My thesis is currently entitled ‘Damsels and Deviants: Women in the Gothic Horror Film’. This dissertation will attempt to examine the depiction of women in a selection of films with a gothic theme. It is my intention to show that there is a doubling of women in these films, with women represented as either damsel or deviant. The movies I aim to look at are Black Swan (2010), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Carrie (1976), Crimson Peak (2015), Rebecca (1940), and The Innocents (1961). I propose to take a comparative approach to these films in order to highlight how both narrative techniques and cinematic techniques contribute to this doubling. In terms of narrative, my thesis will focus on issues of sexuality, the mother/daughter relationship, and the connection of both women to the Gothic space or house. When looking at cinematic techniques, I will examine the use of costume design, production design and visual motifs such as the use of mirrors to show how women are visually set in opposition.
The sources I will be using consist of books and articles on gothic film and literature more broadly, alongside film specific readings. The general sources provide a useful overview of gothic tropes that can then be applied to the films that I will be using. Of particular note is ‘The Gothic: A Literary Genres Transition to Film’ by Charlene Bunnell in Planks of Reason (Scarecrow Press, 1984). This chapter usefully highlights the key characteristics and devices of gothic film, and identifies the setting, the double, the supernatural and the narrative journey as the four “stock elements” of gothic film (Bunnell 82). Although this reading does not use filmic examples that are relevant to my thesis, I plan to apply Bunnell’s definition of gothic film to my own research.
I will be relying heavily on Helen Hanson’s book Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film (I.B. Tauris, 2007). While still providing a general view, Hanson’s book focuses specifically on women in the gothic film. Hanson looks at the woman in the gothic film in terms of her narrative journey and in the context of feminist film criticism. For this reason, Hanson’s work will be of particular benefit to me when I discuss the narrative techniques of the six films in question.
I will also rely on film specific sources when conducting my research. Because Black Swan (2010) and Crimson Peak (2015) are quite recent, there is little to no scholarship on them as of yet. Because of this, I plan to apply general feminist and gothic theory to these films in particular. I will use Freud’s work The Uncanny, due to its theory of the doppelganger, which is of particular use when looking at Black Swan, a film obsessed with doubles (Penguin Books, 2003). I will also employ Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness (Titan Books, 2015). Written by Mark Salisbury with a foreword by Crimson Peak director Guillermo del Toro, this is a very valuable work that discusses the film quite extensively. Each character has a chapter that covers everything from personality to mise en scène. This is of particular importance to my thesis, due to a focus on cinematic as well as narrative techniques. There are also documentaries on both films, available on their Blu-ray releases. These include documentaries on costume and production design, as well as narrative and character studies. My main focus on Black Swan and Crimson Peak will be to show how the films themselves actually double earlier films. Crimson Peak plays direct homage to both The Innocents and Rebecca, and Black Swan is very reminiscent of Carrie.
Despite being released in 1961, I have come across very little academic study of Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). Because of this, I will be depending on a BFI Film Classics companion book to the film by Christopher Frayling (BFI, 2013). This is a useful work as it contextualises the film in the greater canon of gothic horror films. I will also utilise the ‘special features’ of the Blu-ray version of the film as well; such as interviews and documentaries.
Rebecca (1940), Carrie (1976), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), on the other hand, do have existing academic scholarship on them already, which I plan to engage with in my thesis. There is a myriad of suitable journal articles relating to Rebecca. Of particular use to my research is Diane Waldman’s ‘“At Last I Can Tell It to Someone!”: Feminine Point of View and Subjectivity in the Gothic Romance Film of the 1940s’ (Cinema Journal 23.2). Waldman’s article places Rebecca in the context of the female gothic film that dominated 1940s Hollywood. I will also be depending on the book Out in Culture (Duke UP, 1995). This work contains an entire section on the career of Alfred Hitchcock, including an essay by Rhonda J. Berenstein entitled ‘“I’m not the sort of person men marry”: Monsters, Queers, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca’. This essay is relevant to my research as it considers the sexuality of Joan Fontaine’s unnamed character, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers, and the absent titular character Rebecca.
When looking at Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Carrie, I will be using a selection of journal articles and chapters in anthologies. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant, will be of great use in my thesis (University of Texas Press, 2015). I will be focusing on two chapters in particular; Christopher Sharrett’s ‘The Horror Film in Neoconservative Culture’ and Shelley Stamp’s ‘Horror, Femininity, and Carrie’s Monstrous Puberty’. Sharrett’s essay deals with Bram Stoker’s Dracula in terms of female sexuality which is a narrative process that is significant in my own thesis. Stamp’s chapter on Carrie encompasses an analysis of the mother/daughter relationship that is central to the plot. Again, this will aid my research as the mother/daughter relationship is important when comparing Black Swan to Carrie.
When I conduct research for my thesis I will engage with the aforementioned scholarship. Concerning my use of IT for the MA thesis, I will avail of the online resources of UCC’s Boole Library. Databases such as JSTOR and Project Muse are very useful ways to gain access to articles, and are hugely helpful for my research. Because my thesis is focusing on film, I will also be watching these movies, along with any ‘special features’, such as making of documentaries, behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, etc.