A few days after the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest by morality police for being in violation of Iran’s dress code on September 16, 2022, I began viewing horror films. Finger poised over the pause button in the bright sunlight of the afternoon, I watched Julia Ducournau’s Grave (Raw, 2016) and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) on my laptop with great trepidation, carefully choosing films that promised not the traditional annihilation of women, down to the “final girl,” but instead, those that examined female rage and revenge. When Raw’s protagonist Justine, brilliantly played by Garance Marillier, undergoes the radical physical transformation caused by her existence within a toxic and masculine world, she shrieks with pain and outrage and, hearing her, I felt at once soothed, ignited, and legitimized. The unending violence against women across a full spectrum of cultures, from the avowedly totalitarian and patriarchal regime that has killed so many women like Amini, as well as those ostensibly more progressive cultures that tout equality while zealously limiting rights, had reached (another) tipping point. Add to that the overturning of Roe vs. Wade earlier in the year, and I and many others have felt a deep sense of inchoate, explosive outrage. Bloody, raging females onscreen have offered an emblem and endorsement for this feeling.

While outrage impacts us all in different ways, the proliferation of feminist horror films in the last decade suggests that writers and directors have also found in the genre a means for expressing significant contemporary themes. In turn, scholars have turned toward this new work to offer context and theoretical framing. The result is both a collection of extraordinary horror films made by women, and a flurry of books addressing the relationship between gender and genre. 

The attention to women in horror is certainly not new. In 1993, for example, Barbara Creed published The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, a book that borrows from the work of French philosopher and literary critic Julia Kristeva to theorize horror films in relation to the abject, focusing specifically on the horror inspired by the female reproductive body. Rather than centre her analysis on the violent demise of so many female victims in horror cinema, Creed assessed the role of gender in creations of the monstrous, noting how innumerable monsters featured mutable boundaries, maternal or reproductive characteristics, and excessive amounts of blood; these qualities extend to the female body, which can hold a foetus, bleed for days on end, and otherwise blur hard distinctions separating selves. Based on an essay published seven years earlier in Screen, the text was a ground-breaking and helped bring a more nuanced and psychoanalytic understanding of horror to film studies. In July 2022, Creed published another book, this time titled Return of the Monstrous-Feminine: Feminist New Wave Cinema; as the title announces, the new book revisits Kristeva and the monstrous-feminine in order to address a body of work by a group of contemporary feminist directors who use horror and the monstrous as forms of rebellion against the strictures of social and gender normativity.

Creed’s new book joins a group of other books published in the last several years that specifically address the relationship between women and horror. These new texts include not only a collection of essays titled Re-Reading the Monstrous-Feminine: Art, Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis that also returns to Creed’s early work with writers exploring a variety of films related to Creed’s themes, but New Blood in Contemporary Cinema: Women Directors and the Poetics of Horror by Patricia Pisters; Women, Monstrosity, and the Horror Film: Gynaehorror by Erin Harrington; and Stepford Daughters: Weapons for Feminists in Contemporary Horror by Johanna Isaacson.1 Each of these attends not only to women in film, but to women as makers of films.

Creed opens Return of the Monstrous-Feminine: Feminist New Wave Cinema by arguing that the emergence of a collection of horror films made by women can be grouped together to form a movement. She writes on the first page of her introduction, “These films break with tradition, challenge dominant forms, adopt new styles, and speak for the rights of women and social minorities. I argue that they constitute a specific historical movement – Feminist New Wave Cinema” (Creed, p. 1). She continues on to offer a list of the elements that characterize these films, noting that they are stories about women in revolt against male violence and patriarchal values such as misogyny, racism, homophobia, and anthropocentrism, and that they often involve what Creed calls “a journey into the dark night of abjection, where they engage with the underlying horrors of the patriarchal order” (Creed, p. 2). She adds that the book “sees feminism as a social justice movement which focuses on inner, personal experience” (Creed, p. 2), a definition that helps her develop a core aspect of her argument. 

