In Haunt

What is the Female Gothic? If you are interested in the changing role of women in horror cinema, literature and other media, then this may be a topic for you. Now there is the opportunity to learn more about it in a unique Day Course/ Introduction taking place at Manchester’s HOME on Saturday 14 September, led by members of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Connecting Gothic and horror films with female themes and perspectives allows for fascinating insight – and the course itself is part of the ‘Celebrating Women in Global Cinema’ programme at HOME. Ideal for beginner level, it is open to any member of the public interested in finding out more, as four academics from the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies – the largest centre of its kind in the world, creator of the Gothic Manchester Festival– will explore a range of examples and themes.

Celebrating Women in Global Cinema

Guiding participants through a thought-provoking day and opening up an intriguing angle on Gothic cinema will be Dr Emma Liggins, (Senior Lecturer in English Literature), Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (Reader in English Literature and Film) and Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and American Studies).

The function of the Female Gothic will be extensively considered, and this is an introduction that will not shy away from asking challenging questions and delving deeper beneath the surface. Is the female role often seen as a stereotype in Gothic and horror narratives? Heroine, victim or neither? How are ‘female monsters’ depicted?  What can we learn from female vampires? And what is a witch: hag, temptress, feminist icon – or something else?

This is opportunity to explore how female characters have been represented in Gothic and horror cinema over time, the type of novels this has been inspired by – right back to the 1790s  - and plenty more. Discover how the Female Gothic is represented in old dark house mysteries of the early 20th century, whilst also marvelling at more modern films, the depiction of ‘female monsters’, witches and contemporary folk horror. There will be consideration of the 1970s and 1980s too: a cultural period many may associate with horror classics!

As well as the academic-led talks, the day will include a screening of director Thorold Dickinson’s iconic 1940s film Gaslight; recognised for its chilling depiction of the manipulation of female characters. Ever wondered where the term ‘Gaslighting’ comes from?

The outline of the course will involve four academic talks altogether, split across the day and covering a range of historical and cultural periods, chronologically where possible. Starting the day is Dr Emma Liggins, who will explore how Gothic novels from the 1790s and mid-Victorian period were transferred to the screen, exploring concepts such as the isolation of women and their possibilities for resistance to patriarchy. According to Emma:

“Early cinema was very much influenced by nineteenth-century narratives about women imprisoned in old manor houses, castles and asylums. I will be talking about the ways in which Victorian hauntings and the dark secrets of the past were adapted for the screen in the 1940s. Female Gothic is a mode often used to access buried stories about women's lives; the female ghosts in The Uninvited (1944) alert viewers to women's feelings of unease in the 'house of terror'.”

This will be followed with a talk from Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, who will delve into the subject of film history, involving a close consideration of dark house mysteries:

“My section is concerned with film history and will cover the development of the old dark house mystery from the 1910s onwards (and especially in the 1920s) and will end with the Female Gothic films of the 1940s, especially Hitchcock's classic Rebecca. My intention is to show attendees how representation on screen was beginning to change dramatically in the interwar years and why the trappings of the Gothic offered themselves as ideal motifs through which to explore patriarchal oppression.

“The Female Gothic on film, where the medieval castle of the retrojected barbaric past shifts into the contemporary (male) ancestral home, is perhaps one of the most transnational and interesting strands of the Gothic. Tracing its history, it is possible to see how Western societies have evolved in terms of their attitudes towards gender roles but also how, in some respects, social constructions of femininity have remained largely unchanged. The Female Gothic is concerned with the place of women in society, with their opportunities and freedoms, especially in relation to patriarchy and marriage, so it seems a natural fit for HOME's Celebrating Women in Global Cinema programme.

“I am really looking forward to sharing some of the materials I uncovered while doing research for my forthcoming Gothic Cinema book at the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles. Many of the films I will be covering are lost or hard to screen, so our knowledge of them is quite limited. Attendees can expect to find out more about rarities like The Ghost Breaker (1914), The Haunted Bedroom (1919), Easy Pickings (1927) and Something Always Happens (1928).”

The afternoon will feature two further academic talks – exploring the use of female ‘monsters’, the role of the ‘final girl’, witches, vampires and more. Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn will consider the characters, archetypes and array of elements at play in 1970s and 1980s horror cinema. This was after all the era of films including The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and The Evil Dead. Sorcha has extensively considered the decade in her own research, organising a symposium on 'The Gothic 1980s: The Decade That Scared Us’ earlier this year at Manchester Metropolitan University. She adds:

"The Female Gothic course will be a fascinating history of female representation when she comes into contact with the abject and the fantastic. My own section concerns female social and political discourse, encounters with monstrous killers, brushes with potentially fatal sexual experiences, and how female guile and guts have evolved on screen from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the Scream Trilogy. Women are empowered to challenge their attackers, to query authority and to own their own narratives beyond victimhood under patriarchy."

Tickets for this fascinating day of exploring the Female Gothic, film history and literary inspiration are now available at £25/£20 concession. What will you discover?

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