PROJECTIONS: Women in Horror Films at Freud Museum London
The horror genre in film follows from the literary tradition established by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, eliciting physiological and psychological reactions through suspense, gore, the macabre and the supernatural. Horror films transfix and terrify audiences in equal measure, unfailingly achieving suspension of disbelief because fear is a universal emotion.
The position occupied by female characters in horror cinema is often ambivalent, ranging from victims of violence to perpetrators of dread. In The Question of Lay Analysis (1926), Sigmund Freud wrote, “The sexual life of adult women is a dark continent for psychology.” Even at the end of his life, Freud was preoccupied by a question that never left him: “What do women want?” – the mystery of feminine jouissance persisted with the advancement of psychoanalytic thought. This perception of ‘the unknown’ frequently drives the depiction of women in dark tales.
Relying in part on Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, we will investigate cinematic representations of female bodies that appear paradoxically fragmented, decayed and impure, as well as wholesome, nurturing and attractive. Kristeva defines horror as a breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of boundaries between self and other. The abject disturbs identity, borders and rules – horror films portraying unclean and taboo elements of womanhood reveal the entwined dual system of Eros (beauty, sexual awakening, child birth) and Thanatos (disease, destruction, death).
Other concepts in the series will include Freud’s uncanny, Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, and R.D. Laing’s ontological insecurity. It is sometimes claimed that the portrayal of women in horror films is misogynistic, but here the proposition is that the horror genre affords us an indispensable language for approaching the complex dimensions of feminine subjectivity.