidentally, and such nuzzlings as were shown were very restrained indeed. The Val Lewton cycle tried even greater reticence, believing that no monster actually shown can be as frightening as the monster the audience will produce for itself if the right suggestions are implanted by what it actually sees on the screen. Films like The Uninvited and The Haunting operated on similar principles. From the emergence of the Hammer horrors on, however, films have tested their audience's shock-ability further and further: in the exhibition of straightforward and homosexual (especially Lesbian) libidinous activity, in the showing of blood and mutilations of all kinds, in the repulsiveness of the monsters created by make-up experts, in everything calculated to excite disgust and even nausea, from the green vomit of The Exorcist to the wriggling monsters emerging from a man's stomach by erupting through his skin in David Cronenberg's Shivers (1976). The fact that evil is so often allowed to triumph at the end of more recent films is as much connected with this change in the tolerance threshold as with the incidence of a darker, more pessimistic outlook on life. We have come a long way from the days in which Graham Greene could say, as he did in 1936, that 'terror on the screen has always, alas! to be tempered to the shorn lamb'.
Mass production, saturation advertising, and exploitation of tried and proven formulas have become ever more noticeable features of terror-film manufacture. When Hammer had shown the market for such things, companies all over the world jumped on to the bandwagon and made vampire-, monster-, and 'resurrection'- films; when The Exorcist made money, companies all over the world brought out films that linked demonic possession with heads spinning round 360° and graphically shown sores and vomiting. In the process, convention tended to be degraded to cliché, development to shameless imitation or unimaginative 'going one better', terror to physical repulsion, and genre to formula. In such a situation, imaginative and original film-making tends to become submerged by inferior exploitation-products; one may trust to time, however, to win-now the wheat from this mass of chaff.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
ALFRED HITCHCOCK (1899–1980)
Universally acknowledged as "The Master of Suspense," British-born film director Hitchcock is renowned for a series of now classic psychological thrillers that remain a constant presence in the cultural landscape of the moviegoer. Hitchcock created and perfected his own genre of thriller, one which was by turns romantic, comedic, and macabre. Hitchcock's first American film was a collaboration with producer David O. Selznick, Rebecca (1940), based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier and starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Sometimes cited by Hitchcock as his personal favorite, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), which starred Joseph Cotten as a killer escaping detection by "visiting" his adoring relatives, dramatized the terrors that can lurk in the shadows of a seemingly normal small town. It was this penchant for perceiving the disturbance underneath the surface of things that helped Hitchcock's movies to resonate so powerfully. In Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock examines obsession under the deceptive guise of a straightforward thriller. In Rear Window the lead character, portrayed by actor James Stewart, witnesses a murder while engaging in his hobby of spying on his neighbors. In Vertigo, a man (played by Stewart) is tormented by a lookalike of his deceased lover (both played by Kim Novak), with whom he had had an illicit affair. Vertigo has been praised for Hitchcock's cinematographic artistry as well as Stewart's grim, haunted performance. The director's first horror film, Psycho (1960), inspired by the Ed Gein multiple murder case, has been analyzed by numerous film historians and academics, and is generally considered Hitchcock's last great film. The murder of the woman (portrayed by Janet Leigh) in the shower has been imitated in countless films since Psycho's release, and has become part of the cinema's iconography. The Birds (1963)—based on a short story by Du Maurier—was less highly regarded, but is considered a durable and complex experiment in terror, and a testament to Hitchcock's technical expertise.
As the history of the terror-film genre proceeds, directors frequently introduce allusions calculated to place their films within that genre—as when Eugene Lourie has the infant monster of Gorgo transported past a London cinema showing Hammer's 1959 version of The Mummy. At the same time the characters, themes, images, lighting-patterns, and atmospheric ambience characteristic of the genre appear more and more often in films that are not primarily terror-films or horror-movies—films by directors with a strong artistic purpose, like Buñuel, Bergman, and Fellini, and also films by entertainers like Norman Jewison, whose resurrectionscene in Fiddler on the Roof (1974) makes an amusing parodistic use of 'horror' conventions. Has any terror-film after Nosferatu ever employed a more startling shock-cut than that which occurs at the opening of David Lean's version of Great Expectations (1946) when Magwitch, the convict, suddenly looms up among the graves? Analysts of the Hollywood cinema in particular have vied with one another in pointing to the manifold uses distinguished directors have made of horror-movie imagery. Here is Eric Rhode on Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940):
Rebecca opens … with its camera edging forward through a dank, leafy garden to a shrouded country house called Manderley. In the past, such evocations of the eerie—of entombed emotions brought to light—had been the preserve of the horror movie. Hollywood studios now applied it to nearly every genre.
(Rhode, 1976, p. 385)
… there was the Gothic atmosphere, and the huge, dark rooms with lighted figures, and Peter Lorre, bald, with a spoiled-baby face, looking astoundingly like a miniature Orson Welles …
Not only is the large room with the fireplace at Xanadu similar to Lorre's domain as a mad doctor, with similar lighting and similar placement of figures, but Kane's appearance and make-up in some sequences might be a facsimile of Lorre's …
(Kael, 1974, p. 64)
And here, lastly, is Richard Corliss on Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950)—a film which anticipated the 'menopausal murder story' of the 1960s:
Sunset Boulevard is the definitive Hollywood horror movie. Practically everything about this final Brackett-Wilder collaboration is ghoulish. The film is narrated by a corpse that is waiting to be fished out of a swimming pool. Most of it takes place in an old dark house that opens its doors only to the walking dead. The first time our doomed hero … enters the house, he is mistaken for an undertaker. Soon after, another corpse is buried—that of a pet monkey, in a white coffin. Outside the house is the swimming pool, at first filled only with rats, and 'the ghost of a tennis court.' The only musical sound in the house is that of the wind, wheezing through the broken pipes of a huge old organ.
The old man who occasionally plays it calls to mind Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera—that and other images of the Silent Era. The old man is Erich von Stroheim, playing himself as he plays the organ, with intimations of melancholia, absurdity and loss … Desmond-Swanson is Dracula, or perhaps the Count's older, forgotten sister, condemned to relive a former life, sucking blood from her victim …
(Corliss, 1975, pp. 147-8)
Analyses such as these serve to show up vividly how the American cinema has used genre-conventions to transcend genre while most seeming to affirm it.
What we have just heard Rhode say of Rebecca reminds us that it is not only specific characters and specific images which migrate from the terror-film into other genres. Whole feeling-patterns reemerge in different context as the history of the cinema proceeds along its rapid way. Take Robert Sklar's description, in Movie-Made America, of the claustrophobia characteristic of the Hollywood film noir, the psychological thriller of the 1940s:
The hallmark of the film noir is its sense of people trapped—trapped in webs of paranoia and fear, unable to tell guilt from innocence, true identity from false. Its villains are attractive and sympathetic, masking greed, misanthropy, malevolence. Its heroes and heroines are weak, confused, susceptible to false impressions. The environment is murky and close, the setting vaguely oppressive. In the end, evil is exposed, though often just barely, and the survival of good remains troubled and ambiguous.
(Sklar, 1978, p. 253)
That evokes admirably an atmosphere which the film noir shares with many a studio-bound horror-movie. Nor is the influence all one way, from horror-movie to other kinds and genres. What Citizen Kane may have taken from Mad Love or Son of Kong it amply repaid with The Haunting, in which Robert Wise applied to the ghost-story the lessons he had learnt while cutting and editing Kane under Welles's direction. The house that turns out to be the most memorable character in the film is Kane's Xanadu transported into a New England setting.
The development traced in this chapter has, from the first, proceeded along international as well as national lines. We saw macabre German films influence Hollywood—where the most distinguished of its directors and actors found themselves at one time or another; in its turn Hollywood influenced film-making in England, France, Spain, and Italy; and just as an actor like Conrad Veidt played important roles in England and the U.S.A. as well as in his native Germany, so, at a later date, would Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Boris Karloff turn up in Italian or Hispanic terror-films as readily as in British or American ones. With the growing sophistication of post-synchronizing and dubbing techniques the cinema is once again becoming as international in its appeal as it was before the coming of sound. It is obvious that audience reactions will differ to some degree from country to country, from region to region, just as expectations will vary. Popular films will therefore try to work at many levels, to appeal to many differing audiences, while attempting, at the same time, to establish conventions through which expectations and responses may be standardized. Recent British horror-movies have aimed, for instance, at an international target audience aged between eighteen and thirty; and in an interview with Edward Buscombe one of their most popular stars, Peter Cushing, has described their appeal by means of a telling comparison:
Well, you see, for eighteen years these pictures have been popular and the mass of people who go to these pictures, it's rather like those who buy their favourite brand of chocolates; they know that when they open the box they'll find the coconut creams and the truffles and that sort of thing, and they know when they see this kind of film they'll get what they're looking for. And so they're catered for by the scriptwriters.
(Buscombe, 1976, p. 23)
That pinpoints admirably the paradoxically reassuring, familiar side of horror-movies, their 'culinary' or 'confectionary' qualities, as well as one kind of feed-back between audiences and movie-makers on which a profit-oriented industry has to rely.
There is no lack of socially conscious commentators who have spelt out for us what Peter Cushing's remarks imply: that the cinema is no mere technology which can be used by artists of varying kinds for their own purposes; that it is, rather, a means of production and distribution owned and to some extent controlled by entrepreneurs, 'movie moguls', tycoons, bankers, and—increasingly—vast multinational companies. Various mechanisms are, however, at work in competitive societies like our own to ensure that the cinema can never become a too easily manipulated money-spinner or a wholly reliable instrument of social control. True, the necessity of making a profit by means of an expensive commodity like the film will inevitably lead to questionable 'public relations' exercises, to the taking of easy options, to truckling (at times) to what is least attractive in the popular mood or the official 'line' of a given moment, to exploitation and over-exploitation of what has proved attractive in the past. If the public has signified its approval of a film called Psycho by flocking to the box-office in great numbers, we may be sure that a whole series of similar subjects will follow, under such titles as Maniac, Paranoiac, Fanatic, or Hysteria. This in turn will mean that the public's appetite becomes jaded—demanding either stronger and stronger doses of the same sensations, or something altogether new. To this demand the industry will sometimes respond with gimmicks that soon lose their attractiveness: 3-D effects, skeletons creaking across the auditorium, 'fear-flashers', 'horror-horns', cinema seats wired to give harmless tingling shocks … In the end, however, it will have to turn to creative film-makers, realizing that it cannot rely on 'safe' recipes, that it needs fresh ideas and forms which will appeal to many kinds of audiences, will attract new viewers, and are clearly beyond studio-hacks content to exploit well-tried formulas. 'Being entertained', the sociologist Herbert J. Gans has said, in a study of the accommodations that take place between directors, screen-writers, producers, financiers, and various kinds of audience,
means, on the one hand, that people want to satisfy various latent needs and predispositions, and on the other hand, that they want to be surprised with something new or different. Because people have these predispositions, their choices follow some analyzable pattern. But while there may be enough of a pattern to encourage the movie makers to inferences about future choices, there is never enough to provide reliable predictions.
(Rosenberg and White, 1957, pp. 315-16)
Bogdanovich, P., The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, New York, 1963.
――――――, Fritz Lang in America, London, 1967.
Buscombe, E., Making 'Legend of the Werewolf', London, 1976.
Corliss, R., Talking Pictures. Screenwriters in the American Cinema, New York, 1974 (Penguin edn., 1975).
Derry, C., Dark Dreams. A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film, London, 1977.
Kael, P., I Lost it at the Movies, New York, 1965.
――――――, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. New York, 1968.
――――――, and others, The Citizen Kane Book, Boston, 1971 (Paladin edn., 1974).
Rhode, E., Tower of Babel. Speculations on the Cinema, London, 1966.
――――――, A History of the Cinema. From its Origins to 1970. London, 1976.
Rosenberg, B., and White, D. M., (eds.), Mass Culture. The Popular Arts in America, New York, 1957.
Sklar, R., Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, New York, 1975 (London, 1978).
Toeplitz, J., Hollywood and After. The Changing Face of American Cinema, London, 1974.
DAVID PUNTER (ESSAY DATE 1996)
SOURCE: Punter, David. "Gothic in the Horror Film 1930–1980." In The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. Vol. 2, pp. 96-118. Essex, England: Longman, 1996.
In the following essay, Punter offers an assessment of the Gothic as represented in horror films produced between 1930 and 1980.
The international history of the horror film to 1980 may be seen in three principal phases: the German masterpieces of the silent era; the developments in America between 1930 and the late 1950s; and the largely British-centred product of the 1960s and 1970s. In this chapter, I want, as with the fiction, to restrict myself to American and British work, but it is worth noting from the outset that behind all subsequent horror films there lurks, in a curiously resonant parallel with eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, a German presence. It manifests itself in theme, in content, in a specific set of photographic styles, indeed in an entire mise en scène which runs from the range of Universal Studios films of 1931 and 1932 to the Hammer cycle of the 1960s. The horror film thus has a complexly twisted provenance: out, originally, of a body of legendry which owes much to real or fake German and central European sources and 'Transylvanian' settings, via English nineteenth-century fictional developments, but then mediated again through the directorial styles of the great German directors, Wegener, Wiene, Murnau and Lang.
This is by no means to assume that all horrifying films are Gothic; but at the same time it is true that the fundamentally formulaic model which is conventionally known as 'the horror film' has indeed many Gothic aspects. In order to investigate these, I intend to examine briefly six different areas of the horror film, treating each through one or two specific examples. First, there are the 1930s American films, mostly out of Universal Studios, mostly again making use of previously existent horror plots, and relying heavily on both the directorial talents of such men as Tod Browning and James Whale, and even more on the acting presence of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, still the forgers of the most culturally prominent images of Frankenstein's monster and Dracula respectively. A period of comparative infertility, relieved only by the undoubted but minor-key successes of the Lewton/Tourneur production team, is followed by an upsurge in the 1950s, typically of horror films with a science-fiction bias and an all too obvious political content; here a succession of extended images emerges in which are encoded arguments about the Cold War, about fears of invasion from the East, and about the dangers of technologisation. The 1960s are marked by two rather divergent developments: the emergence, in America, of Roger Corman as a horror auteur of enormous significance, more specifically identified as a major reinterpreter of Poe; and in England the prominence of Hammer Studios, which give rise to a whole series of further reinterpretations of the classic myths, and also to a less well-known but equally important series of examinations of psychopathology (Taste of Fear (1960), Maniac (1962), Paranoiac (1963), Fanatic (1965), The Anniversary (1967)). Historically along-side the work of Corman and Hammer there runs a rather different emergent tradition, superficially very much outside the Gothic formulae and represented in the work of such diverse directors as Hitchcock, Polanski and Michael Powell: films which might be described as revelations of the terror of everyday life, which prise apart the bland surfaces of common interaction to disclose the anxieties and aggressions which lie beneath. And finally we have the 1970s and the coming of a new range of films, of which one of the most prominent examples is The Exorcist, films which have been widely condemned as exploitative, yet which, if we are to follow through any argument about the social significance of the forms of terror, must be considered in a more detailed way.
In one sense at least the horror film is very similar to eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, in that, while being a popular form, it demonstrates on closer inspection both a surprisingly high level of erudition, actual on the part of its makers and also imputed to its audience, and also a very high level of technical virtuosity. Films like Freaks (1932), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), the Hammer Dracula (1958), and Peeping Tom (1960) (to name only one film from each of the first five categories listed above) all demonstrate in different ways both the amount of technical care and ingenuity lavished on horror films and also the degree of psychological sophistication possessed by many of their makers. In fact, it would be fair to say that the whole development of the horror film is closely interlocked with the rather belated spread and reception of Freudian theory.
The prolificness of horror films in the years 1931 to 1933 is extraordinary; these two years saw the appearance not only of Browning's Dracula and Whale's Frankenstein, but also of Rouben Mamoulian's splendid version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (to date the most frequently filmed of Gothic fictions); Schoedsack and Pichel's The Most Dangerous Game; Erle C. Kenton's Island of Lost Souls; Victor Halperin's White Zombie; Karl Freund's The Mummy; and of course King Kong, a key twentieth-century myth, also directed by Schoedsack and Pichel. One obvious feature which connects many of these films is their dependence on Gothic literary sources; but there are other, more important aspects which justify defining them as a sub-genre. First, there is the genuine complexity of their attitudes towards the monstrous. In Frankenstein and King Kong, of course, we are now all too familiar with the ambiguous emotional effects which these early directors proved so unexpectedly adept at producing; but there are also strong veins of unexpected sympathy running through the Mamoulian Jekyll and Hyde, largely because of the sensitive playing of Fredric March, through The Most Dangerous Game, a 'tightly constructed, literate horror film'1 which brings to the screen a fresh and important image of the displaced, anachronistic and bloodthirsty aristocrat, and through White Zombie, with its languorous style and sharpness of social perception.
Allied with this is the photographic inventivenes of the films. Real or unreal as the settings may supposedly be, they are linked by an air of doom, whether it be evidenced in the first graveyard sequence of Frankenstein or in the endless revolution of the zombie-powered mill-wheel in White Zombie. And the monsters themselves, whatever form they may take, are allowed the same grace, are allowed frequently a shadowiness, a half-seen quality which effectively permits a space for the complex interplay of audience emotions. To connect the thematic and the technical, one might perhaps say that what the 1930s horror films essentially possessed was a rare seriousness, of tone and feeling; their directors were content to be unrushed, to allow space and time for their conceptions to emerge on the screen, and in doing so they managed to create a series of works which possessed a genuinely tragic quality, at least insofar as they realised a sense of powerful forces, forces of destiny, operative in human life.
Whale's Frankenstein is, in fact, not one of the more consistently tactful of these films, and this is largely reflective of the conflict within the film between fidelity to the original story and an at-tempt, interesting in its details, at updating. The laboratory in which Frankenstein's experiments take place, for instance, is an odd blend of early nineteenth-century scientific paraphernalia and more advanced apparatus based on electricity. There is also the much criticised story change which resulted in the monster being given a madman's brain. Whale, a remarkably sophisticated director, was clearly attempting to suggest further ways, technical and psychological, in which the Frankenstein myth might be explored and recast for our times, and to a considerable extent he succeeded. If part of the essence of the Gothic is an insistence that it is possible to take melodramatic forms and conduct within them a complex and contemporary psychological argument, then Whale's Frankenstein is indeed a Gothic film at a deeper level than merely in terms of the portrayal of settings.
