The Science of Women in Horror Brilliantly Dissects Horror Movie Tropes and Traditions

Toni Collette as Annie, Hereditary (2018)

This book is exactly what I’ve been looking for and didn’t even know I needed. You see, I’m a horror fiction genre buff. I read it all day, every day and I can’t get enough. You would think this also means I enjoy horror movies, but you would be wrong.

I hate horror movies. I’m the biggest chicken.

Horror movies are too scary for me and if I do muster up the courage to watch one, the visuals linger in my mind for far too long like a bad hangover. I used to think the negative impact they have on my mental health for days was a bit abnormal. So many people seemed entirely unaffected by them and able to forget about them in just a few hours after watching.

Being an active member of the horror community on social media, I have learned that I am not alone in having an affinity for the most brutal horror an author can conjure up on the page while simultaneously giving screen adaptations a wide berth. There are many others out there just like me! Because of this fierce love of reading horror fiction, one of my favorite things to do is see a lively conversation about the latest controversial horror movie and then read full-on, spoilery reviews. I feel like I’ve “seen” the most terrifying movies without having to really “see” them.

So a book about horror movies is one of the best things for readers like me who love written horror but can’t stand to watch it. Horror book lovers who are silver screen chickens, this book is for us!

Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence are clearly experts on the topic of horror films and specifically, women in horror. They have a podcast called Horror Rewind which is an all-women production centered around watching and discussing horror movies while mixing up cocktails and keeping their audience up-to-date on current horror movie news.

These two women obviously had a childhood love affair with scary movies that grew into a full-blown passion. Now, they’re entertaining others through their deep-dive analysis of common tropes behind some of the most iconic female roles in horror films. The table of contents will be your guide to various horror movies that share a similar theme.

I appreciated that I could skip around within it to read chapters that were of particular interest to me first. Under the heading “Hysteria” is Chapter 23: Hereditary. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s so weird how even just reading about the movie managed to evoke those strong feelings of anxiety and fear that I felt in the movie theater almost three years ago. According to the book, Hereditary follows a familiar “female gothic” trope derivative of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892. History tells us that ‘hysteria’ was a clinical diagnosis for any woman displaying intense, emotional behaviors for any variety of reasons, including grief, PMS, insomnia, and even what we now know as postpartum depression. With Hereditary, Hafdahl and Florence make a convincing connection that horror movies often present lead female characters as hysterical in the eyes of male supporting characters, even when they’re going through the same trauma. In this case, Steve, the husband, seems so calm and reasonable, while Annie, his wife, is “unhinged” in her displays of grief.

I found this analysis so interesting, and it’s something that will stick with me as I read and watch more horror. The book is full of exciting discoveries! I also loved section five, “The Innocent,” that explores the tropes and theories central to three movies: Beetlejuice, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Let The Right One In. The chapter on Beetlejuice was my favorite, as the authors discussed prevailing themes of ‘the stifling stepmother,’ female rebellion, and identity, segueing into a discussion of another favorite movie of mine, Heathers.  

I could go on and on and on. Trust me, if you pick up this book, you will start making a list of all the movies you need to go back and rewatch with all your newfound discoveries. 

Lastly, don’t forget: ghouls rule!


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