The opening goes on to situate Creed’s new book in relation to her earlier text, as well as in connection to the work of Julia Kristeva on the abject, which will remain significant for Creed. The bold opening concludes with a note on the female gaze as Creed writes, “The feminist gaze is not a reversed male gaze, nor is it a disembodied look. The feminist gaze invokes all the senses. It is compassionate and empathic; it invites the spectator to situate herself in the place of the protagonist on the screen, to experience what the other is experiencing through affect. It is an all-embracing sensory gaze, one that understands the protagonist’s daily life, emotions, relationships, bodily states, and desires” (Creed, p. 17). Creed here announces a perspective that is deeply embodied, one that will work to engage the senses in understanding the specificity of women’s deployment of horror in contemporary cinema.

As is evident in Creed’s brief gloss of the feminist gaze, the writing in this book feels energized and fast-paced as Creed moves through a full evocation of the power of the work made within this feminist new wave. She examines Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, highlighting how contradictory Amelia (Essie Davis) is as a maternal figure. “We watch Amelia in terrifying scenes as she transforms from a loving mother, at one moment, to a terrifying and powerful figure of the monstrous-feminine in another,” she writes. “The fragile boundary between these two personas is a major source of the film’s uncanny horror” (Creed, p. 26). Creed clearly details the effects of Amelia’s rage, underscoring how rare it is for audiences to witness this emotion onscreen, and she further connects Amelia’s power to the magic of cinema. Here, she is referring to the Babadook as a creation that could only be made by someone with magical capabilities. She points out the direct references in the film to the work of Georges Méliès, writing, “Kent not only constructs Amelia, the mother, as the primary site of horror, the creator of monsters, she also uses her tale of mothers and monsters to explore the origins of the cinema in illusion, and horror, in relation to the magical properties of the cinema, particularly its power to make things appear and disappear, live, and die” (Creed, p. 29). As horrific as it is to witness, Amelia’s rage embodies a combination of frustration and disempowerment caused in part by grief as well as by the exhausting demands of motherhood. Creed is right to call forward the implications of picturing this rage and finds an unusual and quite powerful way to endorse it when she notes its connection to cinema itself. 

The Babadook

Creed goes on to discuss monstrous-feminine in The Handmaid’s Tale, focusing primarily on the television series (Bruce Miller, 2017-2021) and highlighting the repulsion sparked by the female body and blood. She also examines the rape-revenge film, substituting “revolt” for “revenge,” insisting that the protagonists of these feminist films do not seek revenge but instead “revolt against the universal and entrenched practices of rape culture which is a crucial power structure of the patriarchal symbolic order” (Creed, p. 51). While Creed’s reimagining of revenge as revolt is excellent, the book becomes even more exciting when she shifts out of horror as a genre to explore the monstrous feminine in relation to Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020), Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015), and The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2019), films that earned unique acclaim upon their respective releases but which would not at first glance seem to belong in the larger collection of films under examination here. However, Creed argues that the central characters become monstrous in violating expected gender norms as they revolt against lives they find to be limiting, traumatic, or horrific. “In so doing,” Creed writes, “each one symbolizes the monstrous-feminine as a woman who has ‘forgotten her manners’ and overstepped the boundary of what constitutes proper feminine behaviour” (Creed, p. 81). Calling on the work of Dianna Taylor and her 2010 essay titled “Monstrous Women,” Creed shows that the opposition enacted by the protagonists of these films not only questions the legitimacy of rules that govern gendered behaviour but demonstrates the damage done to women forced to live within them, offering a form of what she dubs “everyday horror and intimate revolt.”2

Creed also takes up queerness as a form of revolt, citing Judith Butler’s description of queerness as a form of performativity “for the purposes of resignifying the abjection of homosexuality into defiance and legitimacy.”3 Her analysis of Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009), Córki dancingu (The Lure, Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2015), and Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017) recognizes that the films are radically different and yet share an attention to queer desire and an exploration of the boundary between the human and non-human. She also examines cannibalism and the films Raw, Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis 2001), and Dans ma peau (In My Skin, Marina de Van, 2002), arguing that the female cannibal literally eats the patriarchal order by devouring the male body. Creed ends on eco-horror, examining a trio of films – Pokot (Spoor, Agnieszka Holland, 2017), Kona fer í stríð (Woman at War, Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018), and Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) that each feature a heroine fighting against the abuse of the Earth. 