Much of the complexity of Mary Shelley's text remains present in the film. The obsessional nature of Frankenstein's motives, the monster's thwarted groping towards understanding, the emphasis on the contradiction between 'correct' family life and isolation, the arguments about natural evil, all persist in Whale's hands; and what is improved above all else in the film, due to Karloff's participation, is the presence of the monster himself. His acting is poised precisely on the edge of the monstrous, never degenerating into the clodhopping vulgarity with which he is sometimes parodied; the creature may have a preternaturally beetling brow, but beneath it is a face capable of a sensitive and moving range of expressions; the figure itself may initially appear mechanical and robot-like, but Karloff's sense of movement endows it with an uncanny fluidity which keeps our doubts about what is and what is not human ever open. Mary Shelley's over-compensatory denunciations of her creation are absent, which renders the scenes between the monster and the uncomprehending villagers all the more poignant.
In wider terms, Frankenstein and its sister films represent a strange collection of social and cultural forces. Schoedsack and Pichel made the social point apparent in the plot of King Kong, with its film director out to provide bread and circuses for the masses of the Depression; yet these films, like the Gothic novels, are not mere pot-boilers, and for an exactly identical reason: because they spring not only from social roots but also from the logic of internal technical development within culture. They are the first interesting product of the sound revolution, and of the accompanying situation in which film therefore stood poised on the brink of becoming a popular medium. And just as the expansion of the reading-public in the late eighteenth century led to a series of experiments in popular fiction, so the potential expansion of the film-watching public in the late 1920s generated a field in which directors could remain imbued with the excitement of the medium while attempting to provide popular filmic fare.
Kenton's Island of Lost Souls, a film version of The Island of Dr Moreau, is another example of this. Here, in fact, directorial intention considerably outstripped public response: the theme of miscegenation was pushed out into the open and personified in the form of an all too seductive panther-woman, and the result was outrage. Yet in terms of actual violence, Island of Lost Souls, like almost all the horror films of the early 1930s, was extremely reticent; it is greatly to the credit of both Whale and Kenton, in these particular films, that they used the possibilities of visualisation not to emphasise lurid situations but for quite a contrary purpose: to illumine further the conflicts of aspiration and doom which are at the heart of the Gothic.
For Moreau, as played by Charles Laughton, is just as complex a monster as Frankenstein or his creation. He is a splendid mixture of the diabolical and the gentlemanly, his whole being seemingly pivoted around the ambivalent connotations of his whip: is this a matter of life, death and pain, or merely, like hunting, another way for the bored upper classes to pass the time? Laughton manages to oscillate between venom and joviality in a way which at times surpasses the potential of the tale itself, strongly assisted by the settings, encapsulations of colonialism. One of the finer points of both Island of Lost Souls and Frankenstein, in fact, is a use of shadow, inherited from the German cinema, which serves as a direct intensification of the Gothic mood: both Moreau and the monster, in crucial scenes, are accompanied by a larger-than-life-size shadow which is a direct visual equivalent of both the transcendence of human life which they variously represent and the doom which consequently awaits them.
To concentrate on directors and production company styles in the early horror film is, of course, to beg an obvious question: clearly many of the films were vehicles for particular stars. Lugosi, at the high point of his career, was receiving as much fan-mail as any more conventional male romantic lead, and the whole history of the horror film, like the history of the Gothic novel, can be read as the evolution of a series of types of the hero/villain. Frankenstein and Island of Lost Souls, like many other horror films then and since, end in the same way (with some literary justification in the latter case, precious little in the former): with an uprising of the repressed—angry villagers or beast-men—and the ritual purgation of the disordering element, but without leaving the audience feeling that all the relevant moral issues have thereby been solved. It is easy to scorn the horror-film convention whereby the hero/villain lives to fight another day and reappears in endless sequels, and clearly this device has some of its roots in the box-office, but it also reflects a genuine difficulty, native to the Gothic, with allaying the fears which these powerful figures represent. In the context of the long series of Frankenstein and Dracula films which have followed the originals, the problem of the undead gains an added dimension.
One of the most depressing features in the evolution of the horror film is the way in which, after the Second World War, these complexities of response seemed to come for a time to be systematically eliminated from the genre. The typical product of the 1950s lies on the edge of horror and science fiction: it confronts order with disruption in a simplistic fashion, usually by allowing some kind of generalised human society to stand as unquestioned and by throwing against it an alien being or species which never stands a chance. The beast may come from the stars or from 20,000 fathoms, from Mars or from beneath the earth, from the moon, Venus, the ocean floor or the black lagoon (Flying Disc Men from Mars (1950), Radar Men from the Moon (1952), War of the Worlds (1952), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Invaders from Mars (1953), Killers from Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), to name but a few), but wherever it comes from generally it might as well not have bothered: the moral virtues of the clean-cut American hero, sometimes backed up by clean-cut American tanks and guided missiles, prove far too strong—or unattractive—for it to withstand. It is easy to read in this phenomenon a new American defensiveness, a Cold War paranoia, a continual acting-out of physical, mental or moral invasion and of strategies for resistance. Yet even here, in a most unpromising field, there were considerable achievements.
Perhaps the most imposing still remains Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with its solid evocation of small-town America and its uncompromising insistence on vulnerability. Here there is no question of a direct battle between hero and invaders; the invaders have come not to wipe out the human race but to replace it with exact duplicates, and the hero's problem is to convince anyone that this is happening before the authorities themselves are taken over. The last scene of all, where his story is finally beginning to be believed, is rather a letdown; but that immediately preceding, in which, fleeing from the invaders, he arrives at a busy highway and wastes several minutes in a hysterical attempt to persuade someone to stop and take notice before being knocked down, has a nightmare power.
The mise en scène of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a very long way from the 1930s films: settings are contemporary and normative to the point of deliberate banality, photography is mostly clear and flat, although Siegel in this respect produces a more inventive film than most. The great practical virtue of his plot-line, of course, is that he is able to raise the issue of the human and the non-human without having to call on a special-effects department: the only way of telling the supplanters from the supplanted is by their lack of emotion, which is a matter for acting skill rather than heavy machinery. This stylistic naturalism, however, becomes in Siegel's hands, an appropriate way of exploring contemporary social anxieties, not about the inability to understand but about the inability to communicate the understanding which has been forced upon one.
Yet in the end, Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains a conservative film. The invaders represent a possible order based on pure reason, the excision of the messiness of emotion, and there is no doubt that this alternative is held by the director in low esteem, but the psychological conflict is displaced: instead of being between ego and id, between reason and the uncontrolled, it is merely between two different kinds of conventionality. The hero and his fiancée—before she is herself taken over—do not represent any form of emotional life dominant enough to engage us in real choices: the change which would be involved were they to succumb would not, we feel, be particularly large anyway. Yet the film manages to haunt, to linger in the mind: largely because of the sense of a closing circle which it powerfully conveys, the sense of impending isolation against which succumbing to the 'easeful death' which the invaders promise gains a certain concreteness.
A film on which it is worth concentrating more closely is the rather later Night of the Living Dead (1968), directed on a limited budget by George Romero and played by amateur actors. It might seem historically out of place to consider it at this point, but the film is a self-conscious comment on and extension of the 1950s mode, marking a circling back from science-fiction stereotypes into a Gothicism of setting and authorial attitude. Huss and Ross summarise it as 'underground cult film on zombies, now emerging above ground',2 which is either a very unselfconscious or a very witty summary, its theme being precisely the return of the dead from their graves. Its immense yet offbeat popularity is certainly in need of explanation: made by a television crew, shot in unfashionable black-and-white and with acting which is patchy at best, it yet became one of the most frequently shown films on the university and film society circuit.
Basically, it works through a series of inversions, which can only be properly understood by an audience which already has a certain familiarity with the assumptions both of the zombie film and of 1950s science fiction. The plot is initially conventional: a 'representative' group of Americans gets holed up in an isolated house, and in attempting to defend it against the returning dead go through the usual gamut of hysteria, courage and leadership struggles. Precisely those clean-cut kids, however, whom one naturally expects to survive get rather satisfyingly killed. Several of the group reveal themselves to be so generally appalling that one starts to want the living dead to get on with the job. And the one apparent survivor, a competent black who manages to outlast the siege, eventually emerges from the house in such a state of exhaustion and personal disappointment that he is instantly gunned down by the sheriff's men as one of the walking dead.
Almost all zombie films reflect fears about deindividuation. In Night of the Living Dead, it is highly unclear where the state of zombiedom begins and ends: some of the inhabitants of the house are such withered creatures of convention that one supposes absorption into this inverted afterlife would make little difference. Romero takes advantage of the besieged house to conduct a very similar exploration to that which takes place in almost all 1970s disaster movies: an investigation into what happens to people under the dual stress of external danger and internal claustrophobia. But where disaster movies typically emerge with a Fascist answer (strong leadership, the dispensability of the weak), Romero's attitude is very different: danger usually brings out not the best but the worst in people, and where it does bring out the best, that best is generally unrecognisable to the world outside. One is reminded forcibly of the ending of Lord of the Flies, where matters which have seemed of vital importance are suddenly dwarfed by the reappearance of adult reality.
One of the more disturbing features of Night of the Living Dead is that Romero is content to reside neither within the expressionism of the 1930s nor in the naturalism of the 1950s, but moves between one and the other: the house is depressingly, flatly real and unexciting, but some of the shots of the slowly but inexorably approaching zombies are 'atmospheric' almost to the point of parody. The effect of this appears to be to deprive the viewer of a consistent perspective, which is perhaps one source of the film's power. A problem with it is that, because of the film's self-consciousness, any attempt at a discussion of it makes it sound as though parody is indeed an important element; yet this is very far from the actual effect of the film, which is intensely serious. It seems, in fact, almost like the product of a mood of exasperation: as if the people involved with making it had finally become irritated with the horror film's unwillingness to speak its name, to confess explicitly its psychological and social emphases, and had set about trying to rectify the situation by producing a film which proved that apparently melodramatic and outworn apparatus could still be profoundly disturbing, and not only at the sensory level.
Returning to the late 1950s, the commercial initiative in horror films passed decisively to Britain with the release in 1957 of Hammer Studios' Curse of Frankenstein. I want for the moment, however, to remain with America, and with the horror films of Roger Corman. It should be stressed that these are only a small and transient part of his whole output: the most prolific director/producer in the cinema of these decades, Corman turned his hand to horror most consistently between 1960 and 1964, very possibly precisely as a response to Hammer's demonstration of the further commercial possibilities of the field. During these years he made a cycle of seven films (The House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)), which are usually referred to, not without reservations, as the Poe cycle. The reservations are important in two specific ways: although in each of the films Corman adapts elements of Poe's stories (except in The Haunted Palace, which is in fact based on Lovecraft's Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927–8)) he is forced, by the brevity of the stories themselves and by audience assumptions regarding narrative film, to add much to them, and he also makes little attempt, except in The Tomb of Ligeia, to invoke the drowsy, opiated tone of Poe. To criticise Corman as an exploiter of Poe seems to be beside the point: Corman's cycle is surely very much a self-consistent set of horror films, with their own detailed and impressive mise en scène, within which elements of Poe are embedded.
What the films show is that Corman, as of himself, has a thoroughly distinctive Gothic vision. The intricate passageways, the creaking tombs, the wry but gleeful ironies of dialogue have more in common with Matthew Lewis than with Poe; indeed, Corman is probably the only contemporary director who could satisfactorily film The Monk. The films are a set of variations on a group of essential elements, not necessarily all present in any one film: a bravura use of colour and décor; a masterful if repetitive evocation of suspense; the inimitable acting of Vincent Price, which slides from high tragedy to high camp with no evident disruption of tone—perhaps Jacobean would be the best term for Price's style; a brilliant use of dream inserts; and an insistence on not simplifying or resolving the battle between good and evil which the films dramatise.
The two best films in the cycle are the last two, partly because Corman had at last a reasonable budget available, partly too because they contain Price's most extraordinary performances. With The Masque of the Red Death, it must have been apparent from the outset that there was not a great deal Corman could do within the bounds of the story, exiguous as it is: he bolsters it up with an insert adaptation of 'Hop-Frog', but even so the result bears little relation to Poe's world. What it does take from Poe, and put to excellent use, is the décor of Prospero's castle, with its single-colour rooms opening into each other in vistas of breathtaking magnificence. The Poe story, however, is essentially in a monotone, and this is a source of its power: the situation is imbued with doom from the outset, with Prospero's attempt to resist the Red Death by shutting himself and his friends in his castle and indulging in narcotic revelry resembling a Gothic act of divine defiance, and thus necessarily entailing its own defeat. Corman's film is far more various: the lusts and appetites of Prospero's curious 'court' and of Prospero himself are foregrounded, and suspense is created by Corman's ability precisely to enable his audience to forget the inevitable outcome for considerable periods of time. The ending has been much criticised: after the dance is finished, and Price has encountered a satisfactorily bloody death, the Red Death figure is seen meeting with other hooded figures and conferring with them on the success of their operation. It may be that the realisation of this scene is crude, but the purpose is important: first as a simple parody of the happy ending, but second as a demonstration of the smallness of the world in which we have just been absorbed. Like Chinese boxes, the ending of the film shows the tale of Prospero's doom only to have been one among others, and we are left still having to adumbrate a further level: in whose service do these various Deaths operate?
In a sense, it is an unusual role for Price: whereas he is usually constrained to act the part of a doom-laden and enfeebled aristocrat, here he is permitted the full range of Promethean defiance—again, most unlike any of Poe's more fully realised characters, but with a very close relation to Schedoni, Melmoth and those other more lusty and powerful rejecters of divine limitation. His role in The Tomb of Ligeia is more typical: in this film the elements of Poe are at their strongest in narrative terms, although again there is a vitality, even in some cases an ordinariness, to the characterisation which belies Poe's dream-tones even while giving added filmic bite to the intrusion of the supernatural into a world which at least has one or two features in common with our own. As in the Corman House of Usher, Price chooses to emphasise febrility (most notoriously by wearing dark glasses almost throughout), and admirably complements Corman's scenery of decaying grandeur.
The cycle gained a popularity similar in kind to that of Romero's film: critics were at best lukewarm, pointing reasonably to a grand guignol quality which inevitably lapsed into self-parody, yet there is clearly something about the films which transcends this danger. It could be hypothesised that their appeal may lie in their reflection of a crumbling adult world, certainly a possible way to appeal to a predominantly youthful audience.3 It would seem, though, that perhaps the matter is more complex than this: certainly the conflagrations which terminate several of the films are satisfying in these terms, but they would not be so were it not for the loving care with which Corman chooses to portray the world which is passing. As with the Gothic, there are elements here of both attraction and repulsion. What is totally absent from the films is any kind of bourgeois moralism: usually one of the strongest audience reactions comes from the portrayal of the 'hero' in House of Usher, who is indeed a bourgeois character, trying to impose a schema of rationalism on the events with which he is confronted; naturally he fails at every turn, much to the intended and actual delight of viewers. In this sense the Corman cycle plays out yet again the problem of the bourgeoisie's relations with the aristocracy, and in doing so demonstrates the extraordinary fact that audiences in the 1960s and 1970s have not lost their taste for watching yet again a struggle which has been historically superseded for 150 years.
And this is perhaps the most curious fact about Corman's work—and, as we shall see, about the success of Hammer Studios: that both subgenres demonstrate the extent to which our images of terror have become embedded in the endless recasting of a specific historical period. This is not to say that Corman's films possess intricate period accuracy, but that they accurately reflect what appears to be a received notion of period, and one which still occasions interest and indeed considerable excitement. In this sense, Corman works not so much from Poe as alongside him: both men express a fascination with the original Gothic, and in both cases it is mediated through a deliberate vulgarisation, which is presumably in itself a significant element of an attempt to deal with historical problems. To go further than this would be difficult without an extended discussion of the concept of 'camp';4 but at least one can say that camp is a form of irony, and that Corman's films work through a dialectic of response. That is to say, they appear to be appealing to the terrible, and to a certain extent they are; but they are also appealing to shared assumptions about the limitations of terror, and thus are self-ironising in a way which earlier Gothic films were not.
Corman's films—and Price's acting—demand audience collusion, and it is in this structural sense, and not merely because of the extent of their appeal, that they can most fairly be called 'cult' films. They permit their audience to acknowledge its own intelligence and reasonableness before deliberately abandoning it. It has often been said that only a secure avant-garde can afford seriously to affront or abandon good taste, and certainly Corman's films afford intellectual relief—not escape—of a kind which cannot be far distant from the excitement ladies in the late eighteenth century derived from observing the wickedness of an Ambrosio. Corman's cinema is neither realist nor psychological: it is, in a sense, a cinema of pure formalism, and only because it is so reliant on fixed form can it afford the gross excesses of colour and dialogue which typify it.
Although Corman's work and the horror films, directed mostly by Terence Fisher and made by Hammer have often, quite reasonably, been contrasted, nonetheless there are similarities. The mingled audience response of fear and laughter which greets Dracula's fifteenth resurrection is the sure mark of 'cult', of a situation in which the rules are clearly known, and because they are, the filmmaker is free to move knowingly between the many variations possible on a theme. Yet in the long run what seems to be most remarkable about Hammer's films is, as David Pirie points out in A Heritage of Horror, their place in specifically British cultural life:
It certainly seems to be arguable on commercial, historical and artistic grounds that the horror genre, as it has been developed in this country by Hammer and its rivals, remains the only staple cinematic myth which Britain can properly claim as its own, and which relates to it in the same way as the western does to America…. The rather striking truth is that in international commercial terms, the British cinema … has effectively and effortlessly dominated the 'horror' market over a period of almost twenty years with a series of films which, whatever their faults, are in no way imitative of American or European models but derive in general from literary sources.5
The reason for this, clearly, lies in the 'Britishness' of the sources with which the Hammer films deal; their international success, real as it undoubtedly is, would only have been possible under conditions where Hammer found itself—unexpectedly—able to reach a large home market with a product which, in 1957, already seemed to American film companies outmoded and preposterous.
A point from which to begin in trying to establish the nature of Hammer's contribution to the development of the horror film is that, just as it is deceptive to consider the Corman horror cycle as remakes of Poe, so it is deceptive to regard Hammer as indulging in remakes of American 1930s horror cinema. The roots of Hammer's treatment of the Frankenstein and Dracula myths, like the roots of Corman's films, lie not in nineteenth- or twentieth-century American adaptations of the Gothic, but more directly in the Gothic itself considered from the vantage-point of the 1960s. That is to say that Hammer horror is, again like Corman's, self-ironising; but this is only a similarity of means, and the ends of Corman and Fisher are radically different. Hammer's films do not on the whole embark on the tricky balancing of good and evil which Corman attempts, and nor do they strive so cheerfully to establish their own fictionality. Fisher is a moralistic director, not in any particularly strong sense, but in the simplicity of his demarcations between good and evil and in the way in which it is assumed that the moralism in some sense justifies the depiction of terror. It is not without symbolic significance that where Corman turned to the amoral nightmares of Poe, Hammer began its venture into horror with a version of Frankenstein which took with great seriousness many of Mary Shelley's more erudite arguments, or that in film after film they stress the nature/artifice contradiction which so beset a writer like Radcliffe.
