It is perhaps a stereotype, if not an axiom, to say that the South is an inherently gothic region whose dark cultural fabric is woven by haunting, traumatic memory and lingering violence. Moreover, it seems as though the Southern Gothic is alive and well today. The South has long been depicted as the nation's other, an aberrant space within America's borders, and the Civil War's division between North and South retains much of its cultural force, if not necessarily geographical certainty. This essay posits that the Southern Gothic, in various manifestations, still defines much of the region's cultural output. While the present essay takes cinematic and televisual examples from the twenty-first century – Trash Humpers (2009), True Blood (2008–14), and Black Snake Moan (2006) – as evidence of this gothic focus, I will chart a brief history of the Southern Gothic in order to connect contemporary culture to canonical literature and theory.
In his wide-ranging and personal rumination on the horror genre, Danse Macabre (1981), Stephen King notes a particular Southern branch of this fiction. He takes the minor novel The Beguiled (1966), by Thomas Cullinan, as an example, the gothic story of a Union soldier ‘who loses his legs and then his life to the deadly angels of mercy who dwell in a ruined girls’ school that has been left behind in Sherman's march to the sea’ (King 2000: 310). King immediately uses the figure of the land, longstanding in the South, to describe Cullinan's work. ‘One is tempted’, King writes, ‘to believe that outside of the South, such an idea wouldn't raise much more than ragweed. But in this soil, it grows a vine of potent, crazed beauty’ (King 2000: 310). King pushes the metaphor of rootedness further, suggesting that the most canonical (and often gothic) of Southern writers, William Faulkner, ‘did more than drop a few seeds’ in this soil: ‘he planted the whole damn garden’ (310). Discussing Faulkner's Sanctuary (1931), King states: ‘there is something frighteningly lush and fertile in the Southern imagination, and this seems particularly so when it turns into the gothic channel’ (311). Rich in imagination, Southern soil is thus also inherently gothic.