Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film : Gynaehorror book cover
1st Edition

Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film

ISBN 9780367208066
Published January 17, 2019 by Routledge
296 Pages

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Book Description

Women occupy a privileged place in horror film. Horror is a space of entertainment and excitement, of terror and dread, and one that relishes the complexities that arise when boundaries – of taste, of bodies, of reason – are blurred and dismantled. It is also a site of expression and exploration that leverages the narrative and aesthetic horrors of the reproductive, the maternal and the sexual to expose the underpinnings of the social, political and philosophical othering of women.

This book offers an in-depth analysis of women in horror films through an exploration of ‘gynaehorror’: films concerned with all aspects of female reproductive horror, from reproductive and sexual organs, to virginity, pregnancy, birth, motherhood and finally to menopause. Some of the themes explored include: the intersection of horror, monstrosity and sexual difference; the relationships between normative female (hetero)sexuality and the twin figures of the chaste virgin and the voracious vagina dentata; embodiment and subjectivity in horror films about pregnancy and abortion; reproductive technologies, monstrosity and ‘mad science’; the discursive construction and interrogation of monstrous motherhood; and the relationships between menopause, menstruation, hagsploitation and ‘abject barren’ bodies in horror.

The book not only offers a feminist interrogation of gynaehorror, but also a counter-reading of the gynaehorrific, that both accounts for and opens up new spaces of productive, radical and subversive monstrosity within a mode of representation and expression that has often been accused of being misogynistic. It therefore makes a unique contribution to the study of women in horror film specifically, while also providing new insights in the broader area of popular culture, gender and film philosophy.

Table of Contents

Introduction: mapping the gynaehorrific imaginary

Defining gynaehorror

Gynaehorror from virginity to menopause

Gynaehorror in context

Gynaehorror as convention and challenge

1. Roses and thorns: virgins, vagina dentata, and the monstrosity of female sexuality

Defining virginity

Virginity in horror film

The virgin’s other: vagina dentata

Imag(in)ing the vagina

Vagina dentata in horror

A different sort of Teeth: reframing vagina dentata

Heteronormative horrors

2. The lady vanishes: pregnancy, abortion and subjectivity

Framing pregnant subjectivity

Keeping house: female corporeality in horror

Home invasions

Vessels and environments

Foetal visibility and the dissolution of the female subject

Inside: competing subjects

Abortion and taboo

‘Pro-life’ and Pro-life

3. Not of woman born: mad science, reproductive technology and the reconfiguration of the  subject

Science, culture and masculinity

‘Mad science’ and men making life

Fearing science

Mad scientists and madwomen

Re-gendering mad science in Splice

Brave new worlds: cyborg futures and female subjectivity

4. The monstrous-maternal: negotiating discourses of motherhood

Psychoanalytic discourses of motherhood

The legacy of Mrs Bates: Norma, Thelma and Nola

Essential and ideal motherhood

Motherhood as instinct and imperative

The legal implications of transgressive motherhood

Millennial mothering and the horror of the single mother

States of Grace: competing discourses of motherhood

Monstrous motherhood

5. Living deaths, menstrual monsters and hagsploitation: horror and/of the abject barren body

The abject barren body

Menstrual horror

The horror of menopause

Ageing women in cinema

Psychobiddies, grande dames and horrific harridans

The ageing woman as (American) horror story

Afterword: monstrous miscarriages and uncanny births

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Erin Harrington is Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand.


“it’s a fascinating and feminist look at gynaehorror, and one that’s highly recommended”
Octavia Cade, Strange Horizons