Could it be that our Ten Things feature has returned, for real? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves (I’m a bit superstitious like that and don’t like to make those kinds of declarations, BUT…)

I am extraordinarily pleased that this month we are hearing from my long-time internet friend, Jack Guignol, whose dark, gothic tastes in literature, music, and film are absolutely impeccable, and whenever I peek over at the atmosphere and ambiance of the stories/supplements he shares on his blog, it always makes me wish I were way more into D&D than I actually am. For reference, I am zero percent into D&D–it makes me very anxious!–but his blog posts make me YEARN!

Jack is also the co-host, along with Tenebrous Kate, one of my other favorite internet people, of BAD BOOKS FOR BAD PEOPLE–a podcast where two ridiculously smart people talk about the weirdest, kinkiest, most outrageous books they can unearth. I can count the podcasts I am interested in on three fingers, and these guys consistently invite us into insightful and entertaining discussions on truly offbeat literature. They are the ultimate excavators of the darkest corners of the bookshelf and my go-to for bizarre literary deep dives.

When Jack asked me last month if we might be interested in a Ten Things focused on …well, whatever he wanted to write about… I said HELL YEAH. And now, today, we have ten glorious recommendations from the realm of Euro-Gothic cinema, where classic Gothic themes like vampires, haunted castles, and dark family secrets intertwine with distinct national filmmaking styles and historical anxieties, creating a truly unique and unsettling cinematic experience.

I found some beloved favorites listed below and some thrilling titles I’ve never even heard of, so I think you’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. Thank you kindly, Jack!


Jack Guignol, Morbid Scholar

Jack is a scholar of all things morbid and literary. He is a cohost of the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, the creator of the PLANET MOTHERFUCKER roleplaying game (better have your “show me adult content” filter checked for that one, it’s outrageous), and has a chapter in the forthcoming book Something Wicked: Witchcraft in Movies, Television, and Popular Culture from Bloomsbury Academic.

Black Sunday (1960): Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s Viy, Black Sunday (also known as La maschera del demonio or The Mask of the Demon) was Mario Bava’s directorial debut–and what a debut it is. Barbara Steele, the stunning Queen of the Euro Gothics, does double duty starring as both Asa Vajda, a condemned witch, and Katia Vajda, a haunted and beautiful young woman in danger of having her youth and vitality drained when Asa returns as the undead. Black Sunday is a gorgeous film; from the famous opening scene in which a mask is nailed over Asa’s face before execution to the big reveal of the final reel, you could press pause at any point and come away with a stunning still image that captures the macabre beauty of the genre.

The Church (1989): The literary Gothic tradition is rife with convoluted storytelling combined with a heady brew of anti-Catholic anxieties, so why should its cinematic counterpart be any different? Originally intended as a sequel to Lamberto Bava’s Demons series, director Michele Soavi insisted that The Church be a separate entity with its own filmic identity. There’s a lot in the mix in this movie, but it’s all classic Gothicisms: a gloomy cathedral whose catacombs harbor a dark secret from the medieval past, something-something about Teutonic Knights, and a priest who just wants to watch the world burn.

Dark Waters (1994): Straddling the line between Gothic horror and folk horror, Dark Waters is a dream-like film that should appeal to viewers who have room in their hearts for both H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and Mattew Lewis’s The Monk. Elizabeth (played by Louise Salter) arrives at a convent on an isolated island during a tempest; she is assigned Sarah (Venera Simmons), a young novice, to be her guide. The two women delve into the forbidden mysteries of the convent’s library, the secrets in the convent’s catacombs, and even Elizabeth’s own tainted familial history.

Eyes Without a Face (1960): Who needs “elevated horror” when we have Georges Fanju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face? Dr. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) will do anything to restore the beauty of his daughter Christiane (Édith Scob), who was disfigured in a car accident. And by “do anything,” I mean abducting and murdering young women so he can attempt to graft their faces onto Christiane’s damaged visage. The masked Christiane is a truly tragic figure; even with her face hidden behind a stoic expression, Édith Scob manages to convey an overwhelming sense of sadness that spills over into madness. Despite being such a dark film, it’s also one of the most beautifully shot on this list.