Return of the Monstrous-Feminine: Feminist New Wave Cinema ends abruptly, but in a sense that’s fine. One of the book’s strengths centres on Creed’s elaboration of the monstrous-feminine within a new context in which women, as revolting characters and politically oriented filmmakers, offer new forms of resistance to patriarchal norms. Another strength is the range of works included, moving beyond the traditional confines of horror as a genre. And a third strength is the readings Creed offers of individual texts. Rather than deepening our understanding of Kristeva’s complex notion of the abject, the book instead performs a synthesis, drawing many films together to show an array of forms of resistance that ultimately underscore the sense that the work does indeed constitute a movement. Women are angry, they are in revolt, and global cinema is marked by a body of work often made by women that expresses horror in visceral ways.

Re-Reading the Monstrous-Feminine, edited by Nicholas Chare, Jeanette Hoorn, and Audrey Yue, might be seen as both a guide to Creed’s original book, as well as a supplement; it traces pertinent elements of intellectual history from the past, especially in relation to psychoanalysis, while also expanding on the scholarship of the monstrous in a more global context. Several iconic feminist scholars offer context at the book’s start, including Laura Mulvey, Annette Kuhn, Elizabeth Cowie, and E. Ann Kaplan, while others explore the monstrous-feminine in relation to an expanded arena, whether geographically, or, as in Jeannette Hoorn’s essay “In-Your-Face: The Monstrous-Feminine in Photography, Performance Art, Multimedia, and Painting,” in relation to disparate media forms. 

The opening chapter is quite useful in tracing the significance of Creed’s original argument, highlighting the ways in which abjection as a psychic experience is especially provocative in being pre-Oedipal, coming prior to both language and sexual identity. The editors argue that the abject’s connection to a sense of fluidity and engagement with the pre-phallic mother opens up exciting possibilities for alternative readings of sexuality and gender not governed by the law of the Symbolic. Overall, the editors develop a rich overview of Kristeva’s idea of the abject, especially in relation to the body, flesh, death, and the corpse, all of which, of course, are the territory of the horror genre.

Patricia Pisters’ essay in the collection is titled “Carrie’s Sisters: New Blood in Contemporary Female Horror Cinema” and in it she begins by comparing Brian de Palma’s Carrie (1976) with Kimberly Pierce’s version from 2013, showing how each director handles scenes featuring menstruation and childbirth. Her inquiry is directed by a question central to several of these books, namely “Does it make a difference when these female issues are presented from a woman’s perspective?” (Pisters, Re-Reading, p. 123). Pisters answers affirmatively, asserting that Pierce’s film offers a subjective perspective and sense of feminine knowledge and agency lacking in de Palma’s version.


Pisters takes up many of the same films that Creed addresses in Return of the Monstrous-Feminine in her 2020 book New Blood in Contemporary Cinema: Women Directors and the Poetics of Horror, with a focus specifically on work made by female filmmakers and working through three main hypotheses. Pisters argues first that the poetics of horror offered by these directors centres on attempts to produce experiences of somatic intimacy and a felt sense of social violence; second, it often engages a range of feelings beyond fear to include jealousy, paranoia, sadness, and other affects that may be related to trauma; and third, that this kind of horror may venture beyond traditional generic confines, often blending genres as a means for exploring psychological, social, or political aspects of life that conjure horror. Pisters, citing the great work of Jane Gaines on the lost or forgotten work of women in silent cinema in her book Pink-Slipped, hopes to highlight this body of work specifically to avoid its eclipse.4 “By focusing on the agency of female makers, I want to flag their presence in the contemporary cinema landscape so as not to let them slip away again” (Pisters, p. 4). 