When The Curse of Frankenstein first appeared, it was rapidly condemned on the grounds of explicit sadism, a criticism which seems to us now rather surprising, for the kinds of ritualised violence which occur in Hammer films seem very much bounded by assumptions of the form. What has been more shocking in Hammer films over their latter years has been the boldness and explicitness with which successive directors have dwelt upon the connections between violence and sexuality. Undoubtedly commercial pressures are partly responsible for this, but there again in the context of the Gothic tradition as we have tried to outline it, it seems hardly reprehensible for the film to bring into the open aspects of texts which are already present; and in fact one of the consequences of Fisher's moralism is that the fatal attractiveness of evil is inevitably undermined in all his films by his insistence on punishing the seductive. One can fairly see the Frankenstein cycle as a set of explorations of various sides of the multifaceted Frankenstein myth, informed by no little intelligence and discrimination. In The Curse of Frankenstein, for instance, the character of Frankenstein himself is deliberately altered in order to bring him more into line with the more charismatic Gothic heroes, with the consequence that the Faustianism of the original is brought closer to the surface; also he is considerably foregrounded at the expense of the monster, which provides opportunities for investigation of the psychological significance of the creator himself. In The Revenge of Frankenstein (1957), the scientist's character becomes more complex again, as Fisher shows him simultaneously capable of cruelty and disinterested kindness, and brings him into close proximity with the stereotype of the victimised pioneer. While The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), directed not by Fisher but by Jimmy Sangster, demonstrates Hammer's ability to parody itself: the very fact that the parody is far from successful underlines the complexity of approach which lies behind the better films, despite their apparent simplicity of appeal.
But clearly it is in the context of their Dracula films that Hammer has moved furthest into the realm of horror as sexual pathology. This is partly a question of character presentation: while Lugosi was well equipped to emphasise the shadowy foreignness and supernatural menace of the Dracula figure, he never made it quite clear what it was that his victims found so fatally attractive in a fate worse than death. Christopher Lee, on the other hand, has all the makings of an acceptable alternative to conventional life and sexuality: he has not only power but seductiveness, plausibility and a glint of knowing humour. Where Lugosi's posturings often seemed directed principally at the audience, and his films therefore suffered from a lack of internal psychological coherence, Lee's mesmeric effect on his usually nubile victims is readily appreciable as rooted in the obliging attractiveness of noblesse.
The strength of Hammer's Dracula films lies in an odd closeness to Stoker's text: not usually in terms of plot, but then Dracula was hardly remarkable for plot in the first place, but for a decadent poetic treatment of ancient legendry. The Hammer Draculas have a sense of historical depth: as in the Corman films, the fact that we as audience are assumed to be already fully conversant with the details of the legends frees the various directors Hammer have employed—Fisher being here again the most important—to weave free-floating poems of colour and allusion around the basic elements. In the later years, this took directions which seem entirely justifiable in terms both of passages from Stoker and also of other, later, literary treatments of vampirism: the transference of vampiric powers back from male to female, and the appearance of elements of both male and female homosexuality within the narrative. Stoker's Dracula becomes rightly blended with LeFanu's 'Carmilla' (1872) and Stevenson's sultry 'Ollala' (1886) in a hypnotic anthology of perversions. That all the vampires, male and female, in Hammer's films are sexually attractive, sometimes to the point of caricature, recalls precisely scenes in Stoker like that of the three female vampires, all long-drawn hisses and blood-red lips: that the breast into which the stake is plunged is invariably beauteous only brings out one of the principal arguments behind vampire fiction, that only for those who are in unfortunate possession of sexual attractions and urges which they are personally or socially incapable of expressing is vampirism a significant psychological danger.
Hammer's films are undoubtedly of variable quality, and they have committed some genuine disasters; nonetheless, the Frankenstein and Dracula cycles constitute a real attempt to accept, and even strengthen, the period bases of the literature while bringing out psychological implications in a way which has only more recently become permissible. Their other claim to fame may possibly come to rest on their series of psychological thrillers, from Taste of Fear on, in which various everyday psychopathologies are explored: here Hammer works the other way round, by taking precisely the contemporary and demonstrating within it the continuing presence of archaic fears and lusts. Both modes are varieties of melodrama, and both juxtapose past and present in such a way as to question the historical and social limits of reason.
With respect to this latter sub-genre, however, Hammer has neither the psychological sophistication nor the directorial talent to rival the masters whom it attempts to imitate, and here I want to glance briefly at three films which fall into the general field of terror pathology: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) and Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). They are all much written about, and I have no intention here of attempting any kind of detailed analysis: rather I want to bring out what seems to me one important feature of them in relation to other horror material, namely their relation to Gothic motifs and attitudes. To start from simple premises: each of the three films is a study in paranoia. Each of them posits a correlation between paranoia and a thwarting in the relation between the ordered and the chaotic. Each of them, in the search for a visual equivalent for a psychological state, finds a setting which relates closely to traditional imagery: in Psycho, the house, with its cellars and mysterious doors, is pure American Gothic, as Hitchcock of course intended; in Peeping Tom, the film-processing laboratory which is a substitute for the hero's homelessness, shot as it is in half-tones and impossible as it is to discern its physical limits, is the laboratory of generations of Frankensteins, in which the endless attempt is continued to discern the secrets of (the hero's own) creation; Catherine Deneuve's apartment in Repulsion, albeit outwardly contemporary, is nonetheless capable at times of sprouting supernatural apparitions worthy of the direst secrets of Udolpho.
One of the most remarkable features of Psycho is Hitchcock's determination and ability to involve the audience in complex ways with the unfolding of the plot. The obvious example is the shower murder of Janet Leigh, which requires us to find a whole new way of engaging with what is left of the film, a moment which follows on from our unwelcome realisation that we are being required to participate in Norman Bates's unpleasant voyeurism. If one of the principal strengths of Gothic fiction was its undermining of simple processes of identification, its development of the intense ambiguities of persecution, then it is a strength which Psycho shares. The most remarkable feature in this respect is the ending: since by then we are being invited to take simultaneously two opposite views of the putative inhabitant of Norman's body, we are effectively prevented from absolute moral resolution. We have, as Robin Wood comments, been led into a complicity with Norman, and with the film itself;6 we are provided with no way out of the maze in which this has trapped us. And the way in which Hitchcock achieves this manipulation is shameless: subtle though he is in technical terms—and the stabbing of Leigh is a supreme example of photographic virtuosity and even reticence—in other ways his style is pure bravura. He is quite unashamed of coincidence; he is addicted to nasty jokes (for example in the film, there is the revelation of Mummy's 'mummy', and his general practicaljoker reputation is always a necessary adjunct to reading the films); and he is overjoyed by the possibilities of sexual titillation of his audience, as in the entire treatment of Leigh's body. A film which can be referred to as 'balancing us, even at its most horrifying, on the knife-edge where there is almost no distinction between a laugh and a scream'7 is once again elaborating the mixture of seriousness and grotesquerie which has always been a hallmark of the Gothic: like Matthew Lewis's writing, like Vincent Price's acting, Hitchcock's directing is to do with virtuoso spectacle. Both camerawork and acting are theatrical; the music which accompanies Psycho would not be out of place in a Victorian melodrama.
Psycho is not precisely a study of an obsession: it is an investigation of what effect viewing the outcome of an obsession has on an audience. It has often been remarked that the interpretation which the psychiatrist offers at the end is inadequate, and this is perfectly true, not because Hitchcock wanted it to be specifically so, but because it does not matter one way or the other. Hitchcock is interested only in the fact that reasonably similar obsessions do occur, and in the possibilities which this fact affords for cinema. Here again, as in the fiction, specific concern with narrative is intertwined with a concern for exploring the limits of the medium itself: terror is the clearest and most easily examinable of audience responses to attempt to provoke, the reaction which therefore gives most satisfaction to the virtuoso director of popular films. Just, again, as with the fiction, Psycho is at least partly an exploration of the potential of disruption of expectations, and its horror emerges from its form as well as from its content.
Many of the same things could be said about Powell's Peeping Tom, except that here the director has added important extra twists to the argument by making the paranoiac hero himself a film cameraman, and by rendering as the source of his disturbance a set of previous experiences—at the hands of his sadistic father—which also involved film. This complexity makes for a highly self-reflexive film; it has by no means the same power for instant shock as Hitchcock's best work, but its central thematics are far more tightly woven. Discussion of Psycho, so widely regarded as the most important modern exercise in filmic terror, may well suggest that there is indeed no such thing as a 'straight' horror film, and perhaps this is true: but Peeping Tom certainly comes very close to it. As hinted above, it is far from free from Gothic devices but these are put to use not as irony but as density; the fact that the audience is aware of the cultural provenance of motifs such as the discovery of a murder victim in a trunk does not undermine the intensity with which we are required to confront Carl Boehm's psychosis but reinforces it, since it is precisely through the power of film that he endures his repression.
Boehm acts a photographer and amateur filmmaker whose principal obsession is with photographing moments of pure terror. To facilitate this task, he has an array of specialist equipment including a tripod the front leg of which is able to snap up and pierce the throat of its victim. As the film progresses, Powell reveals more and more of the origins of Boehm's situation: in particular he shows, through clips inserted from film supposed to be in Boehm's own possession, how his father, played by Powell himself, had sought to investigate his fear responses by such devices as releasing live lizards into his bed and filming his reaction. The father is supposed to be the author of a series of works on the psychology of fear, in respect of which the son was his guinea-pig. Where the psychological interest in Psycho is largely spurious or at best secondary, in Peeping Tom it is central: Powell is tracing the genesis and operations of a psychosis. Interestingly, this seems to make his actual horrors not more convincing to the audience but less: precisely because of the absence of forced suspense or melodrama, we lack equipment with which to deal with the film, and the result is often a great deal of nervous laughter.
To say, then, that Boehm's photographic laboratory bears a relation to Frankenstein's haunts is not to say that this is a device for directly alerting the audience's assumptions; instead, it is a further indication of the kind of grotesquely distorted world in which Boehm perforce lives—in which, as we come to realise, he has been effectively placed by his dead father. Similarly, there is a Gothic complexity to the narrative structure and to the unfolding of stories within stories, films within films, but this is not a mere device but an essential way of representing the induced tortuousness of Boehm's mind. Every sudden and apparently inexplicable cut, every narrative twist, every insertion of the past replicates the false channels of action and response which have been set up in his psyche. The father's investigations into fear, into what prevents us from confronting the world directly, have produced in the son a syndrome whereby methods of evasion have been honed to a fine point (the point of the bayonet tripod) and the world has ceased to appear real except insofar as it appears on a screen or through the lens of a camera. The implications for the nature of the horror film are vast: the whole issue is raised here of the dimming of responses through overexposure, of the moral ambiguity of confronting one's own fears in real or represented form, of the effects film may have when it takes it upon itself to experiment with emotional response. Psychological concerns and the concerns of the medium are elided in a brilliant series of metaphors: after all, all Boehm is seeking in his murderous procedures is a moment of recognition, a moment when he can perceive in another (momentarily) living being the basic configuration which has been made into the basis of his own personality. Through film he seeks a repetition, confirmation and explanation of previous experience, as do we all; the fact that film for him is film of terror means only that his own previous experience has been of a suffering too intense and too unintelligible for him to get past without the aid of cultural props. Aristotle's concept of the tragic is not very different.
Andrew Sarris says of Roman Polanski's Repulsion that it is 'the scariest if not actually the gori-est Grand Guignol since Psycho', but in terms of tone it is very different from either Psycho, with its ironic black humour, or the seriousness of Peeping Tom. On the one hand, it was passed by the censor on release without cuts because of professional affirmation that it constituted an important study of a psychopathic condition; on the other, as Sarris goes on to say, 'Polanski is actually interested more in the spectacle of repression released than in the psychology of the repressed female'.8 What Polanski appears at first glance to do in the film is invite us to share in distorted perception: Catherine Deneuve's obvious delusions are presented in an identical filmic texture to the rest of the events. The delusions themselves are extensions of environment: the heroine spends most of the film locked in her flat, which gradually becomes more and more menacing as walls crack, unused doors are forced open and hands appear where no hands should be. Repulsion is a study less of claustrophobia than of invasion, finding a series of visual correlatives for the rape anxiety which is the main form Carol's paranoia takes.
The repertoire of effects gains novelty only from its incorporation into a contemporary location in South Kensington: otherwise, they are traditional—the beauty parlour in which Carol works appears at first sight to be some kind of torture chamber; darkened corridors yield dire experiences; the entire flat at one point expands in Carol's mind to enormous proportions in which items of furniture are lost. Horror is present here even—and particularly—in the heroine's Gothic retreat. Furthermore, Carol's problem is partly presented as one of excessive sensibility, linked with a problematic urge towards excessive cleanliness and order which turns into chaos. Carol is unable to stand contact with the gross world: the presence of her sister's boyfriend, Michael, and his belongings in the flat provoke her to fury and eventually terror. Strangely, however, her sensibility does not actually produce much sympathy on the part of director or viewer; it is mostly presented as a profoundly irritating absentmindedness and selfishness. Carol's world is one in which other people have ceased to exist except as intrusions into her privacy; when she realises her inability to keep them out, she abandons all attempt at order, allowing the flat to degenerate into filth and chaos.
Many critics have suggested that the importance of Repulsion is that it allows us entrance into the heroine's own perspectives on the world, and this is partly true, but there is also a further element of directorial presence which dialectically alienates us from her. The fact that we see her delusions as real does not encourage us to accept the view she has of other characters or of herself. The fact that we are able to share the manifestations of her paranoia carries with it the corollary that we remain aware that the actual extent of her persecution is minimal: the attempt to indicate an explanation by tracking into her family photograph at the end is perfunctory, certainly by comparison with the genuine attempts, ironic or serious, to introduce a level of explanation in Psycho or Peeping Tom. In terms of relations of repression, Polanski's treatment of Deneuve is more sadistic than Hitchcock's treatment of Leigh: he offers us an attractive but unobtainable heroine, and then proceeds to martyr her as a ritual punishment for her purity. In this context it is significant that when Carol is finally carried from the flat, it is by Michael. It has been suggested that this, and the curious look which he gives her, reflect a possibility that she has been in love with him all along, despite her apparent revulsion, but it seems more likely that Polanski is here reasserting a characteristic treatment of women in horror literature, leaving Carol passive and broken in the arms of the male who, through doing nothing at all, has emerged once more as successful, capable and dominant.
In these three films, then, we have a range of attitudes to the possibilities of terror for outlining and underlining psychopathology: in Psycho, a black irony which involves characters and audience in a playing-off of moods, attitudes and interpretations; in Peeping Tom, a flat presentation designed to engage our sympathies by a well-rounded statement of the hero's plight; in Repulsion, a presentation of spectacle which involves us in the director's vindictiveness towards his heroine and the qualities which she symbolises. Fundamentally, these are three different balances of the dreadful and the pleasurable, three different relations between terror and psychological well-being. It is, of course, thoroughly understandable that alongside the development of the 'traditional' horror film there should have arisen a genre more designed to cope with specifically contemporary perceptions of terror: what is harder to understand is that in the 1970s both of these forms appear to have been temporarily supplanted at least in terms of commercial success by a third form, which returns to age-old themes of satanism and possession. Rather ironically, the first important exponent of the form was Polanski himself in Rosemary's Baby (1968), but a more typical example is The Exorcist (1973), directed by William Friedkin from a book by W. P. Blatty.
As Pauline Kael says, The Exorcist is a Gothic work in its trappings, and not a Gothic relieved with the ironic spice of comedy, as are Psycho and Rosemary's Baby in their different ways, but a film of 'gothic seriousness' which functions 'below the conscious level'.9 In other words, and in sharp contrast with almost all the other works we have discussed in this chapter, it is a work which professes not knowledge but ignorance, ignorance of the psychological ambivalence of the vocabulary of Gothic images. Yet this ignorance is itself fake: clearly Blatty—who actually, as writer and producer, appears to have had most say in the shape of the film—is in fact all too well aware of the manipulative potential of film, but chooses to delude us into believing in his literal-mindedness. It is doctors and psychiatrists themselves who in the film recommend that the case of twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil be referred to the exorcists; thus the audience is put in the position, not of interpreting horror symbolism as commentary on psychological disorder, but of accepting it wholesale as the outward and visible sign-system of the Devil.
On the whole, immersion in Gothic fiction and film makes one very wary of using the term 'exploitation', and it is in any case a difficult term to justify objectively in the case of a highly popular work. Any work which attempts to provide a point of view can be judged in some sense as non-exploitative, whether that point of view be regarded as good, evil, valid, invalid or criminal. What makes it possible nonetheless to call The Exorcist a work of exploitation is precisely that it does not have a point of view at all. It is not the case that what ought to be disturbing about the film is its apparent spurious vindication of the Catholic Church and of the real existence of the Devil; the really disturbing feature is that this is clearly a matter of no importance whatever in the film, despite Blatty's own religious affiliations. The Exorcist is simply a sequence of special effects, its narrative submerged during the actual viewing experience, and deliberately so. Let it not be said that there is much wrong with the effects themselves: they work extremely well for the most part, and several of the images of terror which are called upon are also quite new.
What is good in the best horror films, from Hammer to Psycho, is their ability to use images of terror to provoke powerful tensions between different interpretations; this is a process which The Exorcist sets out to short-circuit. From the first moments, we are left in no doubt whatever as to the reality of the little girl's possession. The audience is thus reduced to a nadir of passivity: it is highly significant that one of the most appalling and horrifying scenes occurs when an attempt is made at medical treatment of the girl's condition, for what this demonstrates is that the film's makers were drawing throughout upon a single language and a single level of intensity with complete disregard of the film's narrative or thematic coherence. The object-lesson which one might draw from The Exorcist is not about a decreasing vitality in the horror film, or about the dangers of pop religion, but about a crisis in film itself, which is well outside the scope of this book, and which rests on recognition and exploitation of the extraordinary power of film to appear to make its audiences accept assumptions which in the cold light of day appear the most arrant nonsense; this crisis, which bears upon media proliferation, will be addressed more thoroughly in Chapter Seven.
