Gothic by Roger Luckhurst – Review

Gothic by Roger Luckhurst – book Review logo

By @Roger Crow

If you’re a movie fan, it’s a gateway to so many other art forms. For example, my obsession with Blade Runner fuelled an interest in architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1980s, not to mention countless other aspects of that movie.

A thread that connects so many genres and movies together, including Blade Runner, is exhaustively analysed and dissected by Roger Luckhurst in this epic volume.

The influence of gothic themes in films such as David Lynch’s Dune and Event Horizon means film makers are constantly borrowing from the past to influence their future worlds. And throughout genre movies and games, there are recurring themes, such as the labyrinth, which rears its head in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is at the heart of the third act, in which (spoiler alert) the young hero traps his bullish, psychotic dad in a maze, only escaping by retracing his steps.

The maze keeps cropping up in classic films like Alien, Aliens, Labyrinth and Inception, whether by accident or design, proof that film makers are either following centuries-old plot devices on purpose, or it’s so deep rooted in myths that they just can’t help themselves.

Gothic by Roger Luckhurst – book Review coverAnd as this lavishly illustrated volume reminds us, the games industry has revelled in the maze, from Pac Man to Doom.

Luckhurst’s study of all things gothic, including the maze, is an eye-opener in so many ways.

“Primal fears”

He studies every element of the style of architecture, from its earliest days to its evolution. And just when there’s a danger of it becoming too dry and academic, the volume will juxtapose an image of York Minster with one of Lynch’s Dune. Which for this fan of eighties cinema and a relatively local architectural masterpiece is fuel enough to keep me going.

The role of the forest in literature and movies is also examined. Any film-maker on a budget can really tap into primal fears by filming in their local woods for a week or more. Deprive your cast of sleep, disorient them, and you have The Blair Witch Project. Tap into deep-rooted fears in another way and you have The Evil Dead.

Gothic, the book, tells us in detail the origins of tropes we take for granted in literature, movies and TV. Yes, there are times it’s a little arid. I like my academic books to be more witty, but it’s well worth sticking with for the vast array of treasures buried within its pages.

The films of Dario Argento, Hideo Nakata and Park Chan-wook, as well as new horror classics such as Jordan Peele’s phenomenal Get Out, Us (a favourite of the past few years) and meta comedy horror The Cabin in the Woods are all assessed.

This is just the tip of a fascinating iceberg. For anyone trying to deconstruct why some of today’s biggest blockbusters work, then Gothic is a compelling read. And unlike some reference books, at least it comes with an index, so you can dip into your favourite gothic author, film, director or obviously just read it cover to cover in order.

After absorbing this impressive tome, you’ll never look at your local church, forest or favourite horror movie in the same way again.

Gothic: An Illustrated History by Roger Luckhurst is published by Thames & Hudson, pre-order from


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