Gothic Horror

There’s something about Gothic horror and the old tales of vampires, ghosts, demon’s and poltergeists that scares me a lot. I think it’s the unknown element as you find yourself wondering if these creatures exist and if they do, I don’t want them anywhere near me. Why do people write about them in the first place if they don’t exist?

Self portrait of Gothic horror photographer, Amanda Norman
Self portrait of Gothic horror photographer, Amanda Norman

There have been tales of superstitious belief for centuries such as vampires sucking the life out of the living and the only way to stop this curse was to exhume the body of the recent deceased, rip the heart out, stake the body, decapitate the head etc. 

Persons being possessed by demonic spirits that results in an exorcism. There are plenty more examples, but they all have something in common.

As humans, we cannot accept the unknown and we have to have answers otherwise situations can result in mass hysteria, which is frightening. Our brains will try to rationalise the situation. For example, mass hysteria of vampires was fuelled by a lack of knowledge about the spread of diseases and how the body decomposes.

Stories are a form of entertainment, but the difference with Gothic horror is that such stories of the unknown do provoke strong emotions such as fear, adrenaline and wonderment.

A very good ghost story will challenge our most basic emotions of fight or flight, but only if we feel connected on a personal level to the main characters, hence a sprinkling of romance or sexual attraction that cannot be resisted.  We are drawn to evil and we cannot resist, yet we know it’s not going to be a happy ending.

Gothic Horror and Romance

Dracula is very good at seducing his buxom beauties through the power of hypnotism and mind control. You will either find this power of seduction to be extremely attractive or you may find the idea of being commanded to do sexual favours that you would normally feel insecure about, to be an extreme turn on.

I absolutely love a good tale of vampirism WITHOUT the bloody sparkles! Story lines such as Dracula and Sheridan Le Fanu’s, Carmilla, challenge the reader’s mind about their own sexuality and their thoughts about it.

Gothic Horror and the Element of Truth

There has to be some element of truth to make a horror story believable.  It’s even better when a good old ghost story has a moral. Failure to heed its warning and you risk the very frightening and horrific consequence of something so scary coming back to haunt you. 

The banned video nasties of the late 1970’s and 1980’s were readily available, which is quite something considering we didn’t have the technological advancement of computers and the Internet to readily share files.

  • The Exorcist is based on a true story of an exorcism carried out in the 1940’s on a teenage boy who had recently lost his aunt. Prior to his aunt’s death, they both communicated with spirits using the Ouija board and the boy continued to use it to speak with his aunty following her death.  This terrifies me!
  • Amityville Horror is based on a true story about the eldest son hearing voices and as a result he shoots his parents and siblings.  The movie terrified me!
  • The Entity whereby a woman who had dabbled with a Ouija board in her early twenties, moved into a supposedly haunted home and she was battered and raped repeatedly by demons. If I remember rightly, at the end of the movie, it stated that she’s still under attack.  This terrifies me!
  • The Poltergeist movie, the original I might add as I hate remakes, was scary. There were so many rumours about actual poltergeist activity and real life, untimely deaths of the actors that made it very frightening and what about the real life skeletons that were used in the swimming pool scene?

Real Gothic Horror

Society influences writers and artists and they project their fears, experiences and emotional thoughts via their creative outlet. Take for example the facts that influenced Mary Shelley and her tale of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley and Frankenstein

  • 17th to 18th centuries, grave robbers dug up fresh corpses for the study of human anatomy causing pain and fear for the relatives of the deceased witnessing the destruction of the grave. Emotions would run high with the thought of a loved one’s body missing and being abused with no care, never knowing what came of the body and the thought of not being able to ‘rest in peace’. Families went to great lengths to protect the freshly buried with the erection of watch towers and installing mortsafes over the grave
  • 1780, Luigi Aloisio Galvani an Italian physician discovered that the muscles of dead frog’s legs twitched when struck by an electrical spark
  • 1816 whilst on holiday, Lord Byron challenged the Shelley’s and his personal physician John William Polidori to each write a ghost story of their own and the one who wrote the scariest tale, would be the winner. During their holiday, the group discussed the subject of giving life to dead matter using electricity

I apologise now, but I’m returning back to Gothic horror’s greatest creature of the night, the vampire.

