Tag Archives: the haunting

Queer and Haunted

By Andreas

[This post is part of the Queer Film Blogathon over at Garbo Laughs. Thanks to Caroline for hosting it!]

As I’ve said time and again, Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) is one of the greatest horror films of all time. Between its chiaroscuro cinematography, biting dialogue, and Julie Harris’s indelible performance as the neurotic Nell, it’s the haunted house movie. It’s the one to beat. It makes The Amityville Horror look like shit. It makes Poltergeist look like The Amityville Horror.

It’s also highly invested in queer themes, as exemplified by Theo (Claire Bloom), Nell’s aggressive lesbian roommate. Although the cast is rounded out by two men, it’s clearly Nell and Theo’s relationship that dominates the film. It’s a fascinating, fluctuating relationship characterized by seduction, rejection, mind games, and innuendo. Sexual hang-ups clash with troubled pasts and paranormal phenomena as The Haunting rages on.

It’s a remarkably dense film, in both its visuals and its writing, so I’ll unpack just a few salient textual details about Nell’s sexuality. First off, I’m intrigued by Nell’s initial appearance in the film, via her name on a blackboard:

This is Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), preparing his list of potential test subjects. Each one, as he explains to Hill House’s elderly owner, has been “involved, one way or another, with the abnormal.” (“Abnormal,” like much of The Haunting’s language, is left tantalizingly ambiguous.) Most of them get a last name; Theo gets a question mark. In The Haunting, names are filled with power and meaning. So why is Theo’s incomplete?

I see it as an incredibly subtle hint that Theo will be somehow different. Which is to say: she has psychic powers, she’s bitterly sarcastic, and she’s queer. Like the sexually confused and mother-haunted Nell, she’s just as abnormal as any of Hill House’s ghosts.

As you can see, The Haunting hardly takes a progressive view of Theo’s sexuality. She’s implicitly equated with the supernatural evil that infests the house. As Nell screams at her, “You’re a monster, Theo! You’re the monster of Hill House!” (Nell later adds that Theo is one of “nature’s mistakes,” evoking some common homophobic myths.) The Haunting certainly incorporates the prejudices of the era in which it was made.

At the same time, though, the film never invites us to hate or dismiss Theo. She’s its most vital, compelling presence, and she gets many of the best lines. Unlike the whiny, self-pitying Nell, she’s confident, bitchy, and unafraid to speak her mind. When the film ends, she’s the only one who understands what Nell really wanted. (“Maybe not ‘poor Eleanor’…”)

The Haunting may not cast Theo’s sexuality in a positive light, but at least it weaves her queer desire into its checkered matrix of symbols, genre tropes, and mirror images. It’s not just a rare pre-Stonewall representation of an onscreen lesbian; in The Haunting, queer desire helps structure the film itself.

[For more queer cinema, read our takes on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pedro Almodóvar, Swoon, I Love You, Philip Morris, The Ghost Ship, and more…]

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Gender, Sympathy, and the “Monstrous Hero”

By Andreas

Forever ago (i.e., last October), I wrote about my horror-centric comps project. I planned to analyze Cat People, The Haunting, Carrie, and May to glean what each film had to say about female sexuality, and how these ideas manifested themselves stylistically. Well, over the past few months, I wrote that 30-page paper, revised it twice, gave a public presentation on it, and now the process is done! So, just in case you’re really eager to read a mammoth research paper about these movies, I give you my comps paper: “Gender, Sympathy, and the ‘Monstrous Hero’ in the American Horror Film.”

After the jump, read over 8,000 words of theory and textual analysis on horror and sexuality…

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Let’s study some horror movies!

Time for a little personal information that’s very relevant to horror cinema! So: as you may know (if you’ve read our About page), I am a Cinema & Media Studies major at a small liberal arts college who’s only months away from graduation. In order to graduate, every student here has to do a comprehensive senior project – colloquially known as “comps.” Well, I submitted my proposal a few weeks ago, it was accepted, I met with the faculty committee today, and it’s decided: I’m compsing on horror movies!

Tentatively entitled “The Sexual Dynamics of American Horror Films, 1942-2002,” my comps project goes into a lot of the same subject matter that I regularly tackle here at Pussy Goes Grrr. Here’s my abstract, summing up what I plan to research:

Basing my arguments theoretically in the work of Barbara Creed, Carol J. Clover, and other horror film scholars, I will perform a close analysis of four horror films, each of which links violence with female sexuality. By comparing the natures of these links, I will reach conclusions about the representations of femininity within the horror genre.

