Streaming spotlight: dreams in darkness

High Gothic drama, horror and romance you can watch from home

by Jennie Kermode

They’re not quite horror in the popular sense and, as romances go, they’re a long way from the comfort of oversized underwear and tears on the sofa (though Hugh Grant did have a brush with the genre, briefly and not very seriously, in 1988’s Lair Of The White Worm). High Gothic is really a genre of its own, and with its focus on being trapped in the house whilst the world seems off the kilter, it might be seen as a genre whose time has come. These are some of the best examples you can watch online.

Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak - Netflix

Guillermo Del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in a tale of murder, romance, dark family secrets and warnings whispered by ghosts – what’s not to like? Both lead actresses are cast against type and more interesting because of it, though there are echoes of Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre in the earnest young would-be novelist who falls for a smooth-talking stranger and crosses an ocean to be with him in his ancient, crumbling house. By the time she realises she may be being poisoned, winter is closing in and there’s nowhere to go. Dan Laustsen’s sumptuous cinematography and Kate Hawley’s costumes bring something truly exquisite to a genre that has never failed to please the eyes. There are echoes of HP Lovecraft in the mysterious pits beneath the titular mansion and the impotent industrial machinery at the heart of the story seems to speak to the death of an age.

Rebecca
Rebecca

Rebecca - Dailymotion

From Vertigo to The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock often flirted with the Gothic, but Rebecca stands apart from the rest of his work, boldly irrational, a tale that is all about the telling. Joan Fontaine strikes the perfect balance of innocence and courage as the young ladies’ companion who captures the heart of the wealthy yet austere Mr de Winter (Laurence Olivier) only to find herself living in the shadow of his dead wife. Rebecca’s portrait presides over the house like the picture of Laura in Otto Preminger’s famous noir (or Laura Palmer, in turn, in Twin Peaks), but just like theirs, her story is not what it seems. Judith Anderson excels as Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper who was probably in love with her and spares no cruelty where the young rival is concerned, devoting herself now to Manderlay, the house which seems to have assumed her personality and dominates the film.

Through The Shadow
Through The Shadow

Through The Shadow - Amazon Prime

Henry James 1898 novel The Turn Of The Screw has inspired a number of cinematic adaptations, notably 1961’s The Innocents, but Walter Lima Jr’s 2016 addition gives it an additional twist by marrying it to the developing genre of South American Gothic (which dates back to the eagerly exported literary passions of Luis Buñuel). Virginia Cavendish plays the young governess, recently bereaved, who takes up a job tutoring two children at a remote mansion whilst their father is absent and the servants full of secrets. Briefly glimpsed strangers and ghostly visions gradually convince her that her young charges face a sinister threat, but given her increasingly fragile sanity, does the real threat actually come from her? The use of an old folk son, Xô Passarinho, binds the events we witness to Brazil’s real life history of stolen children, and by bringing the frequently overlooked sexual elements of the original story back to the fore, Lima Jr takes it to very dark places.

Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights - BFI Player

It would be impossible to compile a list like this without reference to the work of at least one Brontë sister, and whilst Wuthering Heights has been filmed many times, no-one has quite captured the bleak beauty of the Yorkshire moors like Andrea Arnold, nor given the drama the same rawness. Her decision to make Heathcliff black (he’s played as a boy by Solomon Glave; later by James Howson) was contentious at the time but finds plenty to substantiate it in the novel and makes the prejudice that shapes the story harder to evade. Shooting in square format and carrying her camera between the cramped rooms of the old houses that still predominate in the region, with stormy skies enclosing the valleys outside, she creates the sense of a pressure cooker in which powerful emotions can only be constrained for so long. Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario capture the bitterness as vital as beauty to making Cathy compelling, and tragedy feels inescapable.

The Lodgers
The Lodgers

The Lodgers - Netflix

More direct with its fantasy elements than many Gothic tales, this tale of two orphaned teenagers facing a disturbing fate nevertheless has its roots in real world horrors. Forced to live by obscure rules in a house whose very existence conjures up memories of colonial cruelty, they have found an equilibrium which is threatened by the awakening of adult passions (with shades of 1972’s Demons Of The Mind and by the sister’s romance with a local youth who is himself haunted by his recent experience of war. Dark waters seem to lurk beneath everything, threatening to drown those struggling to take control of their own lives. To top it all off, it was filmed in Ireland’s most haunted house. Director Brian O’Malley told us what that contributed to the atmosphere during filming.

Voice From The Stone
Voice From The Stone

Voice From The Stone - Amazon Prime, Chili

If you’ve found yourself missing the Dragon Queen since Game Of thrones ended, this is your chance to see Emilia Clarke in very different guise as a young woman summoned to a remote mansion to try and help a boy who is pining for his dead mother. The presence of the dead woman is everywhere, and as the boy, unwilling or unable to speak, presses his face against the walls at night to try and hear her voice, his helper increasingly begins to suspect that something else is going on – a concern complicated by her growing attraction to the troubled widower. Gorgeously shot by Peter Simonite in autumn tones, their very richness seeming to betoken coming death, the film has divided viewers with its ending much like Clarke’s other work, but the sense that its heroine is torn between her desire to help others and the need to hold onto her own identity gives it a different kind of haunting quality that lingers like the stone.

The House Of Usher
The House Of Usher

The House Of Usher - Amazon Prime

One cannot talk about Gothic cinema without reference to the great Vincent Price, who inhabited the works of Edgar Allan Poe like no-one else. Although Jean Epstein’s 1928 version of this tale, scripted by Luis Buñuel, also has much to recommend it, it’s in the hands of Roger Corman that this work attains its classic form. Whilst the director’s brushstrokes may be big and bold, he also has an eye for detail - the books in Roderick Usher’s library are an occult scholar’s dream, some of them very hard to get hold of - and the house itself has tremendous presence. Price explores the intersection between hereditary madness and aristocratic remoteness as a man desperate not to let his sister marry, plundering many of Poe’s favourite obsessions before the true reason for his own is exposed.

Sredni Vashtar
Sredni Vashtar

Sredni Vashtar - YouTube, Vimeo

Finally, if you’re looking for a bite-sized treat, this tale of a boy and his polecat is just the thing. Slowly dying from a mysterious illness, young Conradin (Fergus Nimmo) is kept either as patient or prisoner – it’s difficult to be sure which – by his severe, deeply religious aunt, in a vast, cold house. At the bottom of the garden, however, he keeps his own hope for salvation – his pet, his monster, his god. Bleakly elegant live action scenes blend with Indian shadow puppetry in a beautifully realised take on the Saki story that leaves no room for forgiveness.

Sredni Vashtar from Angela Murray on Vimeo.

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