As she continues her introduction to the book, Pisters makes an unusual detour, offering a reading of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and A Room of One’s Own, texts written nearly a century ago with seemingly little to do with horror cinema. However, Pisters deploys Woolf to note both the vital contribution to feminism made by these works in conjuring both a fluidity of gender and politics of creativity while acknowledging their limitations with regard to a blindness to class privilege and race. Noting the critiques of Woolf, Pisters writes, “I want to take the challenges and lessons of black feminists and women of colour to heart. I will not suggest that all struggles expressed in a poetics of horror in cinema are the same, nor do I intend to appropriate any of the many different fights that find their way onto screens” (Pisters, p. 10). 

Writing in a style at once chatty and yet sophisticated, Pisters also explicitly announces that her book is not concerned with theory, but rather with the filmmakers and their work; it is also not oriented toward spectatorship but rather toward aesthetic analysis, form, and the development of a poetics. She writes, “I think that paying attention to the formal aspects of horror aesthetics, and especially thinking about horror beyond genre conventions, is helpful in rethinking its affective meaning beyond gender conventions as well” (Pisters, p. 13). Pisters goes on to show more carefully what she means through this formal approach, acknowledging the formalism of film scholar David Bordwell. However, rather than follow his lead, she opts instead for what might be called a more strategic formalism, one that is rooted in affect rather than an apolitical exploration of formal cinematic properties. Pisters writes, “By addressing a poetics of horror, I investigate how the regime of aesthetics that is proposed by current women directors provides new ideas about the arrangements between the arts, senses, thinking, and politics” (Pisters, p. 15). She also explains her desire to borrow Édouard Glissant’s notion of relational identity and the role of opacity in relations among people, suggesting that although the work by women filmmakers may offer new understandings, ambiguity remains significant. Pisters here is careful to situate the book in relation to larger issues of race and appropriation, but she also wants to manage expectations. The spectrum of methodologies available to contemporary film writers is increasingly rich and varied, and Pisters provides both a guide to her own perspective while also offering an overview of the terrain at large.

Unlike Creed, Pisters brings forward a sense of historical unfolding in her book, first with the references to the writing of Woolf, but also with her first chapter, which examines Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975), De stilte rond Christine M. (A Question of Silence, Maureen Gorris, 1982), and Welcome II the Terrordome (Ngozi Onwurah, 1993) as examples of second wave feminist films by filmmakers who grapple with the dynamics of rage in work that is not generally considered horror. She uses these films as a foundation from which to explore profound anger in more contemporary work, and the second half of the chapter allows her to define what she calls “the feel of horror.” She reminds us that she will engage in a formal and material reading, and rather than consider the phenomenological experience of the spectator, she is interested in a “synaesthetic sensitivity” (Pisters, p. 37). 

Pisters uses this approach to offer a comparative analysis of an array of more recent films, focusing specifically on Revenge (Coralie Fargeat, 2017) and Retrospekt (Esther Rots, 2018), and offering compelling readings that illuminate forms of bloody empowerment gained through revenge alongside more intimate forms of violence within the experience of an unfulfilled woman’s life. In each reading, she consistently references the ways in which a director creates the experience of horror, and it quickly becomes clear that one of the main tenets of her argument is correct: specific formal decisions made by filmmakers offer new orientations of horror. Near the conclusion of Revenge, when Jen (Matilda Lutz) walks through the blood-soaked house, we do not see a victim or feel repulsion. We see someone who, in Creed’s terms, has journeyed through dark night of abjection and battled the horrors patriarchy. As Pisters writes of Jen, “Jeanne Dielman certainly has a superheroine slasher daughter” (Pisters, p. 40). She goes on to note, “Jen has not only beaten the Angel in the House but also the demon of good behaviour and the commercial options that promise happiness on the TV” (Pisters, p. 40).


In her 2022 book Stepford Daughters: Weapons for Feminists in Contemporary Horror, Johanna Isaacson also focuses on a what she calls “a canny new wave of horror films,” ones that call specific attention to the plight of women within patriarchy, such as domestic confinement, unending caregiving, and expectations for maternal perfection. However, Isaacson brings a new perspective: she sees these films as a response to neoliberalism and its very specific attributes of competition and individual autonomy. She writes in her introduction, “The twist to these films is that they show how these traditional feminist concerns are linked to capitalism as a whole” (Isaacson, p. 4). 

