Gynaehorror: Women, theory and horror film
Thesis DisciplineCultural Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis offers an analysis of women in horror film through an in depth exploration of what I term ‘gynaehorror’ – horror films that are concerned with female sex, sexuality and reproduction. While this is a broad and fruitful area of study, work in it has been shaped by a pronounced emphasis upon psychoanalytic theory, which I argue has limited the field of inquiry. To challenge this, this thesis achieves three things. Firstly, I interrogate a subgenre of horror that has not been studied in depth for twenty years, but that is experiencing renewed interest. Secondly, I analyse aspects of this subgenre outside of the dominant modes of inquiry by placing an emphasis upon philosophies of sex, gender and corporeality, rather than focussing on psychodynamic approaches. Thirdly, I consider not only what these theories may do for the study of horror films, but what spaces of inquiry horror films may open up within these philosophical areas.
To do this, I focus on six broad streams: the current limitations and opportunities in the field of horror scholarship, which I augment with a discussion of women’s bodies, houses and spatiality; the relationship between normative heterosexuality and the twin figures of the chaste virgin and the voracious vagina dentata; the representation and expression of female subjectivity in horror films that feature pregnancy and abortion; the manner in which reproductive technology is bound up within hegemonic constructions of gender and power, as is evidenced by the figure of the ‘mad scientist’; the way that discourses of motherhood and maternity in horror films shift over time, but nonetheless result in the demonisation of the mother; and the theoretical and corporeal possibilities opened up through Deleuze and Guattari’s model of schizoanalysis, with specific regard to the 'Alien' films. As such, this thesis makes a unique contribution to the study of women in horror film, while also advocating for an expansion of the theoretical repertoire available to the horror scholar.