Missing the haunting atmosphere and powerful storytelling of “Bly Manor”? These ten gothic horror masterpieces will help fill the void.
As the dead of winter starts to take hold, the nights are becoming darker and the wind is beginning to howl. Untold creatures stir in the shadows as the air reaches temperatures low enough to nip at our skin. It is a time for spectres to creep into the imagination. Back in October of 2020, Netflix released Mike Flanagan’s eagerly anticipated ghostly drama, The Haunting of Bly Manor. It seems like an eternity between then and today, but the series still lingers deep in my mind. The themes of trauma, self-discovery, and how we are all haunted by the past are just as clear to me now as they were back in October.
Given the dreary winter presented before us right now, I thought it would be appropriate to explore other titles that would make for great companion pieces to Bly Manor. If you are anything like me, Flanagan’s series has created an itch that you are eager to scratch.
Turn out the lights, wrap up in your favorite blanket, and join me as I list off my top ten Gothic horror films to watch after finishing The Haunting of Bly Manor.
10. Oculus (2013)
What better way to start things off than with another Mike Flanagan title? With 2013’s Oculus, Flanagan was just starting to cut his teeth with larger budget haunts, and he still managed to deliver a unique and terrifying tale.
Told through a series of flashbacks and intertwining timelines, the film revolves around Tim Russell’s (Brenton Thwaites) struggle to get a grasp on the reality of a horrible tragedy that befell his family when he was a young boy. We follow him as he is discharged from a mental institution after having rehabilitated from the delusion that the death of his parents was due to an evil mirror the family owned. As soon as he is out, Tim reconnects with his estranged sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), who informs him that she has the mirror and is ready to “kill” it.
Were his delusions reality? Is Kaylie merely spiraling out of control and not wanting to accept the truth behind their parents’ deaths? The film explores both siblings’ traumas and the unreliable nature of memory while providing some genius mind-melting scares along the way.
It might not be the most quintessential Gothic tale on this list, but we can already see many of the themes present in Bly Manor being explored here. As such, it makes for great follow-up viewing after completing the series.
WHERE TO WATCH: Watch for free on Starz and Kanopy. Available for rent at Prime Video & Fandango NOW for $2.99 and Google Play/iTunes/YouTube/Microsoft Store for $3.99.
9. Black Sunday (1960)
Gothic horror comes in many shapes and sizes. There are plenty of elements to love, which makes the genre quite vast. Misty marshes, doomed romance, sprawling cemeteries, monumental mansions, ghostly apparitions, and untold secrets are but a few elements we have come to expect from Gothic tales.
Mario Bava’s seminal classic, Black Sunday (1960) has all of these elements, and more.
Revolving around a curse placed upon a European village by a vengeful witch (Barbara Steele) upon her death, Black Sunday weaves a tale of romance and destiny. Due to the meddling of a couple of outsiders in the vaults deep below the village, the witch is awakened after 200 years. Although she must regain her strength, she hatches a dastardly scheme to trade bodies with a beautiful young maiden who has a striking resemblance to the evil disciple of Satan.
If you’re looking for the bombast and darkness present throughout The Haunting of Bly Manor, this film is a must!
WHERE TO WATCH: Watch for free on Shudder. Available for rent at Prime Video for $2.99.
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
You can’t talk about great Gothic horror without including a brooding vampire tale. When we think about Gothic vampires, the name “Dracula” usually comes to mind. There are so many film adaptations of Bram Stoker’s wicked romance novel it gave me a bit of a luxury issue. I am personally more a fan of a terrifying, animalistic vampire. So, my tastes drift toward F. W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, Nosferatu. However, I feel that Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of Murnau’s film suits this list the best.
Herzog takes the creeping, monstrous look used to create Count Orlock (Max Schreck) from Murnau’s original and infuses it with the somber contemplation of Stoker’s original descriptions of Dracula.
In Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, Dracula (Klaus Kinski) is just as bestial as he is heartfelt. Herzog takes the classic tale and adds his usual poignant observations about life and death to the formula. Although it can take its time presenting its narrative, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a beautiful, gritty look into obsession, hunger, and longing.
For fans of Coppola’s emotional core and Murnau’s terrifying imagery, this is a great film to check out.
WHERE TO WATCH: Watch for free on Peacock, Amazon Prime, and the Criterion Channel. Available for rent on Apple TV for $3.99.
7. The Skeleton Key (2005)
Having grown up in Mississippi, I am likely biased, but one of my favorite subsets of Gothic horror is Southern Gothic. Replace cold, howling winds for still, sweltering air and misty marshes for humid swamps, and you have the major differences between Gothic proper and Southern Gothic.