Isaacson’s attention to capitalism and its evils is not simply theoretical. She opens the book by recalling teaching in a community college in California’s Central Valley during the pandemic and watching her students blame their often immense struggles getting through their classes on personal failure rather than seeing them as part of larger structural conditions shared by others, especially those constrained by class. Isaacson’s sense of rage on behalf of her students is palpable and refreshing.

Isaacson goes on to recall the reading of horror as a genre offered by Robin Wood in the 1970s, who showed us that our culture insists on the repression of anything that opposes bourgeois patriarchy. Wood wrote that “the true subject of horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses.”5 Stepford Daughters turns to what’s repressed and oppressed directly, presenting what Isaacson hopes will be “memorable figures of refusal and resistance” (Isaacson, p. 26). She states quite clearly at the end of her introduction, “I will make the case that these films can provide feminist radicals with weapons to confront complacency and hopelessness” (Isaacson, p. 26).

The book moves through several chapters which are organized thematically, and in an often bracing style, itemizes the various ways in which horror shows us a series of interlocking oppressions. The book’s most remarkable moment, however, comes in the final section titled “Coda: Becoming Monster,” which makes an ardent case for watching horror films. Isaacson traces her own history of horror viewing and notes, “Enjoying horror and using it as a weapon for anti-capitalist feminism is a process of ‘becoming monster,’ retooling our own consciousness. As monsters, we identify with the ghosts that disturb our bland, celebratory cultural narratives” (Isaacson, p. 185). The section begins to gain momentum ending in nothing less than a poetic manifesto with a very clear call to action. Isaacson writes, “The most important weapons offered in this book have nothing to do with watching movies. Rather, they are weapons of defence against the gas-lighting forces that would frame our most beautiful gestures as monstrous” (Isaacson, p. 186). And, with the unfortunate risk of spoiling the ending, her final two lines read: “As we turn to our rulers, covered in blood, a mutant child at our breast, we appear as grotesque abominations, but this is only because our beauty and care is no longer for them. We are monsters for each other” (Isaacson, p. 187).

Erin Harrington also builds on Creed’s articulation of the monstrous feminine in her 2018 book, Women, Monstrosity, and Horror Film: Gynaehorror, referencing Creed explicitly in the coining of “gynaehorror,” a term for horror produced in relation to female reproduction. She writes that gynaehorror “is horror that deals with all aspects of female reproductive horror, from the reproductive and sexual organs, to virginity and first sex, through pregnancy, birth and motherhood, and finally to menopause and post-menopause,” with her goal being to offer counter-readings of representations that in the past have been deemed misogynistic (Harrington, p. 3). Like Pisters, Harrington is not interested in phenomenological accounts or film philosophy exemplified by other works.6 However, like these authors, Harrington seeks nuance and complexity and bristles at the reductive simplicity of gender as a binary, as well as feminist theory that is caught up in language that disallows breadth. She writes, “Consider the ocular imperative embedded in the word ‘spectatorship,’ which inherently de-emphasizes many of the ways that one might encounter media, and which distils the complex relationship between media entity and individual to the seen and the unseen, the gazer and the gazed-upon” (Harrington, p. 5).

