Stranger Than Fiction: 4 Real-Life Gothic Tales You Won’t Believe Are True

Many of Hammer’s most celebrated works take place in a strange, lurid world of gothic shadows and macabre monsters. It is a world which may thrill and frighten audiences, but one that they can never hope to truly inhabit.

The four individuals presented here represent the point at which our humdrum workaday world and Hammer’s world of romantic, grotesque horrors intersect. These are four people who, either through choice, illness or misfortune suddenly found themselves playing the leading role in a tale to terrify. Each would be perfectly at home in Hammer’s film canon, sandwiched between ghouls, vampires and all the other nasties we tell ourselves couldn’t possibly happen in real life…

1. Carl Von Cosel: The Love That Wouldn’t Die

Much of Edgar Allen Poe’s work deals with themes of grief and the inability to let go of loved ones who have passed on. These are themes that run particularly deep within gothic fiction and the horror genre in general. Carl Von Cosel, born Karl Tanzler, exemplifies the tragic gothic hero, unable to reconcile himself to a world without his beloved. However, his obsession went beyond the romantic, and entered the arena of the macabre.

2. Maria Vittorio del Pozzo: The Cursed Wedding

The spectre at the feast that casts a grim shadow over a happy occasion, dooming newlyweds to a short, unhappy marriage, has long been recognisable trope. This plot device must have appeared very real to Prince Amadeo I and Maria Vittorio dal Pozzo, as their union was, to put it mildly, far from blessed. On May 30 1860, the couple were to discover that worse things can happen on your wedding day than simply forgetting the rings.

3. John Hunter: The Mad Scientist

18th century surgeon John Hunter is no stranger to the horror genre, serving as inspiration for many genre staples, including Victor Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll. He has even been argued to have been inspiration, at least in part, for the novel Moby Dick, after performing an autopsy on a whale attended by Herman Melville. However, his wealth of peculiar habits and obsessions mean that he still has a lot of mileage left in him as a sinister character in a gothic film.

He was obsessed with deformity and with collecting the skeletons of deformed people. He would stalk circus and carnival performers with interesting abnormalities until they died and then buy their bodies, melt the skin off their bones and study their skeletons. An Irish giant named Charles Byrne was so scared of the devious doctor that he paid for his coffin to be lined with lead and dumped in the sea. Unfortunately for Byrne, a few well-placed bribes mean that he is now a prized exhibit in Hunter’s collection.

4. Sarah Winchester: The Most Haunted House

The traditional ghost story has always thrived on the “less is more” principle. It’s all about the creaking stair, the implied dread, the subtle menace. On the other hand, Hammer likes to push the envelope and think outside of the box – so what happens when that principle is turned on its head? If bigger is better, then we’ll need a giant house and a veritable army of ghosts. For that, we’ll need to head to 525 South Winchester Blvd, san José California, more commonly known as the Winchester Mystery House.

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