One of the strongest Southern Gothic horror films to be released in the twenty-first century is The Skeleton Key (2005).
The film trades an English mansion for an antebellum Louisiana plantation home wherein a live-in hospice nurse, Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), unravels a dark mystery about the history of the place. She notices that the key she was provided can open all doors in the house except for one. What starts as simple curiosity becomes a haunting descent into ghosts, murder, and hoodoo.
The film is not without its problems—the questionable and sensationalist attitude toward hoodoo and voodoo being amongst them—but it is highly entertaining and a great companion to the frights found in Bly Manor.
WHERE TO WATCH: Available to rent at FandangoNOW, iTunes, Prime Video, and VUDU for $3.99.
6. Burnt Offerings (1976)
I wanted to make sure that this list provided a wide variety of films that explore the Gothic horror genre with all kinds of approaches. However, I am aware that if you came to this list after watching The Haunting of Bly Manor, you are very likely to be looking for creaky manors and, perhaps most importantly, ghosts.
The next few entries will certainly sate your craving for forlorn spectres. The first classic ghost story comes in the form of Dan Curtis’s Burnt Offerings (1976).
Starring horror legends Oliver Reed and Karen Black as a couple looking to earn a little cash by house sitting an old manor for their summer vacation, Burnt Offerings offers up quite a few of the chilling frights Gothic horror fans have come to love. Strange noises in the house, sinister nightmares, bizarre family behavior, and a mysterious elderly matriarch living in the top floor bedroom are just a handful of the unnerving events that lead to a memorable finale.
Add to all of this a tour-de-force performance by the incomparable Betty Davis, and you have one of the best supernatural Gothic horror films of the twentieth century!
WHERE TO WATCH: Available to rent at Prime Video for $3.99
5. The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Gothic horror stories tend to take us back to a bygone era. Often the characters in said stories tell their own tales of tragedies of the past. I felt it befitting of this list to do the same. Let us go back one hundred years to endemic ravaged Sweden. Cinema was just starting to get its footing as an industry, but classics were already being produced. One of the sleeper hits in 1921 was a gentle exploration of remorse and the human condition by the name of The Phantom Carriage.
Victor Sjöström directed and starred as the film’s main character, David Holm. Sjöström shows off his immense talents both in front of and behind the camera in this tale of a drunkard who is confronted with the effects of his behavior upon being visited by Death on New Year’s Eve.
Famous for the ghostly effect created by the use of double exposure and other special effects, The Phantom Carriage is a spectacle on many levels. Not only is it a visual delight, it is also packed to the brim with the same melancholic emotion and contemplation present in all of Mike Flanagan’s strongest works. Most interesting to me is how the film’s narrative, based on the novel Thy Soul Shall Bear by Nobel prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf, presents the viewer with a protagonist that is the embodiment of all that is wrong in society. He shows contempt and disdain with everyone he interacts with. He’s a drunkard, a self-imposed vagabond, and, most relatable today, he actively spreads a disease that is wreaking havoc throughout Sweden at the time.
Poignant, moody, and beautifully crafted, The Phantom Carriage is a film every film or horror lover needs to see!
WHERE TO WATCH: Watch for free on the Criterion Channel.
4. The Others (2001)
One of my favorite themes of The Haunting of Bly Manor is the examination of the self. Who are we? Are we merely our legacies? What do we truly leave behind when we die? A film that tackles similar themes with much the same tone is 2001’s The Others.
Written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar, The Others begins just after Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) awakes from a nightmare. Although we are not shown the nightmare, it clearly has a profound effect on her. The film follows Grace as she cares for her two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) in 1945 England. The children have an ailment that causes them to be highly photosensitive, meaning they must be kept in the shadows at all times. When Grace brings in a team of caretakers to assist in daily life at the family estate strange things start to happen.
Anne begins talking to unseen forces, Grace sees what appear to be apparitions, and their whole concept of existence is shaken to its core.
There are many overlapping elements between The Others and The Haunting of Bly Manor that are bound to sate many of your cravings upon completing the series. The film is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. So, there’s no better moment than the present to give it a revisit or a first viewing.
WHERE TO WATCH: Available to rent at FandangoNOW, iTunes, Prime Video, and VUDU for $3.99.
3. Crimson Peak (2015)
When I first started making this list, Guillermo del Toro’s gaudy Gothic romance instantly topped my list. It nearly stayed there, too. However, after some digging, I found some lesser explored gems that were just as befitting of the top spot. So, although Crimson Peak (2015) does not sit at the top of this list, I feel that all three of these titles share the position to some degree.
