Interview With the Vampire

Comprised of several strange almost-relationships glued together by sexual tension so thick you can practically wring out the Blu-Ray, Interview With the Vampire is more gothic eroticism than gothic romance, making it one of the more enticing choices on the list. Still remarkably full of tragic themes, the vampire Lestat, played by Tom Cruise in what I believe to be one of his best roles, blurs the line between murder and sex as he guides the more romantic good-natured Louis (Brad Pitt) through the trials and joys of being one of the most beautiful and deadly creatures to walk to the Earth.

The sexuality in this film knows no sexual orientation. Lestat had a taste for beauty. Whether that beauty came in the form of the many young, ample-bosomed prostitutes, the young, powdered fops of the aristocracy, or his precious Louis, watching him hunt is certainly a feast for the eyes. Louis, the vampire with the heart of gold, seems to draw deep affection from all other vampires. His ability to hang on the shreds of his humanity through feelings like regret and remorse attracted not only his creator, Lestat, but the mysterious Armand (Antonio Banderas), and even his young prodigy, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), who remained a child in looks alone.

The whole story leaves you as conflicted about the life of a vampire as Louis. On the one hand, Lestat is a perfect tour guide for an underworld of romantic locations, wealth, and charisma. A life where the world is at your fingertips and it need only cost you your soul. On the other hand, is an eternal life that is all lust worth giving up a mortal life that is filled with love? Luckily, that choice Lestat leaves to you.

Ex Machina

The large secluded house, the rich, eccentric, mad scientist, the eerily loyal assistant, the forbidden romance, the love of something not quite human…don’t be fooled by the crisp modern lines and futuristic elements. Ex Machina is a gothic romance in science fiction clothing. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a wide-eyed coding expert, excitedly accepts an invitation to the secret research facility of his mysterious boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When he arrives, he learns that he will be performing a Turing test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), a deceptively beautiful AI designed by Nathan himself.

Although there may be no bolts of lightning or reanimated corpses in sight (sort of), Nathan plays jump rope with the line between creative genius and deranged, perverse monster. Like any gothic tale, the beautiful and elegant surroundings hide sinister secrets. The longer Caleb stays at the house, the more attached he becomes to Ava and the more suspicious he becomes of Nathan. Ava and Caleb make plans to escape the facility and live happily ever after, but of course, this is not a list of perfect love stories, and things never quite go according to plan.

In a list of movies that deal heavily in the macabre, Ex Machina is perhaps the most disturbing. Whether it is because this Black Mirror world is more relatable than the Victorian castles, or simply because it is a story that makes you question everything and almost never lets you breathe, Ex Machina is gothic romance in the digital age.

Labyrinth

“Fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.” Is that not the stuff of nightmarish fantasy? The fact that it is said by David Bowie in incredibly tight pants doesn’t hurt either. So much of gothic romance is the metaphorical meeting of light and dark, be it a budding romance against a grim backdrop or the virtuous archetypical character being lured in by an impassioned creature of the darkness. Although it may lean more heavily towards a fantasy adventure, one of the more iconic moments of this Jim Henson classic is the ballroom sequence, in which the Goblin King’s (David Bowie) once-subtle infatuation with Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is brought to light in such exquisite and mesmerizing fashion that I still wonder how anyone could turn him down.

Like Interview With the Vampire, The Goblin King has a seductive nature to him that is almost too alluring to find fiendish. He is the kind of villain that makes you want to throw caution to the wind. Even when watching the Labyrinth as a child, there was something so riveting about him that when I reenacted the movie with my Barbie dolls, Sarah always chose to stay with him. However, this is a gothic romance in its final act. Instead of watching our heroine be ensnared and manipulated by her dark admirer, the story begins when the spell is broken. When the dark king she believed to only exist in her stories makes one of her darkest desires a reality, she is awakened to the evil nature of her actions and spends the rest of her journey fighting those desires in order to right her wrongs and remove herself from the clutches of this evil figure. Like so many of the older gothic romances, be it Dracula or the Phantom, Sarah must realize through the haze of temptation that he has no real power over her.

Quills

Within the confines of a Napoleonic era madhouse in France, a radiant young laundress named Madeline (Kate Winslet) finds herself caught between her love with the handsome and kind-hearted abbot Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) and the perverse fetishist The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush). Against overcast skies and intimidating walls of stone and bars, the asylum houses all manner of sins and almost too many monsters to count. This fictional story about the condemnation of one of  the very real fathers of BDSM proves there are more monsters in mankind than there are in storybooks.

The virginal Madeline is the only ray of light in this tormented setting. In a time period when women had very little freedom of exploration and cultural conservatism turned a blind eye to sexual assault, Madeline tries to navigate her relationship with the Marquis. Where his words let her escape into a forbidden fantasy, his actions sometimes frighten and harm her, and when the torture-happy Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), the human personification of all that is wrong with censorship and using God as a disguise, comes to the asylum, the Marquis de Sade goes from manageable to outright mad.

While this film is not for the faint of heart, it is a good as it is horrific, and the purity of the interactions between the innocent laundress and the trusting Abbot puts hope into this house of depravity. The simplicity of their affection is so loud when contrasted with the ravings of the Marquis de Sade and the ruthlessness of the doctor.

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