To counter notions of both the stability and polarity of gender, Harrington turns to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work, taking up their concept of “becoming” to destabilize the body as a category and as a key element in her description of the concept of gynaehorror. Citing Rosi Braidotti, Harrington highlights how “becoming” counters stability by instead enabling movement, an itinerary, and an ongoing process of “erasing and recomposing the former boundaries between self and others.”7 Harrington also writes that the concept of the gynaehorrific is “something that is less linear, more granular, more discursive, and more specific than pre-existing configurations of female, feminine, and reproductive horror: gynaehorror as a type of signification and content, as an interpretive lens, and finally as a mode of aesthetic, cinematic expression, and conceptual representation” (Harrington, p. 7). Rather than celebrate iconic figures of rage and revenge, Harrington is interested in complex and multi-dimensional figurations of the horrific across a full range of representation, including “sacrificial virgins, menstrual monsters, and ravenous succubi” (Harrington, p. 7). As she summarizes, her concern is “the productive interrelationship of gynaehorrific content, representation and expression” that occurs within the formal elements of the cinematic sound and image, imagery of the body, and the relationship of the viewer’s own body in the sensory and affective experience of viewing horror (Harrington, p. 9). Ultimately, Harrington is interested in the ways in which so many cinematic images and viewing experiences challenge how we think and understand the boundaries and configurations of bodies. 

The disruption of boundaries occurs quite materially in pregnancy, the topic for Harrington’s second chapter, “The Lady Vanishes: Pregnancy, Abortion, and Subjectivity.” Harrington acknowledges that pregnancy is a frequent topic for horror filmmakers, and we know well the various “demonic conceptions, supernatural gestations, bloody births, myriad terrified women” (Harrington, p. 87). However Harrington’s concern shifts toward the philosophical, and she writes instead of pregnancy’s ability to query notions of selfhood in very fleshy ways, describing a tension that is itself a horror, namely “the dominant ontological framework of the self, which is predicated on autonomous implicitly masculine individuality that is presumed to be a fixed state of being” noting the obvious incompatibility of this vision with the lived reality of pregnancy for women (Harrington, p. 87).

Harrington is in conversation with the scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s, which responded to the broader cultural theme of body horror represented well in work as varied as Luce Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Women (1985) and its derision of male philosophy; Mikhail Bakhtin’s celebration of the carnivalesque in Rabelais and his World (1984); and scholar Linda Williams’ examination of somatic excess in her iconic essay “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess” (1991). Indeed, Harrington offers a sustained reading that weaves together theories and films from the past to compare with contemporary work in order specifically to historicize her argument and to sustain her demand that we attend to this work for what it can teach us about our current culture.

Like Pisters and Creed, Harrington addresses The Babadook, using it to show how horror films centred on the maternal are less representations of motherhood and more “culturally and historically specific, dynamic negotiations with the expectations and pressures surrounding the fulfilment of normative motherhood” (Harrington, p. 181). She explores how motherhood as depicted in horror films shifts decade by decade, moving from those informed by pop psychology in the 1970s to more recent films that “look more to mothers who try their utmost to fulfil the criteria of the ideal mother, but who seemed doom to fail” (Harrington, p. 201), in the process juxtaposing films such as The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979) and Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976) with The Babadook and The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002). 

Harrington’s conclusion to her analysis is powerful and aligns well with broader discussions of motherhood, such as Julie Phillips’ recent book, The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem. Phillips chronicles the fraught lives of women such as Adrienne Rich, Alice Neel, and Doris Lessing whose creative lives were deeply limited by pregnancy and who often were deemed monstrous in their rejection of the maternal.8 In framing the book, Phillips highlights how relentlessly motherhood is policed, as well as how radical some of these artists were in their life choices, writing, “The idea of a woman who leaves her children is fascinating, almost exhilarating, like any forbidden thought” (Phillips, p. 74). Harrington has shown this point as well, and indeed, makes a profound contribution to discussions of the horror genre in relation to women. Looking less toward the good object of women in revolt where I began this essay, Harrington instead touts the instructive capacities of so many horror films that, read with care, can reveal the cultural norms, political policing, and philosophical explorations undertaken by a full array of films. The extent to which these films treat women with violence and exploitation aligns with our need to attend to them. 

While her conclusion is surprisingly brief, Harrington ultimately turns her insightful attention toward two short film collections, The ABCs of Death (2012) and The ABCs of Death 2 (2014), demonstrating the hatred and violence toward women in the first anthology while also illuminating their instructive potential before ending on Chris Nash’s film “Z Is for Zygote”. She describes the seven-minute short film’s plot, and then summarizes her argument with a nod to Creed, acknowledging that horror films need not be misogynistic: they can be monstrous in ways that are enormously generative and provocative. While as a term “gynaehorror” does not roll off the tongue as easily as “the monstrous-feminine,” Harrington has with the term circumscribed a powerful cultural sensibility with her definition and the cultural horror expressed toward so much of what is central to the feminine.