Bram Stoker, Dracula and Vampires

Being a child growing up in the 1970’s and catching glimpses of Christopher Lee as Dracula, sinking his teeth into the necks of pretty girls with heaving bosom’s had me in awe at such a young age. Of course I didn’t understand the sexual concept of what I was watching, but something struck a chord deep within me and I couldn’t avert my gaze even though I was scared. Writing about this now is inspiring me to create a new vampire portrait, therefore I’m on the lookout for the perfect male and female models, but I need a twist.

One of the most frightening scenes I remember was a beautiful vampire, gliding mysteriously through a smoke filled Gothic graveyard with beautiful scenery. Her mesmerising appearance came to an abrupt end when her head was suddenly HACKED OFF and the horrifying scene was accompanied with the crashing and imposing sound of uncomfortable music that started my heartbeat racing.

Towards the end of the 1970’s, I was introduced to the terrifying Mr Barlow of Salem’s Lot and he awakened me to the reality that if vampires did exist, they were not the romantic, alluring creature to fantasise about. It all changed again with other films such as Grace Jones in Vamp and Bram Stoker’s Dracula that reawakened my intrigue about vampires and their seductive powers.

Me and my high school friend, Anthony were so hooked on the vampire films of Hammer Horror that we dared ourselves to go to a local graveyard one night in the fog. We wanted to find vampires, but we didn’t go.  We came up with some justification why we shouldn’t go without admitting that in reality, we were too scared.

There was many a time we would stay up late when our parents had gone to bed and we’d put on a scary film, then I would have to walk him half way home at like 3am. Empty trucks that had parked up at the bus stop on the main road would scare us in case they suddenly came to life and drove at us and then there was the dreaded phone box near Anthony’s house to contend with. What if something was in there waiting to pounce as we walked by? I would have to stay and watch as Anthony gingerly walked past, then I would have to face my own fears of getting back home.

If we avert our attention back to facts that probably influenced Shelley to write about a monster, what facts possibly influenced Bram Stoker in the Victorian era to create Dracula, the most well-known of all vampires?

  • Vlad the Impaler also known as Vlad Dracula. Dracula is Romanian for Devil. Vlad was a prince and ruler of Wallachia in the 15th century. He was known for his cruel atrocities and once created a forest of impaled enemies
  • Psychology of Sigmund Freud’s beliefs such as mind control and hypnotism. I always found this aspect of Dracula to be fascinating, the control he had over his victims and their devotion to such a monster is fascinating
  • Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. On the Origin of Species’ was published in 1859 causing degeneration in religious beliefs and had a massive impact on societies concept of life
  • Changes in society and technological advances were very much at the forefront when Stoker wrote Dracula. Women were starting to be more than just a loyal wife as seen with Mina using shorthand, a typewriter and being independent
  • Victorian’s had a real fear of immigration from Eastern Europe. They believed it led to increased levels of crime and the creation of ghetto’s
    John William Polidori’s, The Vampyre was written in 1819 and transformed the vampire of folklore into an aristocratic fiend who preyed among high society
  • The vampire of folklore and the fear it provoked and the fact that such beliefs are still in practise today. I saw a news article a few years ago about a Romanian village exhuming a body believing it to be a vampire

Gothic Horror versus Horror

I don’t watch much modern horror these days as I think that most new films are overloaded with too much CGI at the expense of a solid story line.

A lot of modern horror is based on giving the viewer lots of blood and gore with a storyline heavy in mental pain and anguish. Such films like The Saw and Wolf Creek sit outside the realm of Gothic Horror as they don’t have all of the elements required for a good Gothic horror story.

I really miss the Gothic horror films of long ago when the musical score, the acting, the script and genius of cinematography were key to making a great horror. Take for example the 1922 version of Nosferatu with Count Orlock’s shadow creeping up the staircase and the films of Universal Horror and Hammer Horror.

With the elements I listed above, a great story line, an element of the fear of the unknown and the element of truth with a sprinkling of romanticism, who needs CGI and special effects?

Gothic Horror Photography

So this finally brings me to my Gothic horror photography and hopefully you now have a good insight into my inspiration and genuine fears and what I hope to achieve with such images.

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