One holiday we can all celebrate without stepping out into the sunshine is World Goth Day — a magical (or rather, magickal) time when those of us who live in existential darkness can show solidarity with our fellow black-eyeliner-and-fishnets fans.
“Goth” by most pop-culture definitions is first and foremost a musical movement, driven by post-punk and New Wave artists whose output surged in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s — but it also defines a distinctive fashion style, a fondness for the macabre, a disdain for mainstream norms, and a particular aesthetic that reflects this attitude. Goth is still a thing, obviously, but the subculture reached its absolute peak in the 1990s.
Goth attitude permeates a variety of media, and that certainly includes movies — obviously more horror-leaning fare, but also a fair share of comedies, dramas, and documentaries. To mark this day of dark delights, we’ve selected five classic horror movies from the peak Goth period (except one important ‘80s exception) that you can watch while polishing your collection of vintage poison vials and authentic human skulls…
The Craft (1996)
“We are the weirdos, mister.” That immortal line, spoken by teen witch Nancy (Fairuza Balk, in a totally over-the-top performance) perfectly sums up this angst-ridden film about a high school coven of amateur witches who attain authentic magical powers after shy newcomer Sarah (Robin Tunney) is inducted into the group. The Craft is one of the keystones of the mid-‘90s “teen witch” phenomenon — that also included the Harry Potter books (yet to become movies) and hot TV series like Charmed and the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It’s worth noting the popularity of the rebooted Sabrina likely played a role in Blumhouse’s production of the Craft reboot — which will reportedly hold true to the original’s theme of teenage outsiders discovering their own “power.”
The Crow (1994)
There will always be a thread of sadness running through this film due to the accidental on-set death of star Brandon Lee, who was poised to break through to the mainstream — much like his legendary father Bruce Lee, who also died on the cusp of Hollywood fame. Taking that tragic tone into account, this big-screen adaptation of James O’Barr’s acclaimed comic series is lean and mean, bringing a Gothic mood together with heaps of gritty action as Eric Draven (Lee) returns from the grave, guided by the spirit bird of the title, to exact revenge on the thugs who murdered him and his fiancée. It’s a pretty standard revenge tale on its surface, but distinguished by a sleek, oily blackness and an unforgettable (and top-selling) soundtrack representing the peak of ’90s Gothic and industrial music.
The Hunger (1983)
Let’s be honest — if you haven’t seen Tony Scott’s legendary tale of a vampire-human love triangle, we’re confiscating your Goth card. We’d even go as far as to say The Hunger is the film which most influenced the Goth visual aesthetic. After all, this is the movie that introduced cinema audiences to Gothic Rock icons Bauhaus thanks to an unforgettable opening-titles sequence, which then ushers in David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as swinging vampires living in a ritzy New York apartment, feeding on NYC club kids. Based loosely on the novel by Whitney Strieber, the film discards most of the plot details to focus more on Deneuve’s pansexual vampire, who must take a new mate every few centuries. When her current beau (Bowie) begins rapidly aging, Deneuve weaves her spell over a young biologist (Susan Sarandon), leading to the film’s other indelible scene: the two actresses making out to the “Flower Duet” from the operetta Lakmé. It’s hard to believe Scott went on to make Top Gun — arguably the most un-Goth film ever made — just three years later.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
This is another title that practically spawned its own splinter sect of Goth culture, along with the classic Anne Rice novel on which it’s based. The first book in Rice’s Lestat saga gets the big-budget treatment here, with Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) behind the camera and two of Hollywood’s hottest male stars in front of it. Rice and her fans were initially furious at the casting of all-American boy Tom Cruise in the role of Lestat, but his tour-de-force performance as a centuries-old vampire with a passion for New Orleans (and a literal hunger for its people) won over the author, and her readers mostly fell in line. It doesn’t hurt that a young Brad Pitt plays Lestat’s hunky new convert Louis, and the not-quite-platonic relationship between the two leads still sets Goth hearts aflutter. It’s also celebrated for a breakout performance by a young Kirsten Dunst, whose character Claudia is one of the most evil children ever depicted on screen.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
It’s inevitable at least one Tim Burton film would make this list. In fact, it’s hard to narrow down the director’s works to just one exemplary Goth title, considering the bulk of his output — his two Batman entries, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, and on and on — Burton’s signature style has carved out a huge slice of Goth culture, as spooky kids everywhere wear black t-shirts adorned with images from his movies, and no Gothic yuletide would be complete without a Nightmare Before Christmas tree and a grinning Jack Skellington perched on top. But we selected Sleepy Hollow for one key reason: it’s the purest “horror” film in Burton’s catalog, casting aside the playful winks of his other films in favor of a decidedly darker sense of humor, and the of Burton’s films to cut loose with graphic, over-the-top violence. It’s also one of the high watermarks in a long and fruitful collaboration between Burton and his go-to star Johnny Depp, who supplies most of the comic moments in an otherwise pitch-black interpretation of Washington Irving’s classic ghost story.