Recently, in her contribution to the collection Re-Reading the Monstrous-Feminine, titled “The Monstrous-Feminine, Then and Now: Barbara Creed in Conversation with Nicholas Chare,” Creed muses, “I think horror allows women filmmakers and artists unusual freedom in which to push the boundaries regarding gender, desire, and female agency” (Chare, Hoorn, and Yue 103). This is true enough, as all of these authors so cogently demonstrate. Creed continues, reflecting on her iconic 1993 book and noting, “An interesting and unexpected consequence of having proposed the idea of the monstrous feminine in the horror film is that women, and sometimes men, in a range of other disciplines, have subsequently taken up the concept. I did not expect that the idea would resonate so widely” (Chare, Hoorn, and Yue 103).

Well, the idea did resonate widely, and continues to do so. The collection of books addressed here takes the concept of the monstrous-feminine, one that had a powerful and yet particular meaning and context in the 1990s, and resituates it within a new era of ongoing feminist struggle to be sure, but also within a context in which capitalism, racism, homophobia, and misogyny boast exacerbated forms. The attention to the role of women as filmmakers, and to formal analysis that showcases the affective impact of directorial decisions, makes a generous contribution to the larger body of scholarship on genre, horror, and women. While I agree with the perspective so carefully outlined by Isaacson and Harrington regarding instructive and revelatory potential of horror films to reveal the often ineffable structures of patriarchal power systems in everyday life, the spate of films by women that embody and affectively express the inchoate rage of oppression offer a welcome addition to the genre, and to scholarship on horror.

It’s been seven months now since Amini was murdered. Looking at news from Iran, I see women’s heads uncovered and fires burning in the streets. And I continue to hear Justine’s unabashedly wrenching howl from Raw in my chest and bones, voracious, raging, monstrous, feminine.

Books reviewed (in order of appearance):

  • Barbara Creed, Return of the Monstrous-Feminine: Feminist New Wave Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2022).
  • Nicholas Chare, Jeanette Hoorn and Audrey Yue, eds., Re-reading the Monstrous-Feminine: Art, Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 2021).
  • Patricia Pisters, New Blood in Contemporary Cinema: Women Directors and the Poetics of Horror (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).
  • Johanna Isaacson, Stepford Daughters: Weapons for Feminists in Contemporary Horror (Brooklyn: Common Notions, 2022).
  • Erin Harrington, Women, Monstrosity, and the Horror Film: Gynaehorror (London: Routledge, 2016).


  1. There are still other recent texts that address horror as a genre as it relates to gender. See for example Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre, Alison Peirse, ed. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press: 2020); The Science of Women in Horror: The Special Effects, Stunts, and True Stories Behind Your Favorite Fright Films, Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020); and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, Kier-La Janisse, originally published in 2012 and then released as an expanded edition in 2022 (Surrey: FAB Press, 2022).
  2. Dianna Taylor, “Monstrous Women,” PhaenEx, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2010): pp. 125-151.
  3. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 21.
  4. Jane M. Gaines, Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018).
  5. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, expanded edition 2003), p. 68.
  6. These include Julian Hanich’s Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear (New York: Routledge, 2010); Anna Powell’s Deleuze and Horror Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006); and Angela Ndalianis’ The Horror Sensorium: Media and the Senses (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.: 2012).
  7. Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers, 2002), p. 119.
  8. Julie Phillips, The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2022).

About The Author

Holly Willis is the co-chair of the Media Arts + Practice division in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. She is a co-founder of Filmmaker Magazine, dedicated to independent film, and served as the editor of RES magazine and co-curator of RESFEST for several years. Her books include Fast Forward: The Future(s) of the Cinematic Arts and New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving ImageI. She writes frequently about experimental film, video and new media for various publications.

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