This being said, The Exorcist nonetheless is a horror film, and as such it corresponds with the most uninspired Gothic magazine fiction of the 1840s in its literal-mindedness and lack of ironic tension. What makes it remarkable is only the technical skill—and 10 million dollars—which went into its making. It would perhaps be as well, however, to conclude on a more positive note. Despite the existence of The Exorcist and its numerous progeny, horror film has substantially, and to a rather surprising extent, continued in the Gothic tradition of providing an image-language in which to examine social and psychological fears. The idea that we have all become too sophisticated to watch the traditional horror film has been long belied at Hammer's turnstiles: of course the way in which we watch them is profoundly self-conscious and complicated, but this was certainly true for most early Gothic fiction. For it is not enough to say that horror motifs have lost their bite because we no longer 'believe in' them; we have never believed in them as simply existent, but more as valuable and disturbing fictional images which gain their vitality, when they do, from the underlying truth which they represent.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
F. W. MURNAU (1888–1931) AND NOSFERATU
Next to Fritz Lang and G. W. Pabst, motion picture director F. W. Murnau (born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe) was one of just three directors responsible for revolutionizing German silent cinema during the 1920s.
Almost universally considered a masterpiece of expressionist theatre, the 1922 film Nosferatu provided Murnau with his first artistic breakthrough in Germany. Subtitled Ein Symphonie des Grauens ("A Symphony of Horror"), Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation—as well as the earliest surviving screen rendering—of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Murnau's version of the age-old vampire tale was as much a reflection of the horror that befell Germany in the post-World War I era as it was of Stoker's novel. Beyond reflecting a period of cultural unease, Nosferatu provided the dramatic template for every big-screen vampire that followed, from Bela Lugosi's 1931 portrayal of Dracula to Klaus Kinski's 1979 reprisal of the original Murnau character created by actor Max Schreck. Viewed from a modern perspective, Murnau's film is no longer horrifying in the traditional sense, yet it remains effective for its dark, minimalist approach, as well as its dramatic tension and uncomfortably believable tone. Despite screenwriter Henrik Galeen's and Murnau's efforts to disguise the film's debt to Dracula by changing the title, character names, and settings, Stoker's widow sued Nosferatu's production company, Pana-Film, for copyright infringement and in the process nearly crushed the film. In part because of the financial distress surrounding the Stoker lawsuit, the already troubled Pana-Film was unable to distribute Nosferatu widely, leaving the film for later audiences to discover.
1. Carlos Clarens, Horror Movies (London, 1968), p. 123.
2. Focus on the Horror Film, ed. Roy Huss and T. J. Ross (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972), p. 12.
3. See Clarens, p. 185.
4. The most interesting arguments are those in Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York and Toronto, 1966), pp. 275-92.
5. David Pirie, A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946–1972 (London, 1973), pp. 9-10.
6. See Robin Wood, Hitchcock's Films (London, 1969), pp. 112-23.
7. John Russell Taylor, Cinema Eye, Cinema Ear (London, 1964), pp. 197-8.
8. Andrew Sarris, Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955–1969 (New York, 1971), pp. 208, 209.
9. Pauline Kael, Reeling (London, 1977), p. 250.
LENORA LEDWON (ESSAY DATE 1993)
SOURCE: Ledwon, Lenora. "Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic." Literature/Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (1993): 260-70.
In the following essay, Ledwon defines "Television Gothic" and demonstrates how this modification of the early Gothic novel resembles and differs from its Gothic literary predecessors as exemplified by the television series Twin Peaks.
I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.
Sylvia Plath, "Elm"
The twentieth century has proven congenial to the Gothic. Gothic literature and film attest to the continuing vitality of the genre. Examples of today's popular Gothic include such works as Stephen King's The Shining with its Gothicized haunted hotel, modern Gothic romances and Harlequin clones whose covers feature persecuted maidens in the shadow of gloomy mansions, and horror films as diverse as Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, and the perennial remake of Dracula. However, while many scholars and critics have addressed the use of Gothic elements in literature and film, the field of the Television Gothic has yet to be explored in any detail.1 This is despite the fact that television would seem an ideal medium for Gothic inquiry. It is, after all, a mysterious box simultaneously inhabited by spirit images of ourselves and inhabiting our living rooms.
In fact, television has aired its fair share of programs with Gothic elements. ("Aired" itself is a good Gothic concept—ghostly messages traveling through the air.) Thriller, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, The Night Stalker, Friday the 13th: The Series, the original Dark Shadows and its stupendously dull 1991 remake (a sort of Dynasty with fangs) are but a few examples of series that utilized Gothic devices. However, David Lynch's Twin Peaks is the first series to tap the full potential of the "Television Gothic."
This new Television Gothic utilizes familiar Gothic themes and devices such as incest, the grotesque, repetition, interpolated narration, haunted settings, mirrors, doubles, and supernatural occurrences. But these elements undergo a sea change once they are immersed in the "currents" of television. What could have been a soothing repetition of formula instead becomes a disturbing process of transgression and uncertainty.
Twin Peaks as a Television Gothic is a distinctly post-modern form, Gothic as process rather than product. The basic methodology of this process involves the combination and exploitation of two highly domestic forms—television and the Gothic novel. The result of this process is a series in which the domestic is the Gothic and television becomes the ghost in the home. In exploring this new Television Gothic, it is useful to: (1) start with a working definition of "Gothic," then (2) present an overview of typical Gothic devices operating in Twin Peaks, and finally, (3) analyze two fundamental Gothic elements that are transmuted through the medium of television—incest and the family romance, and the fragmented and multi-formed narrative.
"I perceive," said Emily, smiling, "that all old houses are haunted…."
Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolfo (1794)
Definitions, like old mansions, are inclined to be haunted—haunted by past definitions. "Television Gothic" is a haunted phrase, testifying to the intrusion of the past into the present. In order to appreciate the nature of this haunting, we must begin with a definition of the Gothic and with an acknowledgment of the limits of such a definition.
Any definition of a genre is at best incomplete. There will always be exceptions, overlaps, and grey areas. Further, such definitions all too often reduce and trivialize a complex subject. Those of us interested in genre criticism console ourselves by the hope that well thought out models will be recognized as just that—models. As such, they should serve as aids to understanding, not as prescriptive chains on thinking.
Even among other genres, the Gothic seems particularly difficult to define. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that, rather than speaking of one monolithic category of "Gothic," it is more appropriate to recognize that there are many Gothics.2 But a larger part of this difficulty lies in the fact that the Gothic itself is an unstable genre, one that is characterized more by its process than by its individual products. The Gothic is easy to recognize, but hard to define.
Although difficult to define, its very fluidity and resistance to boundaries make the Gothic a particularly apt genre for television. As will become evident, Twin Peaks taps into this Gothic resistance, creating a Television Gothic characterized by a polysemous mingling of "authentic" representations which constantly forces the viewer into an uneasy oscillation between ways of understanding.
Given all the above caveats, we will, for the sake of convenience, focus our definition on three commonly accepted fundamental characteristics of the Gothic. Our working definition of "Gothic" will include the following primary elements: (1) the use of standard Gothic devices which generally are recognized as capable of producing fear or dread, (2) the central enigma of the family, and (3) a difficult narrative structure (one that frustrates attempts at understanding). The transformation of these Gothic elements into "Television Gothic" in Twin Peaks is the subject of the rest of this essay.
Gothic Devices in Twin Peaks
"I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time."
"Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?"
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)
Something "horrid" is the first recognizable hallmark of the Gothic. Commentators note that the Gothic is "a literature of nightmare" (MacAndrew 3), "literature where fear is the motivating and sustaining emotion" (Gross 1). In fact, fear is one of the engines that drives the plot of Twin Peaks. Windom Earle would have agreed with Austen's two young friends concerning their interest in the horrid. Discovering the secret of what draws BOB to humans, Earle comments, "It's fear! My favorite emotional state!"
Those particular Gothic devices used to promote fear are fairly well identified. In her study of Gothic conventions, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick notes that one knows generally what to expect in the way of Gothic paraphernalia:
You know the important features of its mise en scène: an oppressive ruin, a wild landscape, a Catholic or feudal society. You know about the trembling sensibility of the heroine and the impetuosity of her lover. You know about the tyrannical older man with the piercing glance who is going to imprison and try to rape or murder them. You know something about the novel's form: it is likely to be discontinuous and involuted, perhaps incorporating tales within tales, changes of narrators, and such framing devices as found manuscripts or interpolated histories. You also know that, whether with more or less relevance to the main plot, certain characteristic preoccupations will be aired. These include the priesthood and monastic institutions; sleeplike and deathlike states; subterranean spaces and live burial; doubles; the discovery of obscured family ties; affinities between narrative and pictorial art; possibilities of incest; unnatural echoes or silences, unintelligible writings, and the unspeakable; garrulous retainers; the poisonous effects of guilt and shame; nocturnal landscapes and dreams; apparitions from the past; Faust- and Wandering Jew-like figures; civil insurrections and fires; the charnel house and the madhouse.
All these devices are recognizably Gothic, and many of them occur in Twin Peaks. For example, the woods around Twin Peaks are a wild and mysterious landscape. ("There's a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods," muses Sheriff Truman.) The Book House Boys form a secret, quasi-mystical institution. Subterranean spaces exist (Owl Cave), as do resonant silences, guilt and shame, nocturnal landscapes and dreams. Strange fires occur (the fire at the Packard Mill and the mysterious command, "Fire, walk with me"). The flickering torches of the charnel house are replaced with the cold glare and strobe effect of fluorescent lights in the morgue. Discovered manuscripts (Laura Palmer's diary) and mediated narratives (Cooper's tapes) abound. Cooper's quest for knowledge and his decision to sell his soul qualify him as a Faust-like figure. And, of course, the unspeakable occurs: rape, incest, and murder. The most antisocial of crimes intrude into the sanctuary of domesticity.
Doubles in Twin Peaks
The stranger youth and I approached each other in silence…. What was my astonishment on perceiving that he was the same being as myself!
James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
Exploring all the Gothic devices in Twin Peaks at any great length would be impractical here, but the device of the Double can exemplify how rich the series is in Gothic terms. It should not be surprising that a series titled "Twin Peaks" should be filled with doubles. In fact, there are several dozen examples of doubles in Twin Peaks, typically serving as mirror images of good and evil, original and imitation, appearance and reality. A few examples follow.
Laura and Maddy are identical cousins (reminiscent of a warped version of The Patty Duke Show). There are two sets of BOBs and Mikes—the teen-agers (Bobby and Mike) and the spirit presences of the demonic BOB and the mysterious Mike. There is an enigmatic White Lodge and its counterpart Black Lodge, one representing good and one evil. Laura has led a double life as good-girl Prom Queen and as a wanton bad girl. There are two sets of books for the Packard Sawmill (one the original, one a fake). There are two diaries of Laura Palmer (one a "cover" story and one a secret diary). The series Twin Peaks is doubled by the series Invitation to Love. Love and fear double as mirror images, as engines which attract spirits from another plane of existence. Dream beings have counterparts in the town of Twin Peaks (BOB/Leland, the giant/the old bellhop, Mike/the one-armed man). The same actress, Sheryl Lee, plays both Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson. The same actress, Piper Laurie, plays both Catherine Martell and the mysterious Japanese businessman. The dwarf warns Cooper of the existence of a "dopplegänger" (German for "double"). There are two Dale Coopers in the final episode, one good and one evil.
The sheer exuberance behind the use of such Gothic devices is extraordinary. Lynch exploits the television potential of Gothic devices to the hilt. While a literary text can only create doubles through written representations, television permits such visual doubling devices as the same actor or actress playing two characters, or a giant suddenly appearing where an old bellhop stood a moment before. The visualization of Gothic images heightens and intensifies the standard function of the double—to problematize the distinction between appearance and reality. Equally significant for the Television Gothic is how Twin Peaks uses Gothic devices such as the double to challenge the distinction between the normal and the abnormal, the domestic and the uncanny.
Lynch transforms standard Gothic devices into Television Gothic by domesticating them. He brings the horrid and the normal into juxtaposition until the viewer is unsure what is normal anymore. By using television to do this, Lynch challenges the most deep-seated expectations of the aim of television. As David Marc notes, "the aim of television is to be normal. The industry is obsessed with the problems of norms, and this manifests itself in both process and product" (327). When the boundary between the normal and the Gothic begins to crack, it becomes clear that for Twin Peaks the normal is the Gothic.
Heaven directed my bloody hand to the heart of my child.
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Television, the most domestic of all mediums, is a natural venue for the Gothic, the most disturbed of domestic fictions. As John Ellis observes in Visible Fictions, "broadcast TV is a profoundly domestic phenomenon" (113). A television set is an everyday item within the home, it is "another domestic object" (Ellis 113). Like that other strangely domestic item, the Gothic novel, television can create a sense of the uncanny precisely by drawing on the unfamiliarity of the familiar. In fact, the Television Gothic is the uncanny/unheimlich contained within the familiar/heimlich of the home.
In his essay, "The Uncanny," Freud traces the development of the German terms, "unheimlich" and "heimlich." Initially, heimlich meant homely, plain, familiar, comfortable. Unheimlich, or uncanny, meant everything that was not home-like. Over time, the meaning of "heimlich" changed, so that which had been familiar and domestic came to mean that which was guarded, furtive, withdrawn, and hidden. The key point here is that unheimlich and heimlich are not two antithetical states. Rather, one thing is contained within the other. The uncanny is that which ought to remain hidden and secret, but which has become visible. What strikes us as uncanny is not something new, but something familiar.
Just as the heimlich contains within it the unheimlich, so does the familiar domestic home contain within it the Gothic potential of Television.
The home contains the uncanny. The uncanny is familiar and terrible in its familiarity. Television is the ghost in the home, a barely perceptible presence that can be at once familiar and strangely disturbing. Neil Postman notes that:
television has achieved the status of "myth," as Roland Barthes uses the word. He means by myth a way of understanding the world that is not problematic, that we are not fully conscious of, that seems, in a word, natural. A myth is a way of thinking so deeply embedded in our consciousness that it is invisible. This is now the way of television. We are no longer fascinated or perplexed by its machinery. We do not tell stories of its wonders. We do not confine our television sets to special rooms. We do not doubt the reality of what we see on television, are largely unaware of the special angle of vision it affords.
Television's Gothic potential stems in large part from its reassuring domesticity (its "natural" presence and acceptance in the home) combined with its under-utilized ability to disrupt viewers' comfortable notions of domesticity.
What is so frightening about the Television Gothic? The fact that it returns to the domestic sphere something repressed yet familiar—the specters of incest and family violence. Like the early Germanic invaders after whom it takes its name, the Gothic brings with it the threat of the destruction of culture. The Television Gothic, even more so, makes such threats strikingly visible and manifest. There it is, on your television screen, in your own living room—a father assaulting and killing a "daughter" in his living room.3 Sarah Palmer voices the complaint of the Television Gothic when she cries, "What is going on in this house?" The domestic gone horribly wrong is the essence of the Television Gothic. Lynch taps into our need to turn common life into the stuff of nightmare so that we can call it unreal. Better the Gothic, than the horror of everyday domestic life.
As James B. Twitchell astutely points out in Dreadful Pleasures, "the early gothic usually tells the story of a single and specific family romance run amok: 'father' has become monstrous to 'daughter.'" ("Father" includes any role of paternal dominance [Twitchell 42].) The dysfunctional family lies at the heart of the Gothic, and thus the Gothic is profoundly domestic. In what is generally known as the earliest Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, Prince Manfred of Otranto desires to marry his prospective daughter-in-law (a barely concealed incestuous desire), and eventually kills his real daughter by stabbing her with his phallic dagger. In Twin Peaks, fathers are repeatedly monstrous to daughters. Leland Palmer compulsively kills daughters. He rapes and kills his real daughter, Laura, as well as killing her double, Maddy, and another young girl. Ben Horne sleeps with one daughter-figure, Laura, and narrowly avoids sleeping with his own daughter, Audrey. Facing a masked Audrey in the brothel, One-Eyed Jack's, Ben suggestively comments, "You know how to interest a man." Father/daughter incest marks the Gothic plot.
Both Castle of Otranto and Twin Peaks feature the most anti-domestic (that is, destructive of domesticity) of crimes, but a crime that is ineluctably tied to the domestic. Early Gothics distance this crime by placing it in the past (the Middle Ages were a popular time period) or in a foreign locale (Italy was a favorite spot for dark deeds). In contrast, Twin Peaks affirms the closeness of the Gothic. Where Twin Peaks modifies the Gothic genre, causing a shifting in the Gothic process, is in its insistence on the quotidian, the common, the ordinary as the essence of Gothic. The prom queen, the town diner, the local sheriff, the high school football star, the motorcycle-riding rebel, the family dinner table—all these are familiar television fare. Even that most ubiquitous of all twentieth-century artifacts—plastic—assumes the mantle of the uncanny. "She's dead. Wrapped in plastic," says Pete in the pilot episode after finding the body of Laura Palmer, prom queen.
Common plastic appropriates the heady status of the Gothic veil. Layers of translucent plastic tease the viewer's eye with the suggestion of a female body. When a hand removes the plastic, revealing Laura Palmer's face, the lingering camera shot is as resonant as the moment Emily lifts the black veil in Mysteries of Udolfo, but for different reasons. Udolfo resonates with the strangeness of the Gothic, Twin Peaks with the ordinariness of the Gothic. The terrible object behind the veil is a gruesome wax figure of a body in the last stages of decay. The figure beneath the plastic is a much more common object—a dead body. Where the wax figure creates distance between viewer and text because of its exotic, unusual, and bizarre qualities, the body creates closeness because of its ordinariness.
The Television Gothic reveals what is behind the veil in the first episode, while readers of Udolfo had to wade through several hundred additional pages before learning the mystery of the veil. What is the difference? By postponing revelation, Radcliffe makes the Gothic moment remote, attenuated and rarefied. By beginning with the unveiling, David Lynch makes the Gothic immediate.
It may be objected that with this early unveiling, Lynch is in fact destroying the Gothic. "How obvious," we think. "We recognize this. Here is that most ordinary of objects in any mystery—a body." But our moment of certainty is short-lived. It is precisely Lynch's point (and a point that characterizes Twin Peaks as a Television Gothic) that the ordinary is the Gothic. Consider, for example, the bizarre image of blood dripping on a donut. A commonplace, ubiquitous object such as a donut can be uncanny when it is juxtaposed with another common item—blood. And this point, the ordinariness of the Gothic, is reinforced through the series' emphasis on the enigma of the family.
