Let me grab your soul away – Kate Bush and gothic films

We delve through Kate Bush’s back catalogue and discover how the darker side of cinema influenced some of her greatest hits.

6 January 2014

By Alex Davidson

The Line, The Cross, and the Curve (1993)

Despite a well-publicised reluctance to perform in front of an audience (with her 2014 Before the Dawn concerts a glorious exception), Kate Bush has embraced film, and many of her music videos are works of art in themselves. ‘Cloudbusting’ may be the most celebrated, an exhilarating and moving short conceived with Terry Gilliam and starring Donald Sutherland, but the video for ‘Experiment IV’ – a darkly comic tale of government conspiracy starring Dawn French, Hugh Laurie, and Bush as a horrific banshee – has to be seen to be believed.

Movies – specifically gothic horror movies – have had an acknowledged influence on Bush’s back catalogue. ‘Hammer Horror’, named after the British production company, tells of a death and subsequent haunting on the film set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. One of her most unnerving tracks, ‘Waking the Witch’ from Hounds of Love, imagines the drowning of a woman accused of sorcery and seems indebted to Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968). Sutherland was cast in the ‘Cloudbusting’ video following his appearance in Don’t Look Now (1973), and she borrowed the choral section of ‘Hello Earth’ – the Georgian folk song ‘Tsin Tskaro’ – from Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu (1979).

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We’re dusting off our vinyls to revisit some of the gothic highlights from Bush’s remarkable career, and explore the films that helped inspire them.

The Red Shoes (1948) – inspired ‘The Red Shoes’, available on The Red Shoes (1993)

“From the minute I put them on, I knew I had done something wrong.”

The Red Shoes (1948)
Restoration by UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the BFI/The Film Foundation/ITV Global Entertainment/Park Circus

The film

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s visually ravishing Technicolor masterpiece, a young ballet dancer is torn between the demands of love and art.

The song

Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes didn’t just inspire a Kate Bush song (the highlight of the eponymous album). It heavily influenced her featurette The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993), directed by Bush and featuring Miranda Richardson as a monobrowed ballerina who ensnares poor Kate into putting on her red shoes, dooming her to dance forever, and Lindsay Kemp in the Robert Helpmann role of the ambiguous cobbler. Bush, rather unfairly, later dismissed it as a “load of old bollocks”.

Night of the Demon (1957) – inspired ‘Hounds of Love’ from Hounds of Love (1985)

“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”

Night of the Demon (1957)

The film

A sceptical American doctor comes to England to investigate a satanic cult who may be responsible for a murder – but could he be the next victim?

The song

“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” Although this classic line is shouted in fear when the demon is spotted approaching, Bush transforms the fearful cry into an excited exclamation of the daunting thrill of falling in love. The music video, directed by Bush herself, was inspired by another film – Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935).

The Innocents (1961) – inspired ‘The Infant Kiss’, available on Never for Ever (1980)

“Oh, how he frightens me, when they whisper privately.”

The Innocents (1961)

The film

Deborah Kerr stars as a governess who takes care of 2 children in a shadowy mansion, but slowly starts to believe they are possessed by spirits in this brilliant exercise in psychological horror, adapted from Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

The song

In one of Bush’s most provocative songs, she emphasises the suggested sexual hold the young boy has over the governess to create a confessional love song from a disturbed mind about paedophilic obsession (“all my barriers are going, it’s starting to show”). It references ‘O Willow Waly’, the traditional song sung chillingly over the opening credits of the film.

Wuthering Heights (1970) – inspired ‘Wuthering Heights’, available on The Kick Inside (1978)

“Let me have it, let me grab your soul away.”

Wuthering Heights (1970)

The film

In Robert Fuest’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel, Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall star as Heathcliff and Catherine, 2 of literature’s most (in)famous lovers, whose doomed romance continues into the afterlife.

The song

Written when she was just 18, Bush was inspired by the deranged passions of the last ten minutes of a movie adaptation rather than Brontë’s book (it’s unclear which version – most reports mention Fuest’s film, others a 1967 TV adaptation starring Ian McShane), and conjured up a one-of-a-kind ballad. Bush’s otherworldly performance of the song, and the strange, beautiful music video, evoke the crazed romance of the movie.

The Shining (1980) – inspired ‘Get Out of My House’, available on The Dreaming (1982)

“Woman let me in! Let me bring in the devil dreams!”

The Shining (1980)

The film

An aspiring author works as the winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel with his family, but murderous insanity begins to take hold.

The song

The final song on Bush’s initially misunderstood fourth album is as frightening and puzzling as the book and film that inspired it. Borrowing the themes of intruding evil (“I hear the lift descending, I hear it hit the landing”) and a terrified woman in peril, it’s one of her most brilliant and unsettling songs.

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