When I think, “Gothic horror”, my mind immediately conjures up images from Del Toro’s masterclass foray into the genre. The extravagant dresses, the dilapidated mansion on an otherworldly plot of land, the unspoken sexual tension, and, of course, the wraith-like ghosts that creak and crawl through the mansion at night are a “greatest hits” of Gothic fiction given full freedom by Del Toro to meet their highest heights.
Everything about this film is gorgeous. The visuals are a feast for the eyes, while the sounds and score rattle your emotional core. Where Bly Manor relies on subtlety, Crimson Peak stabs for the jugular. Still, the mystery at the heart of Crimson Peak keeps everything evenly paced and tethers you to the bombast with little discomfort. This is the closest Del Toro has come in an English-language piece to capturing the same magic and mayhem he established in his earlier Spanish-language films.
If you’re looking for Gothic horror through a Mexican fairy-tale lens, Crimson Peak is the perfect film for you.
2. The Uninvited (1944)
The setup to Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944) is quite simple. Brother and sister duo, Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) stumble upon the abandoned Windward House while vacationing in a coastal town. Enamored by its halls and charming interior design, they track down the owner and make an offer to buy the lavish house. The owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) seems strangely eager to let go of the property at their asking price, whereas his young granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) is distraught over the purchase. Thrilled, but somewhat bewildered, the Fitzgeralds rush to tour their new home. All is well…until they reach the upstairs studio.
There’s a cold, unnerving feeling in that room. All who go there are swept up in dark emotions. This on its own would be enough to cause concern for any new homeowner. So, imagine the terror felt by the Fitzgeralds when they begin to hear a woman crying in their halls at night.
The Uninvited is a delightful mix of Gothic hauntings and 1940’s mainstream cheese.
Ray Milland hams it up as the prototypical “tough guy” who does everything in his power to hide how disturbing he actually finds everything to be. Meanwhile, Allen and his team fuse the quips and film noir-inspired performances with classic Gothic narrations and pace that make the film feel like it is a novel come to life. Some elements show their age, but the hauntings are handled so deftly that they sent shivers down my spine.
If you are searching for a film that conjures up the same tension and intrigue as the muddy footprints tracked throughout Bly, The Uninvited will not disappoint.
WHERE TO WATCH: Watch for free on the Criterion Channel.
Still, there is one other film that I think encapsulates the majority of the elements found in “The Haunting of Bly Manor”. Ghosts, a large estate in the middle of nowhere, an outsider there for work, and unexplained deaths linked to traumas of the past all culminating into a perfect union….
1. The Woman in Black (1989)
There are many films that could have topped this list, but only The Woman in Black (1989) checks just about every box on the Bly Manor checklist.
I considered recommending the 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel, but, although the Daniel Radcliffe star picture packs a punch, it lacks the Gothic trappings of both the novel and the stage adaptation. Recently, the 1989 ITV adaptation directed by Herbert Wise was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. I had heard many accounts of just how harrowing of a film it was, but could never really understand what made it so special based on the stills and trailers I had seen. With it finally readily available on home video, I took a gander and was swept away by what it had to offer.
This version of Hill’s story hits all of the benchmarks one might be looking for in a good Gothic horror film. It is also the closest a film adaptation has come to capturing the whimsy and tension of the stage play.
Set in 1925, a solicitor by the name of Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) is tasked by his employer to attend the funeral of their client, Alice Drablow. While in the area, Arthur must also see to the deeds for Drablow’s estate and large house out in the marshes, as she was the last surviving owner. Upon his arrival in the small town of Crythin Gifford, Kidd is immediately confronted with the tension in the air. The locals seem to be hiding something, and are wary of outsiders. More so, the very mention of the Drablows causes stammering and sideways glances.
Things take a much more terrifying turn as Kidd starts to see a woman dressed in black mourning attire at random locations throughout town. Once inside the Drablow estate, Kidd decides to stay the night to mill through the mass amounts of paperwork he finds amongst their belongings. That is when he starts to hear the screaming every hour, and he begins to see the Woman in Black coming closer to him with every new sighting.
Who is this woman? Is she the one he hears screaming? What secrets are the locals hiding?THE WOMAN IN BLACK, like THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR, takes its time to set up its premise and explore the human condition before delivering some of the most effective scares of its time. Click To Tweet
The film does feel a bit dated at times, and it is clear that this was made for television. Yet, the tone of the film is quietly dreadful. There is a tension as if something is about to burst at any moment. The more questions that are raised, the more horrible possibilities there are to uncover. The film also uses nostalgic imagery, much like Flanagan’s series, to add just enough modernity to the story so that it feels as if it could still happen to this day.
The Woman in Black is a beautiful, tragic, and terrifying film that is bound to linger with you long after you have finished it.