Incest and child murder are not the only family enigmas in the series. Gothics fairly bristle with family mysteries, and Twin Peaks is no exception. In fact, Lynch uses physical and mental deformity metonymically to suggest the extent of the distorted and dysfunctional family. The strained family dinners at the Horne's are silent except for the monotonous humming of the teen-aged autistic son, dressed in full Indian war bonnet. Donna's mother is in a wheelchair. Nadine has only one eye and limits her discussions with her husband to her obsession with silent drape runners. The Log Lady talks to her log in lieu of a husband. Sarah Palmer is subject to visions and fits of (demonic?) possession and her husband, Leland, goes insane.
In addition to the above examples of dysfunctional families, examples of spouse abusers are plentiful in Twin Peaks. Leo routinely beats his wife, Shelley, and leaves her to die in a fire he sets. Nadine emotionally abuses Ed. Windom Earle kills his wife, Caroline. Earle approves of Leo's abusive behavior ("domestic violence—now I'm partial to that!") and in turn keeps Leo imprisoned as a slave/pet/torture object in a cabin in the woods. Earle as the manic ex-husband plots to destroy a King and Queen (Cooper and Annie), as if no symbols of wedded power can be allowed to exist. In his glee over his plotting, Earle comments, "I haven't been this excited since I punctured Caroline's aorta!" Domestic violence and dysfunctional families are the norm in the series.
In fact, it is difficult to find any "normal" nuclear family within the world of Twin Peaks. This is particularly telling, in light of comments such as John Ellis's that "home" and "family" are part of "a powerful cultural construct … broadcast TV assumes that this is the basis and heart of its audience" (Ellis 113). If this is the case, Lynch's construction of anti-nuclear families, a construction meant to be projected into the homes of other families, must be powerfully unsettling. In fact, it must be Gothic.
Narrative Structure and Television Gothic
The explanation occupied several pages, which, to the torture of young Melmoth, were wholly illegible.
Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
In addition to the enigma of the family, another key aspect of the Gothic is its narrative ambiguity. Gothic novels are characterized by problematic structures. One much-commented-upon characteristic of the Gothic is "the difficulty the story has in getting itself told" (Sedgwick 13), a problem in structure which means that Gothics "cannot be efficiently told" and are criticized for being "unaesthetic, anti-artistic, preserving only the unities of the subconscious" (Twitchell 41).
The Gothic structure is complex and convoluted. In the Gothic, stories are interrupted by other stories, fragments of lost manuscripts give tantalizing hints at meaning, poetry is interspersed throughout prose, and baroque, overly-detailed explanations and descriptions contribute to a general hemorrhaging of language.
Similarly, the Television Gothic as exemplified by Twin Peaks is filled with multiple story lines (love stories, a murder mystery, international business deals, a paternity mystery, a beauty contest, etc.), fragments of interpolated narratives (such as Laura Palmer's diary or Cooper's dictation, and perhaps even the commodified products of the series including books, tapes, newspapers, and even collectible trading cards), poetry and cryptic messages ("Fire, walk with me," "I will tell you three things") and puzzles within puzzles. If, as Raymond Williams suggests, "flow" is "the characteristic organization and therefore the characteristic experience" of television, then what is one to make of a series that resists such organization (Williams 86)? An important aspect of the workings of flow, according to Williams, is the creation of "a sense of the world," that is, of some meaning (Williams 116-18). Twin Peaks frustrates flow by its constant fracturing, restructuring and undercutting of meaning. Catherine Martell, waiting to discover the secret of Eckhardt's black puzzle box, sums up the frustrating process, saying, "I can't take any more of this. Boxes inside boxes. Whatever is in that better be worth a fortune."
In fact, inside the box within the box within the box is a key—suggesting only the existence of yet another box. Twin Peaks takes our desire for meaning and aggravates it. Explanations are baroque and overly complicated, like Gothic architecture. In place of highly detailed decora-tions (which distract and bewilder), or elaborate stained glass (glass which is opaque rather than transparent), the Television Gothic gives us too many clues and too many messages. For example, Cooper's explanation (in episode seventeen) of the solution to the murder of Laura Palmer is spoken very rapidly, overwhelms the viewer with a profusion of explanation, and is not based on scientific rationality but on allegory and the language of dreams. (Cooper explains that the dwarf in his dream danced and that Leland danced; he says that BOB had gray hair, and Leland's hair turned gray; and he says that the letters under the fingernails of the victims were spelling out BOB's name.) Such a baroque explanation is closer to a parody of meaning than to a real explanation. (In fact, Saturday Night Live successfully parodied Twin Peaks in a skit starring Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper.)
Even more significantly, the narrative process of Twin Peaks frustrates our very expectations of genre itself. This Television Gothic never comes to rest at any one point. There is no moment of complete ease or comfort, no point at which the series settles into one easy mode. Rather, there is a constant slippage of meaning. The series never settles into a familiar groove for any significant length of time. The Television Gothic frustrates attempts to pin it down to any one particular narrative form.
It is a commonplace of genre criticism to assume that viewers are attuned to those semiotic cues that forecast the type of genre, and hence the type of narrative to follow. As Jane Feuer notes in her discussion of the sitcom, television genre "assures the interpretability of the text" for the audience (119). Genre makes a series comfortable and understandable (or perhaps boring and predictable). For example, the various semiotic cues of the conventional Gothic are part of our cultural furniture. We understand that mysterious wounds in the heroine's throat signal a vampire story. However, unlike the run-of-the-mill television Gothic, a characteristic of the "new" Television Gothic (as exemplified by Twin Peaks) is that the genre does not assure the interpretability of the text. Rather, the genre assures a multiplicity of possible interpretations. (In this respect, Twin Peaks is not so much a "newer" Gothic than series such as Dark Shadows, as it is "true-er" to its Gothic origins. It is the first television series to fully explore the potential of the Television Gothic, and hence the first "pure" Television Gothic.) Signs which ordinarily would determine a set pattern, when proliferated in the Television Gothic, create an opening in time and space (like the opening to the Black Lodge) which allows for an excess or superabundance of meaning.
Where Television Gothic breaks the bounds of genre is in its resistance to a single, discrete form of narrative. This resistance is carried out through obsessive, exuberant multiplicity. Twin Peaks not only offers multiple story lines (Cooper's investigation of the murder, business intrigues between Catherine and Ben, adulterous affairs carried on by Bobby and Shelley and by Ed and Norma, etc.), and multiple narratives, but also multiple shifts between conventional or more "settled" Gothic genres. In contrast, a viewer of the 1991 remake of Dark Shadows knows what to expect from the very first episode, if not from the very first scene. All the symbols and apparatus of the vampire story are familiar and predictable territory. Twin Peaks teases the viewer by focusing on not one, but a multitude of potential narratives, each of which itself is open to multiple interpretations. To grasp the extent of this multiplicity, it is helpful to contrast the operation of narrative drive in Twin Peaks with the operation of narrative drive in the horror film genre.
In American Film Genres, Stuart M. Kaminsky charts out seven main branches of the horror film, noting a separate "source of horror" in each branch: (1) "Animal drives which threaten man"; (2) "Immortal parasite"; (3) "Witches, corrupt humans who worship evil"; (4) "Rescurrected dead, or possessed beings who are figuratively dead"; (5) "Unpredictable madmen"; (6) "Mad scientist and created monster"; and (7) "Creatures from outer space, inside the Earth, or from the id" (152-53). Typically, we expect one primary source of horror per film. Twin Peaks, as a Television Gothic, manages to fit into each of these categories at various points in the series, while resisting allegiance to any one. For example, (1) Animal drives of sexuality, fear, and rage fuel the crimes in the series; (2) BOB is called a "parasite"; (3) Lana may be a witch, and Windom Earle has studied a tribe of Indians who worship evil; (4) Leland is possessed by BOB; (5) Earle is a madman; (6) Earle also is a mad scientist, and his creature is Leo (called "Leo-stein" by Bobby, in a reference to Frankenstein's monster); and (7) Project Bluebook references in the show suggest the possibility of alien creatures from outer space, while "the evil in the woods" suggests the presence of evil within Nature itself, and Albert suggests that BOB may simply be "the evil that men do."
Part of the contrast, of course, lies in the nature of the two media. Film does not have the same Gothic potential as television, precisely because of the finite time period for a film. A film must end, while a television series has a seemingly infinite potential to continue telling the story and to continue multiplying meanings. However, other television shows with Gothic elements have failed to fully utilize the Gothic potential of television. Each Night Stalker episode, for example, simply introduced a new monster which reporter Carl Kolchak would destroy. (Interestingly, Kolchak narrates his story into a tape recorder, like Cooper.) There never was any real doubt or uncertainty about the outcome. The clues pointing to the existence and type of the monster in each series proceeded in a logical, linear fashion. In Twin Peaks, on the other hand, logic and meaning are confounded. Each semiotic cue which ordinarily would narrow the range of narrative meaning combines with other cues to expand the possible meanings. (Are there aliens at work in Twin Peaks? Is BOB a demonic spirit or a parasite from another planet? What do the Indians have to do with this? Is it all something in the coffee or the cherry pie?) A proliferation and superabundance of meaning is the result.
In addition to Twin Peaks' multiple narrative drives and resistance to any one form, the series demonstrates a second narrative technique unique to the Television Gothic—the use of a domestic technological device to explore the ways technology transmits emotional extremes. Repeatedly, the viewer experiences moments in which emotionally-charged voices and images are mediated through technological devices such as telephones, microphones, tape recorders, video cameras and even television. Such technological reproductions, because they are reproductions and not "originals," are themselves ghostly. And the final device transmitting these extremes of fear and love is the television set. Television becomes the ghost in the home.
Examples of technology as a mediating narrative tool are plentiful. In the pilot episode, Sarah Palmer's anguished cries at first learning of her daughter's death are mediated through a telephone receiver. As Leland drops the phone, Sarah's pain registers through the lingering sound of her voice on the dangling receiver. In another example from the pilot episode, the school principal announces the death of Laura Palmer over the school P.A. system. He is overcome by grief during his announcement. We see the effect of the announcement on the students, followed by a lingering shot of the empty school hallway with the principal's disembodied voice echoing through the hall.
Such moments of technological mediation reoccur throughout the series. For example, in several episodes we hear the tape-recorded voice of Laura Palmer discussing things that frighten her and excite her. We see a videotape of a highly distraught Windom Earle discussing his obsession with an Indian tribe devoted to evil for its own sake. Microphones squeak and buzz, preventing important announcements ("Is this thing on?"). A tape recording of Waldo the mynah bird transmits the final painful words of Laura Palmer, "hurting me, hurting me." On several occasions, individuals are wired for eavesdropping purposes under circumstances fraught with danger. Radio transmissions from outer space (or perhaps from the woods) warn Cooper of danger. Audrey is tied up and videotaped for purposes of extortion. And, in perhaps the most blatant example, Windom Earle uses an electronic device to administer painful shocks to Leo.
Lucy, the dippy secretary, pinpoints the problem of all this mediation in one of her deceptively naive remarks, saying, "I'm going to transfer him—well, not him, but his call." What you get with an electronic transfer is not the individual, and not even the original message, but the recreation of a message. Whether the message must travel along miles of television wire, be transferred to audiotape, or be split up into signals that are sent into space and bounced off a satellite before re-emerging in the images on your television, there exists the haunting possibility that something is lost in the mediating process. Such images are not the original. They are ghostly.
The fact that so many important communications in Twin Peaks are mediated through technological devices highlights two standard Gothic complaints—the difficulty of communication and the impossibility of ever really knowing another human being. Additionally, there is one final explanation for this narrative device, an explanation highly significant for the Television Gothic. Twin Peaks' emphasis on mediated messages—messages that are transmitted through technological devices—underscores the limits of the medium, and suggests that television itself is the ghost in the home.
O! what an infinite difference between this moment and the next!
Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolfo (1794)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When Horace Walpole wrote the first Gothic novel in 1764, he was attempting something new. In his Preface to the Second Edition of The Castle of Otranto, he comments on his intent to create a new form:
It was an attempt to blend the two kinds of romances, the ancient and the modern. In the former, all was imagination and improbability; in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with great success. Invention has not been wanting, but the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life.
Castle of Otranto Walpole's attempt to "reconcile the two kinds" of writing (19).
Similarly, television's heavy reliance on "reality programming" would seem to tip the scales in favor of common life, drying up television's potential for "fancy." Lynch's Twin Peaks can be seen as a twentieth-century reconciliation of common and uncommon, home-like and uncanny, domestic and Gothic. The result of this new Television Gothic is a format in which the domestic itself operates as the Gothic.
1. Analysis of the Gothic in literature is extensive, and what follows is a very selective list. Standard background reading should include Montague Summers's The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel (London: Fortune P, 1938). Two particularly useful bibliographies are Robert Donald Spector's The English Gothic: A Bibliographic Guide to Writers from Horace Walpole to Mary Shelley (Westport: Greenwood P. 1984) and Frederick S. Frank's Gothic Fiction: A Master List of Twentieth Century Criticism and Research (Westport: Meckler, 1988). Recent works focusing on the American Gothic include: Louis S. Gross, Redefining the American Gothic: From Wieland to Day of the Dead (Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1989) and Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Browne, eds., The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1987). Finally, of particular interest for those interested in Gothic narrative structure is Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's excellent analysis, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (New York: Arno P, 1980).
Turning to film, a selective sampling of work on Gothic and horror (the two terms, though deserving separate definitions, are often used interchangeably) includes the following: Gregory A. Waller, ed., American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film (Urbana, U of Illinois P, 1987); Stuart M. Kaminsky, American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film (New York: Dell P, 1974); Barry Keith Grant, ed., Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film(Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow P, 1984); James Donald, ed., Fantasy and the Cinema (London: British Film Institute, 1989); Emily D. Edwards, "The Ecstasy of Horrible Expectations: Morbid Curiosity, Sensation Seeking, and Interest in Horror Movies," Current Research in Film 5, ed. Bruce A. Austin (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1991): 19-38; and Ruth Perlmutter, "The Cinema of the Grotesque," Georgia Review 33.1 (Spring 1979): 168-93. A useful analysis of the "boom and bust" cycle of horror films for the period of 1978 to 1983 can be found in Robert E. Kapsis's "Hollywood Genres and the Production of Culture Perspective," Current Researches in Film 5 (1991): 68-85. Particularly interesting for students of the Gothic are Charlene Burnell's "The Gothic: a Literary Genre's Transition to Film," Planks of Reason: 79-100 and Roger Dadoun's "Fetishism in the Horror Film," Fantasy and the Cinema: 39-61. Finally, mandatory readings are Robin Wood's two articles on American horror films of the '60s and '70s—"Return of the Repressed," Film Comment 14.4 (1978):25-32 and "Gods and Monsters," Film Comment 14.5 (1978): 19-25.
The pickings are lean as far as finding essays on television and the Gothic, but Gregory A. Waller's "Made-for-Television Horror Films," American Horrors: 145-61, is an insightful work which explores the technical limitations of made-for-television horror films: Additionally, while not a scholarly work, Stephen King's Danse Macabre (New York: Berkley Books, 1981) contains an interesting and entertaining chapter on the limits of television horror, titled, "The Glass Teat, or, This Monster Was Brought to You by Gainesburgers."
2. While most commentators trace the origins of the Gothic to Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), there is less agreement on how to categorize the branches of the Gothic. It is possible to discuss the Sentimental Gothic, the Schauer-Romantik Gothic, the Explained Supernatural Gothic, the Unexplained Supernatural Gothic, the Historical Gothic, etc.
3. What makes such moments significantly different from scenes of family violence in soap operas is the series' insistence on the uncanny moment, an insistence that is purely Gothic in origin.
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. 1818. Ed. Anne Henry Ehrenpreis. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Burnell, Charlene. "The Gothic: A Literary Genre's Transition to Film." Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1984.
Dadoun, Roger. "Fetishism in the Horror Film." Fantasy and Cinema. Ed. James Donald. London: British Film Institute, 1989. 39-61.
Donald, James, ed. Fantasy and the Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1989.
Edwards, Emily D. "The Ecstasy of Horrible Expectations: Morbid Curiosity, Sensation Seeking, and Interest in Horror Movies." Current Research in Film 5. Ed. Bruce A. Austin. Norwood: Ablex, 1991. 19-38.
Ellis, John. Visible Fictions—Cinema: Television: Video. London: Routledge, 1982.
Feuer, Jane. "Genre Study and Television." Channels of Discourse: Television and Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Robert C. Allen. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1987. 113-33.
Frank, Frederick S. Gothic Fiction: A Master List of Twentieth Century Criticism and Research. Westport: Meckler, 1988.
Freud, Sigmund. "The Uncanny." Studies in Parapsychology. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier Books, 1963. 19-60.
Grant, Barry Keith, ed. Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1984.
Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. 1824. London: Cresset, 1947.
Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1987.
Kaminsky, Stuart M. American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film. New York: Dell, 1974.
Kapsis, Robert E. "Hollywood Genres and the Production of Culture Perspective." Current Researches in Film 5. Ed. Bruce A. Austin. Norwood: Ablex, 1991. 68-85.
King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Books, 1981.
MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1979.
Marc, David. "Beginning to Begin Again." Television: The Critical View. Ed. Horace Newcomb. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. 323-60.
Maturin, Charles Robert. Melmoth the Wanderer. 1820. Intro. William F. Axton. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1961.
Perlmutter, Ruth. "The Cinema of the Grotesque." Georgia Review 33:1 (1979): 168-93.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolfo. 1794. Ed. Bonamy Dobree. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: Arno, 1980.
Spector, Robert Donald. The English Gothic: A Bibliographic Guide to Writers from Horace Walpole to Mary Shelley. Westport: Greenwood, 1984.
Summers, Montague. The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel. London: Fortune, 1938.
Twitchell, James B. Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.
Waller, Gregory A. "Made-for-Television Horror Films." American Horrors. Ed. Gregory A. Waller. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1987.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. 1764. Intro. Marvin Mudrick. New York: Macmillan, 1963.
Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.
Wood, Robin. "Gods and Monsters." Film Comment 14.5 (1978): 19-25.
―――――. "Return of the Repressed." Film Comment 14.4.(1978): 25-32.
ELIZABETH JANE WALL HINDS (ESSAY DATE WINTER 1992)
SOURCE: Hinds, Elizabeth Jane Wall. "The Devil Sings the Blues: Heavy Metal, Gothic Fiction and 'Postmodern' Discourse." Journal of Popular Culture 26, no. 3 (winter 1992): 151-64.
In the following essay, Hinds correlates Gothic fiction and heavy metal music, asserting that, among other features, the two artistic forms share a culturally subversive nature and "are peculiar in their purposeful deformity and evocation of the Satanic."
