1st Edition

Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film Gynaehorror

By Erin Harrington Copyright 2018
    296 Pages
    by Routledge

    296 Pages
    by Routledge

    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.

    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


    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