All Thrills, No Frills: Feminine Horror

It’s time to get spoopy! My book feeds are full of people reading horror novels, scary movies are on every television, and here I am to talk about what I (and I think others) define as “feminine horror.”

When we think about horror, we think monsters, psychological thrillers, and body horror. I think lately, however, we’re starting to see more social horror a la “Black Mirror” and “Bluebeard’s Bride.”

One of these we see not infrequently throughout all the other styles? Things that mimic the fear of everyday life for those who identify more feminine.

Gaslighting

Taking its name from the film “Gas Light,” where characters make the gas lamps flicker to upset a woman character and then lie about it until she doubts her own sanity, gaslighting is all about making you doubt yourself. Horror has this all the time–the teen who “doesn’t think they should be doing this,” the woman who “knows she saw someone.” While this isn’t always a woman, the reason it’s “feminine” horror is that generally the concern stems from more traditionally feminine traits like intuition and is countered by what is considered more “masculine” presumptions of reasonableness. Freddy Krueger doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t make him unreal, or less a problem for the (majority women) he attacks.

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Gas Light, 1944

Again, this is not something only women experience, but it is something that I would say the majority of women have experienced multiple times. This makes it particularly scary for some because there’s always a fear that our own senses aren’t trustworthy. It’s the concern that fearing every man walking behind you is “rude” but trusting all of them makes you partially responsible if they are one of the people not to be trusted.

This also applies to “Stepford Wives” scenarios, where control of your own thoughts is in question or outright removed.

Invasion

It’s coming from inside the house.

Someone breathing on your neck.

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When a Stranger Calls, 2006

Invasion of our boundaries–emotional or physical, home or personal–is a classic of horror. This is another that I’m sure many relate to, but is a calculus that again is something almost cultural to those who identify with the feminine. There are so many narratives that are about defining women by the way their agency can be stripped or their persons violated that the extra fear this has for feminine presenting people is that it has happened to us, even if it’s “just” being kissed against our will, or followed from the subway. The sense of wondering if your autonomy is safe, if you’re alone, and what to do if you’re not is a distinctly hair-raising part of horror stories that resonate with the feminine from the footsteps that follow you all the way to sexual violence and possession.

This is also true of emotional invasion as well–being pushed into something you’re not ready for, using manipulation or threats, or “grooming” someone for future violence, like “Silence of the Lambs.”

Exclusion

This is something I strongly associate with the feminine. The idea is that masculine characters must protect the feminine ones, but what it results in is people without tools or knowledge trying to fight while hamstrung. Mina in Dracula who isn’t warned about the dangers of the handsome stranger. Any women told to “stay here” while screams and growls emanate from beyond the locked door. It’s meant as kindness, but it one of the scariest things to watch. Imagine the unbelievable balance of wanting to help, but being told that your help will only make things worse. Imagine watching or listening to people you love die, having taken with them the only real weapons or means of access to you. Terrifying!

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Paranormal Activity, 2007

Now, this is of course not always something done to women only, either in real life or in movies. Interestingly, we’re seeing a bit of a flip in the script so to speak with movies like “Get Out” capitalizing on traditional feminine horror tropes to express other marginalized status, in this case race. It’s a really strong association with “the other,” with the outsider who must be both corralled and coddled.

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Get Out, 2017

What movies or books do you think contain these concepts? Are there any others you would add to the list of “feminine horror?”

One thought on “All Thrills, No Frills: Feminine Horror

  1. Pingback: Scream Queens: Hell to Healing on the Big Screen | The Summoner Sisters

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