Maybe it's the time of year;
And then maybe it's the time of man.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "Woodstock"
It is a long way from the 1764 appearance of Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto to the 1968 Led Zeppelin I, but the monstrous subgenre behavior of the latter, one of the first unabashedly Heavy Metal albums, surprisingly resembles the former, both formally and historically. The first in a series of albums that came to define Heavy Metal music, this LP did to what had by then become mainstream Rock what Walpole, and later, M.G. Lewis and Mary Shelley, had done to the mainstream novel. Zeppelin I retained the outward form of its parent—standard LP format, largely with newly-written material, but also with one cover version ("You Shook Me"), the four-man band with bass and electric guitars, drums and vocals and the general outline of the Rock lyric—and proceeded to rearrange those basic elements into a genre with an altogether more brash, raunchy and musically subversive arrangement.1
As I will illustrate momentarily, the appearance of Gothic fiction in the late eighteenth century and that of Heavy Metal in the late twentieth follows the same historical path as their two parent-forms, namely the novel and Rock music, both of which served subversive purposes at the time of their birth. While both parent-genres followed the same trajectory from radicalism to mainstream culture as do many new genres, their offspring share more than just the historical movement of subversion-to-hegemonic form. The histories of both subgenres are peculiar in their purposeful deformity and evocation of the Satanic: both can be described as a monstrous Gothic Other whose family resemblance to their respective parent was inescapable, but which was, like an unwashed and slightly retarded younger brother, an Other whose distortions of the parent-form became repulsive to the very audience who had supported its entry into the world.
By concentrating on these two species of subgenre, what I aim to discover is three-fold. First, I will describe the nature of the two species Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal. By "nature," however, I do not mean to abstract a principle of operation separate from its cultural context, or what is better called its historical position, but rather to discover this "nature" in that very historical position itself. Thus, the epigraph to this paper. The second, or ulterior, motive is to come to an understanding of "subgenre" as both a term and a concept—what it is we mean when we say "subgenre" rather than "movement"—thereby reclaiming the value of those generic (i.e., aesthetic) categories that have been lost to the forward rush of New-Historical and ideological criticism. It is by redefining "subgenre," a manageable if somewhat reductive category, as taking its characteristics from the flux of epistemic history that I hope to achieve this recuperation. My third and final goal is to register a critique of the very historicist—indeed Marxist—theoretizing gesture that makes this kind of study possible in the first place. Through this final critique, in hopes of opening a new space for understanding, I will imitate the defining feature of the subgenres under discussion in their habit of biting the hands that feed them.
Nineteen sixties Rock music, very like the novel in the mid-eighteenth century, was for a short time a radical, subversive form. No one would argue against the novel's being, by definition, a "new" and popular form, appealing to the sensibilities of an undereducated mass audience and frequently claiming as its own the values of this bourgeois crowd. The 1960s Rock audience was just such a crowd—one who liked the sounds music made, felt its instrumental and lyrical power, but who lacked the resources to educate itself formally. Partly due to its youthful energy and partly due to its position in history, the 1960s Rock band found itself speaking the language of rebellion: instrumentally, it found the sound of Big Bands and Bing Crosby too easy on the ear, too mushy; its lyrics found the crooning of euphemistic love songs and the nonsense verse of 1950s "bubblegum" pop too arid and politically unaware.
This group of musicians—foreseen in Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley—found its leading voices in The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones—those bands who insisted that a handful of people could make a loud and joyful enough noise to forge a Revolution in sound. The music became louder, it became more sexually suggestive, and, most importantly, it began to express the News of the World in lyrics about the pleasures and punishments of the drug culture (The Byrds' "Eight Miles High") and, especially, in lyrics about the Vietnam War (John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Give Peace a Chance"). Indeed, no one would question the formation of Rock & Roll in the 1960s as a radical casting off of previous popular music standards.
By the late 1960s, however, a hegemonic force had taken hold of Rock music—the same force, spurred by a species of international capitalist ideals brought about by the very nature of "the popular," meaning "that which sells," that had very quickly drawn the novel into its maw in the later eighteenth century. Completely unawares, these two "radical" forms suddenly found themselves co-opted into the mainstream, produced and bought in outrageous numbers, consumed quickly and rehearsed widely. The sign of the novel's sudden acceptance—indeed, an even bourgeois status—came in the lightning bolt of parody, in Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Rock was less parodied than simply engulfed and accepted: witness the appearance in 1967 and 1970 respectively of "Elenor Rigby" and "Hey Jude" in Muzak. Not much later, the lyrics of both began appearing in anthologies used for Freshman English courses.
The power of international capitalism to embrace and celebrate that which is initially subversive had taken hold, in their respective eras, of both the novel and of Rock music, incorporating both genres into its mass marketing strategies, thereby recreating the form itself vis-a-vis the marketplace. It is at this point—or rather the two points of the late eighteenth and late twentieth centuries—of absolute assimilation that the subgenres of Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal were born. The Gothic novel was undoubtedly a relation of the parent in its prose, highly-storied form, the "well-made" novel of Richardson and Fielding. But where the novel had revealed a closely-knit formal design—a beginning, middle and end centered about a causally-connected universe of motivation and action—the Gothic novel was generally episodic in structure, often with much-maligned "flaws" consisting in unmotivated (usually evil) actions and strands of plot that tend to appear and disappear without explanation. Where the novel had espoused restraint, the Gothic novel demonstrated uninhibited libido, even outright perversion with incest, rape and sado-masochism of all varieties. And finally, where the novel had espoused the singularly righteous in moral vision, detailing the rewards of a good heart and virtuous action within the social sphere, the Gothic novel, although conservative like its parent, took the low road, demonstrating in too-close detail the rewards and punishments of the carnally evil, the best full-blown example of which was Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, organized over a chronology of three hundred years, detailing the desperate attempts of Melmoth who, having sold his soul to the devil for an extended life, attempts to prolong his term on earth by converting others in a series of disconnected episodes ending in Melmoth's eventual failure: in the end, he is "called home" to Satan and must return by way of falling through a craggy abyss, wasting away by starvation for three days and finally being torn to shreds by demons.
Early Heavy Metal music concentrated more intensively on the reward end of the carnal spectrum, but in its totality bespoke the same message of perversion as did the Gothic Novel. Instrumentally, this Heavy Metal style—a name anachronistically applied, I should and—twisted the basic Rock arrangement into what one might call an episodic format. Where the standard Rock single was approximately three minutes long, contained three or sometimes four verses alternating with a two-to-four-line chorus and faded out with repetitions of the chorus, Led Zeppelin I contained a range from three to seven and a half minutes (the latter with "Baby, I'm Gonna Leave You") and a very irregular pattern of repetition for the chorus. Further, while the Heavy Metal form retains the electric guitar emphasis and solos of mainstream Rock, these solos became famous for irregularity and a seemingly uncontrolled formlessness; to call on the originators again, "Dazed and Confused"—including the studio version from Zeppelin I, but especially the live version of the concert film The Song Remains the Same—demonstrates the limits of the guitar solo that changes both rhythm and key and that extends its length to the outrageous—nearly ten minutes. To draw out the analogy, the drum and keyboard solos of early Metal music draw on the "virtuoso" performance style of Rock's Jazz roots to distort and intensify the mainstream Rock concept of the solo. In short, with its irregular placement and number of choruses and verses, its length of solo performances, the intensified role of the bass guitar and lower registers in general, Heavy Metal perverted the well-made, beginning-middle-end structure of the standard into more a series of loosely connected "episodes" than a coherency of "song."
It is in its lyrics, however, that Heavy Metal most systematically subverts its mother form; Robert Pattison accounts for the centrality of these lyrics by writing that they "may be trite, obscene, and idiotic—which is to say, they may be vulgar—but they are certainly not incidental, and the proof of their importance is their consistency" (ix). In response to the generally positive—one might say the "feel-good" lyrics of mainstream 1960s Rock—Heavy Metal lyrics focused more particularly on the blatant, the sexual and often, the horrific. Recall some of the most popular of 1960's lyric messages: "Love is all you need" (Beatles, "All You Need is Love") and "I want to hold your hand" (Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand") are both sweetened versions of social and personal closeness. Even the lyrics of the Stones' "Satisfaction" and The Who's "Squeeze Box" euphemistically suggest the sex act, drawing largely on the metaphor and allusion of the previous fifty years of popular music. Subverting the genre, indeed, epitomizing the notion of "subgenre," Heavy Metal made sex, not love. The lyrics here are blatant and often violent. The range of sexual conversation in even the early days of this music moves from the frank—again, the "Dazed and Confused" of Zeppelin I repeats, "Sweet little baby, I want you again"—to the outright bluntness of the third Zeppelin album (Led Zeppelin III) in "Whole Lotta Love": "Way down inside, woman, you need it…." Coupled with the alternating short bass and guitar notes and Robert Plant's moaning, the sexual message could not be more clear or less softened by any euphemism of romance.
Like many others, Will Straw points out "an expression of violent sexuality" in Heavy Metal, but seeks to gloss over this overt sexual message by hurriedly noting that Heavy Metal's lyrics are often at the same time "explorations of nonromantic and nonerotic themes" (107). It is precisely those "nonromantic and nonerotic themes" which surround the overtly sexual notations that cause Heavy Metal's sexuality to be, or to be received as, "subversive": when "Dazed and Confused" places the line "Sweet little baby, I want you again" in a series of lamentations on the unfaithfulness of women, the juxtaposition is, at the very least, paradoxical. The magnified range of sexual attention in Heavy Metal music should recall the sexual frankness of the Gothic's "School of Horror," of which M.G. Lewis' The Monk is only the most notorious example, in which Ambrosio, the monk, rapes and later murders his sister, with the help of Matilda, a young initiate of a Satanic order, who has dressed as a man to enter the monastery and "convert" Ambrosio.2 The monk's sexual exploits are made all the more "horrific" by placing them in the context of the monastery (appropriately, under the monastery in the labyrinthine dungeon).
More importantly, these subgenres are distinguished by their use of sex as a literal act rather than a metonymic expression of romantic love. If Rock music indeed takes part in what Bram Dijkstra calls an "aesthetic of sensuousness" (qtd. in Wicke 53), as one could argue for the novel as well—an aesthetic that glorifies or at least takes as subject and object the physical, everyday activities of dancing, flirting, courting, marrying—then the subgenres of Heavy Metal and Gothic fiction take those barely-disguised and socially sanctioned euphemisms for sex and draw them from the "hidden" background into a surface of literal action. Of the staple Gothic theme of incest, for example, William Patrick Day has pointed out that "it was also an aspect of popular fiction, though the threat seems to have been more popular than the actuality" (emphasis added) (120). This literal sexuality distinguishes the two subgenres not only from their parent genres, but also from the closely-related subgenres of "hard" Rock and the picaresque novel, both of which went directly for the sensuous throat, as did the Gothic novel and Heavy Metal, and refused the "communalism" implied in mainstream Rock's dance music format (e.g., the Beatles' "She Loves You") and the mainstream novel's insistence on societal values (e.g., Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe). These related subgenres formally rejected the communal values of the mainstream in much the same way as Heavy Metal and Gothic fiction rejected the same popular forms, but the message of sexuality in hard Rock and the picaresque remained euphemized: Jethro Tull could produce a number like "Velvet Green," instrumentally and structurally diverse and as evocative of sexuality as any Heavy Metal band, but those evocative lyrics still came from the "lyric" tradition of suggestion ("Won't you have my company? / Yes, take it in your hand"); likewise, Moll Flanders may live and breathe in a loosely episodic universe, peopled by first one husband or lover after another (an important subgenre marker: one cannot always tell the difference), but the sex act itself is kept in the background, even though Moll can thrive, literally, only on sex (Defoe, Moll Flanders).
Gothic fiction's and Heavy Metal's making literal the act of sex is, as indicated in the previous plot summary of The Monk, frequently of a piece with Satanic subject matter, although the Satanic takes up a life of its own in both subgenres beyond its connection with the sexual. A healthy branch of Metal music is overtly Satanic, beginning popularly with Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore," from their untitled fourth album, and extending through Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" to the lyrics of present-day Ozzie Osborn, former lead singer for Black Sabbath. The late 1960s was the beginning of outright Satanism in the Rock format, I should say, since the Devil has long been a powerful character in the Blues lyric, another ancestor of both mainstream Rock and Heavy Metal; this diabolical lineage has been noted by almost every critic to write on either the Rock genre or its Heavy Metal subgenre.3 The Blues lyrics of Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Skip James, and particularly of Robert Johnson were filled with references to Satan, as in Johnson's line, "Hello, Satan, I believe it's time to go," to such a degree that the Blues became known as "Devil's music."4 These references continued to thrive in the later Zeppelin and other Heavy Metal lyrics, building up a myth of the Heavy Metal band as necessarily Satanic. The rumor of "back-masking" on "Stairway to Heaven," (Led Zeppelin, Untitled) supposedly designed to record the statement, "I worship you, my Satan," backward throughout the song, was no doubt spurred by this overarching myth of the Satanic within the Blues. It is especially interesting that the Satan-hunters felt it necessary to play "Stairway to Heaven" backward in search of the satanic message, when the song preceding it on the album, "The Battle of Evermore," constitutes an openly Satanic epic battle, even played forward.5
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
SHIRLEY JACKSON (1919–1965)
Jackson's short story "The Lottery" (1948) established her literary reputation as an author of Gothic horror fiction. This frequently anthologized tale exemplifies the central themes of Jackson's fiction, which include such ordinary yet grotesque realities as prejudice, psychological malaise, loneliness, and cruelty. In works that often contain elements of conventional Gothic horror, Jackson chronicles the universal evil underlying human nature. Her relatively impassive prose style belies the nihilism of her outlook; similarly, the charming hamlets that serve as settings for her tales contrast with the true malevolence of their inhabitants. "The Lottery" opens on a lovely June morning when the citizens of a tranquil village gather in the town square for an annual drawing. Amidst laughter and gossip, families draw slips of paper from a ballot box until housewife Tessie Hutchinson receives the paper with a black mark on it, and the villagers stone her to death as a ritual sacrifice. The shocking impact of this unanticipated ending is intensified by Jackson's casual, detached narrative and serene setting. Jackson was perpetually intrigued with the powers of the mind, and her fiction is replete with psychological insights. Her protagonists are frequently forlorn, socially misfit young women who undergo turbulent passages into adulthood. The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is at once considered Jackson's most powerful exploration of individual loneliness and her greatest work of horror fiction. Eleanor Vance is one of four individuals who is asked to come to Hill House in order to investigate the possibility of paranormal phenomena there. It rapidly becomes clear that Eleanor's loneliness and weakness of will make her unusually susceptible to the influences at the house. In effect, the house subsumes her: she identifies herself with the house and its previous occupants, and the supernatural manifestations make it clear that she will not be allowed to leave. She attempts to drive away, but the car crashes into a tree and she dies. Jackson possessed more than 200 books on black magic and considered herself a practicing witch.
As Pattison explains, however, the occult underpinnings of the Blues mythology as embraced by Heavy Metal bore only a marginal relationship to "reality"; in effect, occult references play on the already-established mythology in order to forge a sense of the subversive more than through any "real" belief in Satan or occult practices. Pattison argues that the players of both Rock and Heavy Metal are quite aware that their occult is a myth (30-55).6 To put it differently, the occult serves merely as a sign-system within which Satanic references signify, in one sense, only "subversion." What would be the point of an admittedly empty myth, then? To fly in the face of established—mass cultural—mythologies, just as Gothic fiction, particularly in its "school of horror" phase, attempted to supply a shock element to carve out an identity in contradistinction to, not simply as one variation upon, mainstream culture. As Peter Wicke notes, subcultures within "highly developed capitalism" may express "dis-tance through excess" (84). The "horror" of excess, regarding both genres, is best expressed in a news item retailed by Pattison as indicative of actual mass cultural response to the "cult" of Heavy Metal:
In 1984, the New York Daily News ran an Associated Press story under the headline, "Satan-Rock Girl Murdered Mom": "A teenage girl who a prosecutor said was involved with her boyfriend in Satanism and heavy-metal rock music has been convicted of murdering her mother, former chairman of a group dedicated to stopping violence in the home." To make matters worse, her boyfriend "had orange hair."
The orange hair is the give-away: that the Associated Press found the boyfriend's hair color relevant speaks to consumer culture's deep fear of the subculture as it takes the subculture's bait. To some extent, this bait merely enforces "difference." It is in this respect that the two sub-popular forms under discussion represent "subgenre" par excellence, and here that they become more than just examples of generic behavior. The subgenre differs in kind from a "movement," such as Imagism in the early twentieth century, which differs from its parent genre, Modernism, only in degree. A movement lifts out a select number of the parent genre's characteristics, to magnify and elaborate those few characteristics. Alastair Fowler's definition of subgenre, in fact, more closely approximates what I see as the behavior of a movement: "such groups have a relatively simple logical relation [to the parent genre]: their features are more or less disjunct subsets of the sets of features characterizing kinds … external forms and all" (112). The subgenre, I believe, while it is a "disjunct subset," is labelled "sub-" in the vernacular not without reason. It positively revolts against many of the parent form's "external forms," and in a sort of adolescent rage, pits itself against the very universe its parent inhabits, retaining only the family resemblance. Gothic fiction and Heavy metal epitomize this subgeneric behavior because they manifest the "sub-" in several conceptions: subversive, substandard, subliminal and, if one takes the parent genres' form as the "well-made" standard, substandard. These two "Satanic" offspring go to great lengths to define and illustrate "difference," and further, a difference "beneath," hidden under the socially acceptable.
This difference, however, does not merely indicate the rebelliousness of youth (although it is that—remember that Lewis was eighteen when he wrote The Monk), nor does it merely signify "subversion," but more subtly implies a critique of the mainstream culture it exists within, a critique manifested in the very Satanism which appears to be a mythology emptied of its value. If the subculture, expressed through the subgenres of Heavy Metal and Gothic fiction, rebels through excess in a kind of parody of the mass movements surrounding it, its rebellion is of a deeply conservative nature, one which rejects the ideology that can take part so willingly in mass production and consumption. The now-commodifed genres are ridiculed and rejected by their subgenres for the commodification itself, for their own emptiness of value, while the subgenres Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal attempt to reinsert absolute value into the apparently value-less free-play of commodity consumption.