The Gorgon (1964): You could put just about any Hammer Horror joint with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on this list, but I’m including The Gorgon here for one simple reason: instead of the usual Gothic monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and mummies, this movie has a snake-haired lady who turns people to stone as its central figure of terror. There’s a fun wrinkle with the monster here too–an otherwise normal-looking woman becomes a gorgon on nights of the full moon! You will have no trouble figuring out who the gorgon is (there just aren’t that many women in the movie), but you’re sure to enjoy the schlocky thrills of a Hammer movie made from a story submitted to the company by one of its fans.

Lady Frankenstein (1971): Lady Frankenstein is a film of star-studded madness that features the considerable talents of Rosalba Neri, Joseph Cotten, and Mickey Margitay. Tania Frankenstein (played by Rosalba Neri) arrives home from medical school, but she’s already well aware of what her father’s experiments are really about. No shrinking violet, she wants in on the transgressive mad science action! Of course, like most Frankenstein flicks, this one features a monster running amok–though this one is doing his best “Jason will kill you if you are nude romping in the woods” gimmick. That would be enough for most movies of this ilk, but Lady Frankenstein doesn’t know how to say “no” to excess: add in brain transplants, seductions and murders, and the obligatory peasants with torches and pitchforks storming the castle.

The Long Hair of Death (1964): The Long Hair of Death, which also stars Barbara Steele in dual roles, would make an excellent pairing with Black Sunday for a Euro-Gothic double feature. Steele plays Helen Rochefort, a woman whose mother was burned at the stake as a witch for the “sin” of being desired by a powerful man. Helen, too is killed for confronting male power and its base lasciviousness. But the story doesn’t end there! On a stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mary, who is uncannily identical to Helen, appears at the castle to pursue revenge against patriarchal hypocrisy in an extremely morbid and overheated Gothic way.

Mill of the Stone Women (1960): Hans (played by Pierre Brice) arrives at an obscure island to research a legendary carousel of female statues created by Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme). During his visit to the mill, Hans falls in obsessional love with Wahl’s supposedly ill daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel). What follows in the film is an absolutely insane tangle of psychological fixations, corrosive love, and murderous desire. And the titular carousel of statues? Absolutely unhinged when they appear on screen. I can practically guarantee that you will be haunted by the film’s final images.

The Vampire Lovers (1970): Did you really think we’d get through this list without running into a vampire movie? Specifically, a lesbian vampire movie? The Vampire Lovers is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Carmilla with all the sapphic dials and opportunities to exercise the “male gaze” turned up to eleven; with Ingrid Pitt as the vampiress Carmilla Karnstein and Madeline Smith as her desired prey, The Vampire Lovers is the epitome of “Hammer Glamour.”

The Whip and the Body (1963): We started this list with Mario Bava, and by God, we are going to end it with Mario Bava too. Whereas Black Sunday is an undeniable atmospheric classic, The Whip and the Body is for the sickos only; if you’ve made it through the other films on the list, you can have The Whip and the Body as a little sadomasochistic treat. It really does what it says on the tin–it features both whips and bodies. Make no mistake, this is a vile little movie, but it has got Gothic nonsense like familial strife, transgressive sexual desire, and dubious inheritance claims galore.

Susan says

Some new to me titles here and a reminder to revisit some old favorites! Thanks!

S. Elizabeth says

Exactly! I am SO intrigued by The Mill of the Stone Women!

idolon says

There's nothing I haven't seen on this list but it's all good stuff. Barbara Steele and Ingrid Pitt are goddesses and I would watch either of them in anything. Dark Waters is a film I randomly came across and watched without knowing anything about it, and it proved to be a nifty little surprise. I don't know why it's not more well-known, but I guess 'spaghetti' horror still gets short shrift even among fans of the off-beat. The Whip and the Body is one of my favorite movies; it is beautifully atmospheric and I would never call it vile, but I guess that's what makes me a sicko, ha ha!

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