Pop culture expert’s new book explores women in horror films
01 September 2017
A UC academic’s new book is set to make a unique contribution in the field of horror scholarship by exploring the “privileged place” that women hold in the horror film genre.
A pop culture expert’s new book is set to make a unique contribution in the field of horror scholarship by exploring the “privileged place” that women hold in the horror film genre.
A lecturer in English and Cultural Studies in the University of Canterbury’s College of Arts, author Dr Erin Harrington is an expert in ‘gynaehorror’, a term she coined and which is the focus of her new book, Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film(Routledge, 2017).
Covering topics ranging from “psychobiddies, grande dames and horrific harridans” to virgins and vagina dentata, the academic book makes a unique contribution to the study of women in horror film specifically, while providing new insights in the broader area of popular culture, gender and film philosophy.
Dr Harrington describes gynaehorror as horror films concerned with all aspects of female reproductive horror, from reproductive and sexual organs, to virginity, pregnancy, birth, motherhood and menopause.
“Think classic films like Rosemary's Baby or The Brood or even the Alien series, or more recent films like The Witch and The Babadook. Horror films are a great social barometer as they engage with and often directly invoke culturally specific and contemporaneous fears and anxieties,” she says.
“Engaging with these films, as with other forms of popular culture, can help us understand and interrogate taken-for-granted ideas about what it is women ‘should’ do and be.”
Published in the Routledge series Film Philosophy at the Margins, the book features an in-depth analysis of the portrayal of women in horror films from the 1960s until the present day.
“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,” Dr Harrington says.
Some of the themes explored in Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film 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.
Dr Harrington’s 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.
Dr Harrington’s research and academic work focuses on horror, embodiment, popular and visual culture, and sex and gender, and she also has a particular interest in theatre, criticism and dramaturgy. She has written for a range of literary and academic publications, art catalogues, and popular media outlets, and she regularly appears as a speaker and panellist.
Women, Monstrosity and Horror Filmby Erin Harrington, published by Routledge, 2017: 288pp, Hb: £105, eBook: £34.99
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