Absolute value, in this case, is not positive or "religious," yet it does pretend to worship a deity, thereby subscribing to the concept of transcendence. This mythology reinscribes an essential value outside of, or prior to, the alternating currents of supply and demand which equate value with capital and makes valuable only that which sells, in what Dana Polan terms "a spectacle of superficiality" (46). The absolute value asserted by these subgenres, then, can only be spiritual, and then only in the Emersonian sense, in which the non-material is placed in the position of power. The devil positively causes destruction in the Gothic novel; and the devil is the source of energy in "The Battle of Evermore," as is Blake's Satan in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. To be sure, this Satan does destroy—usually individual lives in the Gothic novel, sometimes entire civilizations in Heavy Metal lyrics—but its power is nevertheless spiritual, asserting itself against the Hallmark-card "spiritualism" of commodity culture, the one that pays lip-service to a God who likes everyone equally and wants "only the best" for everyone.
Through this "alternate" spirituality, the Satanic impulse bears out the remarkable ability of popular audiences to make meaning of those products presented as empty form, little more than advertising, whether the ad is for bourgeois moral virtues or for Reeboks. As Paul Willis writes,
Though the whole commodity form provides powerful implications for the manner of its consumption, it by no means enforces them. Commodities can be taken out of context, claimed in a particular way, developed and repossessed to express something deeply and thereby to change somewhat the very feelings which are their product. And all this can happen under the very nose of the dominant class—and with their products.
To witness this active reinscription of the commodified into an alternate universe of spiritual, albeit retrograde, power, is to return some modicum of power to the otherwise passive receiver of popular genres: the young female of the late eighteenth century, reading novels in place of being educated, or the young male or female sitting in front of MTV.7
So how far can we push the analogy between Gothic fiction of the eighteenth century and the Heavy Metal beginning in the late 1960s? Historically, the movements are entirely of a piece: both arose on the heels of new and hugely popular forms of cheap entertainment intended for the amusement of the masses. And as we have seen, both subgenres of those more popular, more widespread forms took shape by intensifying the focus of the parent-genres, by perverting the structure of the parent-genres through appeals to a lower order of sensibility and by making literal what was euphemized in the parent-genres. In effect, both Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal represent a return of the repressed—a once-again, newly repressed freedom of form and sexuality—emerging in the wake of supposedly revolutionary genres whose radicalism had become hegemonic manifestations of the larger culture and who, as a result, had lost their power to move.
Naturally, both Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal music succumbed to the very influences they initially set out to subvert. Naturally, that is, because both subgenres belong to already co-opted discourses, those parent-genres which exist, or existed in the past, only by virtue of participation in commercial culture. By definition, those coopted discourses can be defined only in terms of their production/consumption matrix, what Mary Poovey describes, discussing Rock music, as the mutual dependence of the product with its advertisement (615-16). Fredric Jameson describes Rock music and Gothic fiction alike, in their popular natures, likewise as products of "late capitalism"; as "products," they may only produce subgenres that must finally grow into products as well, in order to survive in a consumer culture. Gothic fiction and Heavy Metal both became instant successes, so much so that as early as 1803 Jane Austen was to publish Northanger Abbey, the first widely-known parody of the Gothic form. Heavy Metal has likewise been parodied—most successfully in the 1984 Rob Reiner film This Is Spinal Tap—but has, more importantly, been imitated extensively and without variation, possibly more than any other Rock genre. As a result, popular Heavy Metal productions can be nearly indistinguishable from each other. At the same time, some of Heavy Metal's subversive impulse has cooled, resulting in the shortened form and euphemistic lyrics of its parent twenty years ago. A staple of the form has become, in fact, the love ballad, painfully sentimental and often as painfully self-referential, as with Bon Jovi's "Wanted, Dead or Alive," which chronicles the life of the suffering Heavy Metal band on the road. With its quickness to imitate its own form, Heavy Metal, like Gothic fiction, as quickly has ceased to be a subversive, energized genre, and has instead become both a subject of parody and a product of ravenous consumer appetite.
While Jameson's description of this process sheds light on both the nature of the subgenre and the nature of consumerism, it is in the weakness of his (and others'—I only take Jameson as a leading voice of ideological criticism) label "postmodernism" that we may discover the power of the subgenre as an activity. Jameson aptly describes the "new" of any genre as "ugly, dissonant, bohemian, sexually shocking" to the prevailing bourgeois culture, noting simply that that newness, in becoming co-opted, ceases to shock and opens a space for a yet-newer genre to come along and make its noise (27). However, he goes on, the postmodern newness is of a different order; "it is not just another word for the description of a particular style" (15). Jameson insists, in fact, that the postmodern is indeed what it sounds like: "a periodizing concept" which describes such a high degree of integration among production, product and consumption that it can take place only in the historical era of late capitalism. Which returns us to the question of Gothic fiction. If what I have argued is correct—that both Gothic fiction upon its first arrival and Heavy Metal Music are by definition subgeneric because they assert the transcendent spiritual against a prevailing commodification, and that they both succumbed to weakened stylization in capitulating to consumer demands—then what Jameson describes as "postmodern" cannot be a periodizing concept, rather, must be "the description of a particular style," since the first Gothic fiction arrived, not in a period of late capitalism, but during the boom years of emergent Western capitalism. The Gothic fiction Jameson refers to, in fact, is a "paraliterature" in his terminology, an "airport paperback category" (14).
Jameson's Gothic fiction, it turns out, is not the historical Gothic fiction of this essay, but is instead a genre uprooted from its "periodized" moorings. Jameson's "airport Gothic" is the already co-opted product, already made imitative and already long past its prime; existing in the same culture as Heavy Metal music, this Gothic may indeed be a postmodern product, historically speaking. But the postmodern itself, pastiche in style, effacing of boundaries, particularly the boundaries of high-and mass-culture, and not least of all existing outside the categories of "art" and "taste"—this postmodernism, which Jameson among others insists results in a value-less culture of late capitalism, is precisely what I have described as "mainstream" culture against which the subgenre revolts.8 In other words, what Jameson has described as a late twentieth-century phenomenon was already emergent with capitalism itself, born with what Foucault has identified as a great epistemic upheaval in the late eighteenth century.
There are, of course, distinguishing features of postmodernism, in particular the species of "hyperspace" Jameson identifies in the postmodern "texts" of architecture and novel; I do not wish, therefore, to disempower the term altogether. I have attempted, instead, to re-historicize the discussion of commodity culture: to identify the emergence of two subgenres I see as absolutely dependent upon the economic conditions within which they have prevailed, and thereby to describe the nature of "subgenre" itself, as it exists and existed historically, rather than elide historical necessity with the theoretizing gaze that would telescope all manner of texts, both genre and subgenre, into the space of the postmodern, in spite of their varying historical "ages."9 What the Satanic subgenres do have in common, historically speaking, is their appearance during respective ages of cultural shift, at times of deep change which bring about a dual sense of belatedness and dread, an understanding that an "age" has passed and the new one is none other than chaos itself. As Raymond Williams argues in The Country and the City, there have been many ages of such shift, each of which views the just-passed age in its newly historicized or narrative form as unified in ideology and "whole" in the perception of its inhabitants. It matters little whether this deep change is "real," as we have been taught by Foucault to believe of the late eighteenth century, or perceived but untested, as we speculate about the late twentieth century. What matters is that the emergent subgenre, attempting to assert a "nostalgic" value, responds to what is perceived as chaos—the necessary chaos of the ongoing—by thrusting at it a spiritual power of destructive force. But rather than privilege our own age by calling this phenomenon postmodern, it might better be served under the label "the Henry Adams effect," for it was Adams who best described the vertigo of experience in an as-yet-unstoried present. At the Great Exposition of 1900, "his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new" (382), Adams sounds like a guest of "postmodernism," come to remind us of history:
armed with instruments amounting to new senses of indefinite power and accuracy, while they chased force into hiding-places where Nature herself had never known it to be, making analyses that contradicted being, and syntheses that endangered the elements…. (389) In 1900 they were plainly forced back on faith in a unity unproved and an order they had themselves disproved. They had reduced their universe to a series of relations to themselves.
1. For a more thorough description of Heavy Metal's characteristics, see Robert L. Gross, "Heavy Metal Music: A New Subculture in American Society," Journal of Popular Culture 24.1 (Summer 1990) 119-30. Gross notes that different critics "place" the origin of Heavy Metal with different bands and different times, but most agree on the years 1967–1968, and disagree only whether it was Led Zeppelin (1968) or Black Sabbath (1969) who recorded Heavy Metal first. Will Straw's essay, "Characterizing Rock Music Culture: The Case of Heavy Metal," On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (New York: Pantheon, 1990) also lays out some parameters of Heavy Metal, with more attention to its sociological, subcultural status.
2. For a good synopsis of the "School of Horror" within Gothic fiction, see Brendan Hennessay, The Gothic Novel (Essex: Longman, 1978) or Devendra Varma, The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence Disintegration and Residuary Influences (New York: Russell and Russell, 1957).
3. Just three among a score of commentators on this subject are Robert Gross, "Heavy Metal Music"; Janet Podell, ed., Rock Music in America Vol. 58.5 of The Reference Shelf (New York: Wilson, 1987); Robert Pielke, You Say You Want A Revolution (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986).
4. For thorough discussions of Satan's role in the Blues, see Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (New York: Viking, 1981).
5. The Blues influence on Led Zeppelin goes beyond the lyrics to instrumentation and even Robert Plant's vocal style. Compare Palmer's description of William Bunch (a.k.a. Peetie Wheatstraw, the devil's son-in-law, the High Sherrif from Hell) whose "distinctive calling card" was a "frayed timbre" embellished with a falsetto "ooh, well, well" (Palmer 114-15) to Plant's equally falsetto moaning in several lyrics, especially the ending of "Kashmir" (Physical Graffiti [US: Swan Song, 1975]). Palmer likewise notes in passing one of Wheatstraw's lyrics, in which he "advertised his sexual prowess" in graphic sexual description: "Well, the first woman I had, she made me get on my knees / And had the nerve to ask me, ooh, well, well, if I liked limburgercheese" (Palmer 115-16).
6. The Satanic is, however, a myth taken seriously from time to time: note Palmer's anecdote about Muddy Waters, who said he was afraid of Robert Johnson because of rumors that Johnson was in league with the devil, who supposedly taught him to play guitar during a year-long, mysterious absence from the Mississippi Delta. Waters said simply, "he was a dangerous man" (Palmer 111).
7. See Ann Kaplan's Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism and Consumer Culture (London: Methuen, 1987) for a discussion of MTV's now-central position within the world of Rock music.
8. See also Ann Kaplan, "Feminism/Oedipus/Postmodernism: The Case of MTV," Postmodernism and Its Discontents Theories, Practices, ed. Ann Kaplan (New York: Verso, 1988) 30-44.
9. I share some portion of this critique of postmodern theorizing with Jean-Francois Lyotard, who likewise argues that the postmodern age is not the first to assert an energy of subversion against prevailing culture; however, Lyotard tends to pit postmodernism only against modernist culture, where he discovers a similar movement, where I have preferred to reach backward to an earlier era, one more consonant with burgeoning capitalism. See Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10 (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984).
Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography. Boston: Houghton, n.d.
Day, William Patrick. In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy. Chicago, n.p.: 1985.
Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. N.p., 1722.
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Random, 1965.
Fowler, Alastair. Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982.
Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." Postmodernism and Its Discontents: Theories, Practices. Ed. Ann Kaplan. New York: Verso, 1988. 13-29.
Lewis, Matthew Gregory. The Monk: A Romance (!). London: Bell, 1796.
Maturin, Charles. Melmoth the Wanderer: A Tale. London: Hurst and Robinson, 1820.
Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues. New York: Viking, 1981.
Pattison, Robert. The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
Polan, Dana. "Postmodernism and Cultural Analysis Today." Postmodernism and Its Discontents: Theories, Practices. Ed. Ann Kaplan. New York: Verso, 1988.
Poovey, Mary. "Cultural Criticism: Past and Present." College English 52.6 (Oct. 1990).
Richardson, Samuel. Clarissa Harlowe; or The History of a Young Lady. N.p., 1747–48.
Straw, Will. "Characterizing Rock Music Culture: The Case of Heavy Metal." On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. New York: Pantheon, 1990.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Three Gothic Novels. Ed. E.F. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1966.
Wicke, Peter. Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology. Trans. Rachel Fogg. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford UP,
Willis, Paul. Profane Culture. London: Routledge, 1978.
The Beatles. "All You Need is Love." Parlophone, 1967.
"Elenor Rigby." Capitol, 1966.
"Hey Jude." Apple, 1968.
"I Want to Hold Your Hand." Parlophone, 1963.
"She Loves You." Parlophone, 1963.
Blue Oyster Cult. "Don't Fear the Reaper." Columbia, 1976.
Bon Jovi. "Wanted, Dead or Alive." MCA, 1986.
The Byrds. "Eight Miles High." Columbia, 1966.
Jethro Tull. "Velvet Green." Songs From the Wood. Chrysalis, 1977.
Led Zeppelin. "Dazed and Confused." The Song Remains the Same. Swansong, 1976.
Led Zeppelin I. Atlantic, 1968.
Led Zeppelin III. Atlantic, 1970.
Untitled. Atlantic, 1971.
Lennon, John and Paul McCartney. "Give Peace a Chance." Apple, 1969.
Rolling Stones. "Satisfaction (I Can't Get No)." Atlantic, 1965.
The Who. "Squeeze Box." MCA, 1975.
JAMES HANNAHAM (ESSAY DATE 1997)
SOURCE: Hannaham, James. "Bela Lugosi's Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Either: Goth and the Glorification of Suffering in Rock Music." In Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art, edited by Christoph Grunenberg, pp. 118-92. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.
In the following essay, Hannaham delineates the themes, artists, and works associated with the Gothic in rock music.
If rock and roll is just the blues with an emphasis on adolescent sex, then Goth rock is rock and roll with death and madness. Gothic imagery and influence has skulked at the margins of rock music for decades, and indeed the blues has plenty of subject matter in common with what came to be known, in the late 1970s and early 80s, simply as "Goth." Its less-than-subtle influences streamed from the Gothic novels of the nineteenth century as well as contemporary horror films, especially 1950s B-movies.
Even though blues songs might have dealt with death, madness, and loss, the blues were meant to be part testimony and part catharsis. Black blues singers wailed in order to explain and share their hardship, and by extension build a sympathetic society. In a similar way, one of the predecessors of the blues, the Negro spiritual, attempted to accomplish this feat in a more literal way. The spiritual was often used as a code to signal slave escapes, and its lyrics usually drew parallels between making a break for the promised land in heaven and stealing away to the promised land up north.
Once rock and roll became the engine of American youth culture it remains today rather than simply "jungle music," however, the social meaning of the blues was altered. To say that it had a positive or negative effect on the quality of the music is irrelevant. But when people who were fans of the blues rather than originators began to play it, this fact allowed for the subject matter of the blues to become an end in itself. The pain it described could not only be felt by the singer, but fetishized and focused inward as well. Pain could be treated not just as something to express, but something to strive for. As Shel Silverstein once sang, "What do you do if you're young and white and Jewish…. And you've never spent the night in a cold and empty boxcar … and the only levee you know is the Levy who lives down the block?" The answer is, as Bob Dylan proved, you sing the blues anyway.
It's easy to forget that most white Americans first heard the blues and rock and roll created in their backyards only once it had been filtered through the ears of the British Invasion. It arrived, not sanitized, exactly, but translated, idealized, and somewhat abstracted. Not that England's bluesmen couldn't feel authentically disenfranchised or sad, but their sadness was the result of an entirely different environment than, say, your average Mississippi bluesman. But by the time it reached England, the form of the blues had been established. It then became possible for the most salient component of the blues—misery—to switch from impassioned declaration to a kind of rapture, a goal, the ultimate state of being for a blues singer. Chances are when a black American sang the blues, she just had them. When an Englishman did it, he also wanted them.
The simple glorification of suffering, of course, was not enough to give rise to the excesses of Gothic rock. For that, a certain degree of showmanship and capitalism was necessary. Gothic rock perhaps began with Screamin' Jay Hawkins' 1957 hit. "I Put a Spell On You," which radio stations banned for his "cannibalistic" howling, supposedly the result of Hawkins' intoxication during the recording session. Legendary DJ Alan Freed encouraged the natural showman Hawkins to milk the controversy for all it was worth, advising him to make his stage entrances from out of coffins (an act for which he later was paid five thousand dollars every time he performed it), dressed in high vampire style, with a black cape and a walking staff adorned with a skull. He eventually sold two million copies of the record and later quipped "I wish they'd ban all of my records."
As the late 50s and 60s progressed, rock and roll became the theater of the world. As pop stars got more ambitious and successful, following the Beatles' example and turning their bands into entertainment industries in their own right that made films and stage shows and produced the work of other artists, their positions of wealth and power became ironic: they'd come to play rock music with the ideals of young rebels, determined to dismantle the system, only to be swallowed by it. Their creative output and personae were used by advertisers to sell products rather than change society. The hypocrisy in packaging grandiosity and teenage rebellion for mass consumption created another Gothic monster: Alice Cooper.
Cooper, a minister's son who named himself and his band after a girl at his Sunday school, was discovered by rock's mad genius, Frank Zappa. Unlike Zappa, however, Alice Cooper the band was not known for musicianship, but for its bizarre theatricality. Audiences at Alice Cooper shows were regularly treated to mock chicken slaughtering, simulated autoerotic erections and fake blood. In a particularly notable dramatization of his epic song "Dead Babies," Cooper, made up in the runny black mascara that became his trademark, brought out hundreds of plastic dolls and dismembered them, to the delight of his audience.
Cooper's antics may have shocked people, but his Grand Guignol rock-theater seemed rooted deeply enough in the realm of fantasy to let his audience retain a sense of order. Cooper himself, born Vincent Furnier, was usually quick to make a distinction between his onstage and offstage images. "My posture changes when I become Alice, even my voice," he told Kerrangg! in 1987.1 "It's like a possession—well, I wouldn't call it posses-sion but it is like being overcome with this character." Offstage, Cooper is an avid golfer. His character, Alice Cooper, the iconoclastic, gender-bending social misfit, not only exorcised Furnier's personal demons, but channeled that suffering into a larger-than-life cartoon of pain. Furnier created in himself a grotesque rock star that symbolized music industry excess, self-absorption, cult of personality—in short, he took counterculture to its illogical extreme. Cooper's influence remains one of rock's biggest triumphs of style-over-substance.