Those four films are the ones you see above: Cat People, The Haunting, Carrie, and May! The finished paper will be 25-30 pages long, and so the next five months will be filled with hard work (and possibly diminished blogging), but hey, those are the costs of success in academia. (OK: that, and about $50,000 a year.) I’m super-excited to get working on it! I love studying the things I love!

In conclusion, thanks for being a reader. This blog has certainly played a big role in getting me to this point, and your interest and support have been crucial. Hearts and kisses for everyone!

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20 Horror Faves

Way back when, Stacie Ponder of Final Girl requested that all the horror-loving folks out in blogland send her their 20 favorite horror movies. They responded en masse. I was part of that masse! Well, I figured, why not milk that list for some actual content? Thus, here it is: my list, in its chronological, 20-entries-long glory. It was a painful list to come up with, and I’m missing some of my other special favorites, but it’s decent, I think.

  • The Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927): So macabre, so weird, so Freudian, so fucked-up. Also, probably Lon Chaney’s best surviving performance. (I mean, Burt Lancaster loved it!)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian, 1932): The best version of Stevenson’s tale, no matter what the Victor Fleming partisans tell you. Also, Miriam Hopkins’ sexy leg [courtesy of Lolita’s Classics]:

  • Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932): Um, duh! More about this forthcoming later in the month.
  • Maniac (Dwain Esper, 1934): “DARTS OF FIRE IN MY BRAIN!” Looniest, wackiest, most maniacal exploitation movie of all time.
  • Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935): Whale at his gleefully perverse best. I wish Dr. Pretorious was my boyfriend!
  • Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935): Peter Lorre is a creepy fucker, plus obsession and grand guignol! I adore this movie.
  • Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942): One of the seminal Hollywood horror movies, at once erotic, repressed, and scary as hell.
  • The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, 1943): And another Val Lewton masterpiece! Unbelievably morbid and moodily poetic.
  • Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti et al., 1945): The segments are uneven, but Michael Redgrave vs. a ventriloquist dummy, together with the nightmare finale, is more than worth it. Ealing should’ve made more horror.
  • Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1959): Franju tells his really icky mad scientist story with a delightful sense of humor. Valli makes a great (evil) lab assistant, and the design of the mask is so simple as to be nightmare-inducing.
  • Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962): This is easily in the top 5 on this list. Independently made with an unblinking vision of existential horror, it also has one-time actress Candace Hilligoss giving the performance of a lifetime. “WHY CAN’T ANYBODY HEAR ME?”
  • The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963): I fucking love Julie Harris here; she leads a pretty much perfect cast as they navigate the recesses of a very angry house.
  • Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964): I talked about this recently, but to recap: it’s a brutal tale of two women and a man in the wilderness, with a big hole in the middle. So greasy and desperate, I love it.

  • Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968): It’s a pretty canonical choice. Romero was a true original, resourcefully squeezing all the metaphorical value he could out of a solid cast, a boarded-up house, and some brain-craving zombies.
  • Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1973): SO DEPRESSING. Watching this movie is like masturbating with a shard of broken glass. OK, I’m done drawing analogies now. But seriously, Bergman turns family drama into ultra-visceral horror.
  • The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976): The underrated third member of Polanski’s Apartment trilogy, it’s really stuck with me. I don’t know if it’s Trelkovsky’s miserably kafkaesque relationship with his neighbors, or him wearing a dress and whispering, “I think I’m pregnant!”
  • The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982): When Poe wrote the words “desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted,” I think he was anticipating the lingering dread and scary-as-shit special effects of Carpenter’s masterpiece.

  • Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988): I wish Jeremy Irons were my drug-addicted gynecologist brother. But then I’d have to be Jeremy Irons. Also, mutant vaginas. What’s not to love?
  • 28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle, 2003): I wasn’t expecting it, but Boyle’s neo-zombie odyssey across postapocalyptic England has insinuated itself into my bloodstream like a particularly pernicious virus.
  • Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008): Aren’t those kids cute? And isn’t that movie startlingly beautiful and well-written?

Are you shocked by my bad taste? Or shocked by my good taste? Comment below.

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