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How Goth movies went from Wuthering Heights to Twilight

New film series Goth(ic) explores the evolution of Goth culture through movies, from black-and-white horror fests to 20th-century teenage rebellion.
The Craft (1996) redefined teenage rebellion. Credit: Columbia Pictures
The Craft (1996) redefined teenage rebellion. Credit: Columbia Pictures

You should be ashamed of the things you loved as a teen — unless you were a Goth.

You had style: black eyeliner, black lipstick, maybe even a dog collar. You had a killer playlist: While everyone your age was fist-pumping to Fall Out Boy, you were brooding alone to The Cure, Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy.

You believed in non-conformity, gender fluidity and, of course, your own inevitable death. And you already had better taste in movies than the jocks, the skaters and even the nerds.

But do movies like the incomparable Wuthering Heights from 1939, with an anguished Laurence Olivier, belong under the same Goth banner as Twilight, the vampire YA romance that made the world realize women had desires, too?

New York City’s indie movie haven Metrograph says yes.

Everything in excess

To the Romantic revivalists of the 18th and 19th centuries, being Gothic meant reveling in excess in all forms, including fashion, music and, above all, profound emotions — whether it was terror or desperate, codependent love.

So this December, as everyone else strains to project holiday cheer, wallow in your well-spent youth at Metrograph’s ambitious film series Goth(ic).

The series spans genres and eras, and rightly so. If you were a True Goth (versus a Hot Topic Goth), you were as obsessed with Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and Brendan Lee in The Crow as Victorian literature, spooky-sad Universal horror movies and rat-faced Max Schreck voguing it up in Nosferatu.

Goth(ic) makes exhuming the past feel exciting — not difficult when classics of the genre include Henry James’ The Innocents, 1961’s terrifying haunted house film that influenced all the ones that came after it, not to mention the heady mix of camp and despondency that is Bride of Frankenstein.  

Living the supernatural life

It’s never been easy to be a witch in the world, as in the gonzo 1922 Swedish sorta-documentary Haxan and in 1996’s The Craft, in which California girls rebel against their sunny, crunchy hometown by turning Wiccan.

Eleven are about vampires, five of those about Bram Stoker’s Dracula — including Francis Ford Coppola’s original with its ceaselessly delirious twist, so wonderfully ripe and florid it overcomes the one Keanu Reeves performance you can’t defend.

The series also understands that being Goth isn’t just about looks; it’s about the pain and anxiety bubbling underneath the gloomy surface.

Behold David Bowie as a bloodsucker facing his own sped-up demise in 1983’s The Hunger. Or Rose McGowan’s take-no-prisoners breakthrough in The Doom Generation. Or a never-better (and never-weirder) Sam Neill in 1981’s Possession, losing his already frazzled mind further once he discovers his departing wife (Isabelle Adjani) is getting it on with a tentacle monster.

Or is the real dare revisiting the first Twilight? Perhaps in such august company, the plight of Bella will seem less like YA goo and more like every Goth’s dream: to make goo-goo eyes with the undead.

Goth(ic) will run Dec. 1-31 at the Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St., Chinatown. Tickets are $15 to each screening.

 
 
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