Following the literary tradition established by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, the horror genre in film seeks to elicit physiological and psychological reactions through visual and narrative techniques involving 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 and powerful emotion.
The role of women in horror movies is especially intriguing because of the ambivalent position occupied by female characters, 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 female subjectivity persisted with the advancement of psychoanalytic thought. It is precisely this perception of ‘the unknown’ that drives much of the unsettling storylines concerning women in horror films.
Relying predominantly 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 the feminine experience reveal the entwined dual system of Eros (beauty, sexual awakening, love, pregnancy) and Thanatos (possession, disease, destruction, death).
Other theoretical constructs in this series will include Freud’s hysteria, Jacques Lacan’s jouissance, and R.D. Laing’s ontological insecurity. Advance viewing is optional, select scenes and montages will be shown during weekly sessions (see filmography below). Content warning: graphic imagery will be presented – viewer discretion is advised.
Week 1 – ADOLESCENCE: Teeth (2007), Carrie (1976), The Exorcist (1973)
Week 2 – IDENTITY: The Ring (2002), Single White Female (1992), The Brøken (2008)
Week 3 – PSYCHOSIS: Black Swan (2010), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Week 4 – ECONOMICS: Starry Eyes (2014), The Hunger (1983), American Psycho (2000)
Week 5 – DEMONS: The Entity (1982), Possession (1981), Paranormal Activity (2007)
Week 6 – DEVOURING: Neon Demon (2016), Dans Ma Peau (2002), Eat (2014)
PROJECTIONS is psychoanalysis for film interpretation. PROJECTIONS empowers film spectators to express subjective associations they consider to be meaningful. Expertise in psychoanalytic theory is not necessary - the only prerequisite is the desire to enter and inhabit the imaginary world of film, which is itself a psychoanalytic act. MARY WILD, a Freudian cinephile from Montreal, is the creator of PROJECTIONS.