That same style-over-substance turned into the albatross around the neck of the particular branch of subculture that emerged from punk in 1978 and later become known as "Goth." In fact, it's difficult to distinguish between "Goth" and "post-punk," for the simple reason that Goth is more of a fashion statement than a coherent musical style. In the period from 1978 to about 1984, hundreds of bands dyed their hair black, wore black lipstick and white pancake makeup, black lace and chains. Despite stylistic similarities, heavy metal music remained separate from this phenomenon; in fact, the two genres can be said to have divided along gender lines. Heavy metal was aggressive, sexist and therefore "masculine," while Goth had a softer, more accepting, "feminine" cast. You can hear it in "Goth-chick" Claudia Hazzard's description of how to appreciate a Goth classic: "You can totally emerge yourself in the music, the consuming power of this song. This conjures up images of horror films, dark skies, castles and forbidden vaults. The lyrics are of a vampire nature and intoxicate you."2 Goth inspired a euphoric if cheesy utopianism rather than heavy metal's warlike feudalism.
At the same time, punk flicked its emotional switch from anger to depression, and became more atmospheric in the process. But not all atmospheric post-punk bands sported Goth fashion, and not every death-rocker played atmospheric post-punk. The careers of the most successful atmospheric post-punk bands—The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance—tended to be long and uneven, ranging stylistically from New Order's "death disco" to Dead Can Dance's Middle Eastern and medieval-influenced ragas. The Cure switched gears a number of times, from snappy power pop to ponderous dirges to happy ditties about being in love on a Friday.
Punk and Goth were indistinguishable at first. In 1976, at age 17, Siouxsie Sioux, the Ur-Goth, was part of a clique of Sex Pistols fans known as The Bromley Contingent, famed for their outrageous modes of dress. At the time, Sid Vicious of the Pistols was drumming for an early incarnation of Siouxsie and the Banshees that had played an either disastrous or cathartic date at London's 100 Club:
A wall of noise illuminated the fact that no one could play. Siouxsie said the Lord's Prayer. The melange lasted 20 minutes. They walked off, bored. "She is nothing if not magnificent," Caroline Coon wrote at the time. "Her short hair, which she sweeps in great waves over her head, is streaked with red like flames. She'll wear black plastic non-existent bras, one mesh and one rubber stocking and susbender belts all covered by a polka dotted transparent plastic mac." Another observer said that the set was "unbearable."3
Already, those enraptured by the visual rather than musical aspects of punk began to idolize Siouxsie. When The Bromley Contingent made their way into the studio audience when the Pistols played the Today show, the rules changed. "From that day on," Sex Pistol Steve Jones recalled, "It was different. Before then it was just music—the next day it was the media."4
Once they'd given punk a name, Siouxsie wanted no part of it. Avidly anti-establishment, The Banshees had taken two years to land a record deal despite their high profile, partially because their lead singer had made it a habit to insult record company executives in the audience. Fans were writing "Sign Siouxsie Now!" on the sides of record company buildings. By 1981 The Banshees had converged upon London's legendary Batcave, the Soho establishment run by members of the band Specimen. "It was a lightbulb for all the freaks and people like myself who were from the sticks and wanted a bit more from life. Freaks, weirdos, sexual deviants … that's very much the spirit of what the Batcave was," former Specimen keyboardist Jonny Melton remarked.5
Siouxsie and the Banshees' material took a turn from punk's habit of rooting out poser hypocrites—"Too many critics / Too few writing" she summed up in "Love in A Void" (Kaleidoscope, 1979)—to obsessions with madness and exotica. For the center of a scene whose fashion and contrary stance idealized and emulated old horror films and witches, the powerful vibrato howl that won Siouxsie "best female singer" polls in the British music press for years running became the siren song. Her heavy black makeup, tangled pile of black hair and smear of red lipstick, pioneered during gigs when Cure leader Robert Smith became the Banshees' guitarist for a while, became a trademark of 80s "new wave."
Rock and roll's Gothic undercurrents, however, have rarely merged their dramatic elements—think vampires—with their purely existential ones. Everyone feels a certain amount of alienation, mental stress, and fear of death. However, not everyone puts on white pancake makeup, black lipstick, teases their hair and then gets onstage and sings about it. The requisite adornment that goes hand in hand with a "Gothic" aesthetic, as rock and roll defines it, calls the sincerity of the wearer into question. They've dealt with their feelings of alienation from society by reinventing themselves as "monsters." The observer then wonders whether or not, in addition to the artifice meant to reinforce the message of the music, or as Morrissey puts it, wearing "black on the outside / 'Cause black is how I feel on the inside" (in the song "Unlovable," Louder than Bombs, 1987), doesn't in fact cancel out the sincerity of the wearer by further obscuring his or her identity.
The pop culture legend that finds his way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an eloquent, unpretentious and genuinely tortured soul who can represent the pain of his listeners in the mass media—a secular Christ figure. It's an extraordinary person from humble beginnings—the poorer the better—who lives his pain and often dies young and/or tragically, à la John Lennon or Kurt Cobain. Except for his race, the archetypal rock icon remains essentially unchanged since the heyday of the blues. The more rock stars live up to their images, the more "real" they appear. Rap stars are held so closely to their outlaw standard that Snoop Doggy Dogg's murder trial only raised his credibility, and Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting.
Goths, by turning death, madness and violence into archetypes, de-personalize their connection to horrific events. They position themselves as reporters or tour guides to the macabre, rarely its victims. Even when Siouxsie puts her own memory of an encounter with a child molester into song, she casts herself not as nine-year-old Susan Ballion, but as the sex offender, "Candyman" himself, who intones, "Oh trust in me my pretty one / Come walk with me my helpless one" (Tinderbox, 1986).
When Peter Murphy of the seminal Goth band Bauhaus informs us in a scary voice that (as we already suspected), "Bela Lugosi's Dead," or Siouxsie, decked out in Theda Bara exotica, serenades the victims of Mount Vesuvius, they emphasize the distance between their own pain and that which they describe. Their icy remove doesn't leave us with the impression that it matters to them if Lugosi has passed away, or if the volcano petrified hundreds of Pompeii's citizens under molten lava, merely with the feeling that death is forbidden, mysterious and therefore glamorous.
Of course, any long-lived movement for whom fetishizing death is a primary directive must be, by necessity, taking this stance in the service of art. Those that truly had the courage of their convictions would simply kill themselves, or so the logic seems to go. If this is the case, Joy Division was the only atmospheric post-punk band that managed to combine the ideals of blues-style confessional of which legends are made with the bleak vision of Goth. As author and critic Jon Savage explains in his foreword to a biography of Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis:
[Joy Division's] first album Unknown Pleasures, released in June 1979, defined not only a city [the depressed, postindustrial Manchester, England] but a moment of social change: according to writer Chris Bohn, they "recorded the corrosive effect on the individual of a time squeezed between the collapse into impotence of traditional Labour humanism and the impending cynical victory of Conservatism."6
Thus, death rock became a moot point on May 18, 1980, when Ian Curtis' wife Deborah discovered that Ian had hanged himself in their kitchen, their phonograph's stylus still stuck in the dry groove of a copy of Iggy Pop's The Idiot in the next room. He was twenty-three. At the time, Joy Division was well on the way to becoming famous for a gloomy, impressionistic sound and lyrics that didn't just describe feelings of doom and hopelessness but embodied them. Curtis' suicide, coming on the heels of an attempt a month before, and at least one other when he was fifteen years old, put the stamp of authenticity on Joy Division's dour oeuvre.
At the time of Curtis' suicide, the band's discography consisted of a few EPs and only one full-length LP, the stark and lonely Unknown Pleasures. They'd completed their second, Closer, in March of that year, but had not yet released it. Amid much British music press fanfare, the band had made plans to embark on their first tour of the United States.
Joy Division defined what Goth could have become. When they began in 1977, under the name Warsaw (later changed when they got word of a London band called Warsaw Pakt), their angular guitar hackery and fuzzbass echoed the Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks. But by the time they recorded 1979's Unknown Pleasures, the angsty minimalism of songs like "Digital" had given way a bit, to a slow, dreamy brooding heretofore unheard-of in punk rock. They began the switch from the energy and anger of 1976's punk revolution to the self-pity that would characterize the new wave of the 80s. Plenty of bands had used echoey reverb before, but with the assistance of producer Martin Hannett, Joy Division pioneered its use as a metaphor for emptiness. Many Joy Division songs sound as if they were recorded in the deserted school buildings, abandoned factories, or under the lonely bridges of Manchester. These bleak soundscapes reinforced Curtis' lyrics, which nakedly display his obsession with isolation. Curtis wasn't simply describing the alienation of the individual from others and society, but the way in which numbness and surrender divide the self. On "New Dawn Fades," he sang, "Oh, I've walked on water / Run through fire / Can't seem to feel it anymore / It was me, waiting for me / Hoping for something more / Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else" (Unknown Pleasures).
Despite his youth, Curtis' voice sounded old. He was off-key a great deal of the time, but his intonation had a haunting power and a creaky authority to it. It unevenly lurched from vulnerability to anger, from deadpan to melodrama. It was the perfect instrument to deliver his vision: shaky and unsure of itself, at times nearly conversational in tone, it said nothing if not that Ian Curtis was an ordinary man in extraordinary pain.
Though Curtis' pen touched on subjects like Nazi death camps (Joy Division was named for the term the Nazis used to describe women prisoners kept to be used as prostitutes) and, on "Atrocity Exhibition," an insane asylum turned roadside attraction, his view of death leaned toward existentialism. "Existence, well what does it matter? / I exist on the best terms I can / The past is now part of my future / The present is well out of hand," he sang on Closer's "Heart and Soul."
In image, too, Joy Division lacked the theatrical pretensions of other bands that grew up alongside them and in their wake. Instead, they used funereal black-and-white photographs of religious statues on their record sleeves. They presented themselves on stage without referring to the glam-rock image-makers like T. Rex or David Bowie who influenced their peers, preferring to appear simply as regular if dull and remarkably disaffected working-class Mancunians. They were regular blokes who happened to be suicidal, a stance that contrasted heavily with the usual methods of incorporating Gothic influence into rock music. Despite their punk roots, they didn't accessorize with makeup, safety pins or outrageous hair. Nothing was posed. Curtis had developed a reputation as an energetic live act, due in no small part to his epilepsy. His bandmates were not even fully aware of the degree to which he owed his stage presence to his seizures. As guitarist Bernard Sumner reminisced, "[Ian] had a fit and we went on, he was really ill and we did a gig. That was really stupid."7 Curtis' wife also observed:
The fact that most of Ian's heroes were dead, close to death or obsessed with death was not unusual and is a common teenage fad. Ian seemed to take growing up more seriously than the others, as if kicking against it would prolong his youth. He bought a red jacket to match the one James Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause. He wanted to be that rebel, but, like his hero, he didn't have a cause either. Mostly his rebellion took the form of verbal objection to anyone else's way of life.8
The restraint with which Curtis and Joy Division approached their misery, like their neighbors The Smiths after them, was one reason for the pervasiveness of their influence. Perhaps not all of the Goths who flocked to Joy Division's posthumous releases, who dressed as creatures of the night to prove their love of death, really wanted to die. They wanted a community of the living dead: a society that aligned itself with death because life was substandard. They wanted an Ian Curtis to die for them, so they wouldn't have to discover for themselves that death had no sting.
1. TK, "TK," Kerrangg! 1987.
2. Quoted in Mick Mercer, Gothic Rock. Los Angeles: Cleopatra, 1993, p. 37.
3. Jessica Berens, "Portrait: The Masque," Guardian Weekend Page (January 14, 1995).
5. Mercer, Gothic Rock, p. 102.
6. Deborah Curtis, Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, p. xii.
7. Ibid, p. 113.
8. Ibid, p. 5.
Backscheider, Paula R. "Gothic Drama and National Crisis." In Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England, pp. 149-88. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
Maintains that the enormous popularity of Gothic drama can be accounted for by its ability to reproduce and contain the cultural anxieties that accompanied the political and social unrest in eighteenth-century England.
Botting, Fred. "Signs of Evil: Bataille, Baudrillard and Postmodern Gothic." Southern Review 27, no. 4 (December 1994): 493-510.
Applies the theories of Georges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard to analysis of postmodern gothicism in the television series Twin Peaks and the film Angel Heart.
Brederoo, N. J. "Dracula in Film." In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, pp. 271-81. Atlanta, Ga. and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.
Surveys film adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Bunnell, Charlene. "The Gothic: A Literary Genre's Transition to Film." In Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant, 1984. Reprint, pp. 79-100. Lanham, Md. and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Appraises Gothic films and maintains that there are aspects of Gothic literature that make it particularly amenable to screen adaptation, including the encouragement of active reader participation, the co-existence of both a diurnal and nocturnal worldview, and the use of "the setting, the journey, the double …, and the supernatural."
Collins, Michael J. "Culture in the Hall of Mirrors: Film and Fiction and Fiction and Film." In A Dark Night's Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction, edited by Tony Magistrale and Michael A. Morrison, pp. 110-22. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Examines Gothic literature and film in order to evaluate interrelationships.
Cox, Jeffrey N. Introduction to Seven Gothic Dramas: 1789–1825, edited by Jeffrey N. Cox, pp. 1-77. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992.
Provides an overview of the history of Gothic drama and an examination of its main features and themes.
Evans, Bertrand. Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947, 257 p.
Influential scholarly analysis of Gothic drama in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
―――――. "Manfred's Remorse and Dramatic Tradition." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 62, no. 3 (September 1947): 752-73.
Analyzes Lord Byron's depiction of his dramatic hero in Manfred and its connection to remorse and the Gothic tradition.
Forry, Steven Earl. "The Hideous Progenies of Richard Brinsley Peake: Frankenstein on the Stage, 1823 to 1826." Theatre Research International 11, no. 1 (spring 1986): 13-31.
Traces the history of Peake's adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a Gothic drama.
Franceschina, John. Introduction to Sisters of Gore: Seven Gothic Melodramas by British Women, 1790–1843, pp. 1-13. New York: Garland, 1997.
Examines the contributions of women playwrights to the Gothic genre.
Gamer, Michael. "Authors in Effect: Lewis, Scott, and the Gothic Drama." ELH 66, no. 4 (winter 1999): 831-57.
Examines the role of the authorial self as determined by literary reputation and social status in Gothic dramas by Sir Walter Scott and Matthew Gregory Lewis.
Goddu, Teresa A. "Bloody Daggers and Lonesome Graveyards: The Gothic and Country Music." South Atlantic Quarterly 94, no. 1 (winter 1995): 57-80.
Considers the gothicism present in folk literature and bluegrass music.
Gunn, Joshua. "Gothic Music and the Inevitability of Genre." Popular Music and Society 23, no. 1 (spring 1999): 31-50.
Discusses genre formation in popular music and uses Gothic or "goth" music "to illustrate the way genres are constructed through the discussions of fans and artists."
Hogle, Jerrold E. "The Culture of Adolescence: The Lloyd Webber Musical and the Adaptations that Paved the Way, 1962–1986." In The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and its Progeny, pp. 173-204. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Comprehensive treatment of the underlying, and varying significance of the Phantom of the Opera through an analysis of the original novel by Leroux and the numerous adaptations it has spawned through the twenty-first century, as well as the cultural context surrounding each work.
Hutchings, Peter. "Tearing Your Soul Apart: Horror's New Monsters." In Modern Gothic: A Reader, edited and with an introduction by Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith, pp. 89-103. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996.
Discusses the portrayal of serial killers in such films as Halloween, The Silence of the Lambs, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Jerrentrup, Ansgar. "Gothic and Dark Music: Forms and Background." World of Music 42, no. 1 (2000): 25-50.
Asserts that "[w]ithin music-oriented youth subculture, the Gothics and Darks represent an extraordinary phenomenon" in Germany, and examines the music, lyrics, and accompanying cultural context.
Morgan, Jack. The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002, 263 p.
Compares the treatment of the human body and the macabre in Gothic fiction and film.
Morris, Nigel. "Metropolis and the Modernist Gothic." In Gothic Modernisms, edited by Andrew Smith and Jeff Wallace, pp. 188-206. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Examines the gothicism and modernism in Fritz Lang's science fiction film Metropolis.
Mulvey, Laura. "The Pre-Oedipal Father: The Gothicism of Blue Velvet." In Modern Gothic: A Reader, edited and with an introduction by Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith, pp. 38-57. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996.
Discusses Blue Velvet, a film by David Lynch, in terms of its treatment of tension between conscious and unconscious thought and the Oedipal narrative.
Pérez Riu, Carmen. "Two Gothic Feminist Texts: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and the Film, The Piano, by Jane Campion." Atlantis: Revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos 22, no. 1 (June 2000): 163-73.
A feminist analysis of the Gothic elements in the novel Wuthering Heights and in the film The Piano.
Pirie, David. A Heritage of Horror: the English Gothic Cinema, 1946–1972. London: Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd., 1973, 192 p.
Wide-ranging study of gothicism in English literature and English horror films. Includes many film stills and comprehensive filmographies.
Purinton, Marjean D. "Science Fiction and Techno-Gothic Drama: Romantic Playwrights Joanna Baillie and Jane Scott." Romanticism On the Net, no. 21 (February 2001): 〈http://users.ox.ac.uk/∼scat0385/21purinton.html〉.
Demonstrates how Joanna Baillie and Jane Scott utilized supernatural elements in Gothic drama to represent and comment upon scientific conceptions of the human body informed by early nineteenth-century innovations in medicine.
Reno, Robert P. "James Boaden's Fontainville Forest and Matthew G. Lewis' The Castle Spectre: Challenges of the Supernatural Ghost on the Late Eighteenth-Century Stage." Eighteenth-Century Life 9, no. 1 (October 1984): 95-106.
Examines the treatment and staging of ghosts and supernatural elements in eighteenth-century dramatic works by James Boaden and Matthew Gregory Lewis.
Riley, Michael. "Gothic Melodrama and Spiritual Romance: Vision and Fidelity in Two Versions of Jane Eyre." Literature/Film Quarterly, no. 3 (1975): 145-59.
Compares film adaptations of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.
Roberts, Marilyn. "Adapting Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: Catherine Morland as Gothic Heroine." In Nineteenth-Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women's Fiction to Film, edited and with an introduction by Barbara Tepa Lupack, pp. 129-39. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.
Discusses Giles Foster's television adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Stovel, Bruce. "Northanger Abbey at the Movies." Persuasions: Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America 20 (1998): 236-47.
Surveys film and television adaptations of Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey.
Stuart, Roxana. Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century Stage. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994, 377 p.
Comprehensive study of the depiction of vampires in stage dramas during the nineteenth century. Includes discussions of specific plays and films, origins, themes, satire, and misogyny. Also includes biographical material, a filmography, and cast lists.
Thorp, Willard. "The Stage Adventures of Some Gothic Novels." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 43, no. 2 (June 1928): 476-86.
Discusses strategies employed by Gothic playwrights to minimize the effects of the horrors they were staging.