Celebrating the Female Writers of Horror

Categories
Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Women don’t get a lot of credit in any field that they may excel in, so why should the world of literature be any different? While, they get recognized by their peers, how many of you can name more than a handful of famous female horror authors off the top of your head? It’s unfortunate that most can’t, to say the least, but that’s something that we plan to remedy here today.

Woman in the dark
Photography by H.F.E. & Co.

While we are asserting that all of the writers listed here are horror writers, a lot of these amazing women have actually produced written work that is outside of the horror genre–or, even more astoundingly, their main genre of work may not even be horror.

Mary Shelley

(08/30/1797 – 02/01/1851)

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein (1818) which is quite widely cited as the very first Science Fiction horror novel. Unfortunately, her career wasn’t quite as prolific as some modern writers, but her work seems to have been more about quality, rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly she wasn’t the first writer within the horror genre, but she was the first female horror writer and she did invent two completely different subgenres of horror. I do find it rather nice though, that all of her works are within the public domain and can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to read her Gothic-styled genius.

Check out our coverage of Mary Shelley in her Dead Author Dedication we did earlier this year.


Daphne Du Maurier

(05/13/1907 – 04/19/1989)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier has generally been classed as a romantic novelist, but the stories she produced in her lifetime have been described as “moody and resonant,” and most if not all of them have paranormal and supernatural overtones. Critics never gave her a fair shot when her bestselling works were first published, but her exceptional talent with her voice in narrative changed their minds and earned her a persistently unparalleled reputation.

A few of her novels have been adapted into films—quite successfully in fact, including Rebecca (1938), adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to film in 1940—which starts off as such an innocent romance, but quickly turns into a story with such a haunting atmosphere, you can’t be sure if it’s a ghost story, or one of subterfuge. Don’t even get us started on his adaptation of her novel The Birds (1952) which was released in 1963!

Some Books to Read by Du Maurier

  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • The Birds (1952)
  • Not After Midnight and Other Stories (1971)

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered the life and times of Daphne Du Maurier as of yet, but believe us when we say that her style of writing is phenomenal–actually, don’t believe us, read some of them and decide for yourself! Since we’ve been trying to cover a single dead author per month, in memoriam during the month in which they passed, we won’t be visiting the life and achievements of Daphene Du Maurier in full until April of 2021.


Shirley Jackson

(12/14/1916 – 08/08/1965)

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers that the weird, dark, and haunted can thoroughly relate to–personally, I believe that she is the one writer I can relate to the most. Not because she was insanely talented–I’m not self-centered enough to believe I rank on her level–it’s because she never made an attempt to pretend that she was in any way normal and I mean that in complete admiration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shirley Jackson, take a look at the articles we did to honor her for August’s Dead Author Dedication:


Lois Duncan

(04/28/1934 – 06/15/2016)

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan made a name for herself by writing for young adults–those transitioning from childhood to adulthood, who needed a voice to relate to that would help them understand what it was like to have to evolve into a responsible human being, even under the worst of circumstances. As a horror writer for the young and the young-at-heart, Duncan left a legacy, not only for her readers, but for those who were inspired to follow in her footsteps.

She paved the way for writers and creatives to finally be able to appeal to the younger audiences who, otherwise would only have had adult horror to turn to–because, let’s be honest, those among us who love horror now have loved horror for a long time and if it hadn’t been for Duncan’s books we might not have had age-appropriate content for our nerdy dark brains to dive into.

You can learn more about Lois Duncan through our exploration of her life, literary achievements, and legacy–Puzzle Box Horror style, in our Dead Author Dedication in July 2020.


Anne Rice

(10/04/1941 – Present)

Anne Rice

She is a best-selling American author and having sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, is one of the most widely read authors in modern history. World-renowned, among her works the most well-known are the Vampire Chronicles, where she demonstrates her ability to convey love, death, immortality, existentialism, as well as the human condition under the umbrella of the gothic horror genre. One thing is certain, aside from Mary Shelley, Rice is possibly the most popular female author on this list!


Octavia E. Butler

(06/22/1947 – 02/24/2006)

Octavia E. Butler

Butler started her writing career in her twenties after studying at several universities and she blended elements of science fiction and African American spiritualism in her novels. Her first book, Patternmaster (1976) which would kick start her first series of books. It wouldn’t be her last series, however, as she continued to write and publish books up until her death in February of 2006. Although Butler was better known to be an author of science fiction, she often incorporated elements of our favorite genre, horror. Her most horror-inspired novel was published just a year before her death and told the story of a girl who discovers she’s a vampire. Often hailed as a genius, Butler worked to address racism from her vantage point as a writer and exposed the horrors of oppression in American history. When talking about one of her most popular books, she explained that, “[she] wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

Join us in February of 2021, for when we honor Butler’s contribution to horror.


Kathe Koja

(01/06/1960 – Present)

Kathe Koja

As a writer, director, and independent producer, Kathe Koja is a multiple platform powerhouse of a woman—her talent allows her to work within several different genres, from Young Adult, to contemporary, to historical, as well as horror fiction genres. Several of her novels have won awards and have also been translated into multiple different languages and her work has also been optioned for film and performance pieces.


Caitlín R. Kiernan

(05/26/1964 – Present)

Caitlín R. Kiernan

As an Irish-born American, Caitlín R. Kiernan is a published paleontologist and author of both science fiction and dark/horror fantasy. An accomplished author in her own right, Kiernan has published ten novels, a series of comic books, and over two hundred fifty short stories, novellas, and vignettes—for all of her hard work she has received both the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards twice!


Tananarive Due

(01/05/1966 – Present)

Tananarive Due

Tananarive is an all-around wonder when it comes to the horror community, not only is she an award-winning author, she also teaches about Black Horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California Los Angeles. But wait, there’s more—as a prominent figure in black speculative fiction over the last twenty years, she and her husband collaborated to write “A Small Town” for the second season of the reboot of The Twilight Zone. This is by no means a complete biography for Due but we hope it’s enough to interest you in her incredible literature and work for equality as she helps to educate in the exclusionary history of not just American history, but horror history.

To get better acquainted with Tananarive Due, check out her official website and the upcoming article we have dedicated to her work in horror.

For a more in-depth look at the history of horror and the role that black people have historically played within the genre, keep an eye out for Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Tananarive Due is listed as an executive producer for this highly anticipated documentary and it’s coming out in February 2021, just in time for Black History month!


Gemma Files

(04/04/1968 – Present)

Gemma Files

London-born, Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic—but she had quite a meager start as a freelance writer until she landed a continuing gig with an entertainment periodical called Eye Weekly. It was this position that led to her gaining local traction, as she began critiquing horror, independent, and Canadian films. In 1999 Gemma won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, with The Emperor’s Old Bones. Since then, five of her short stories have been adapted to television for The Hunger series. She’s been nominated for countless awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 and 2010 for a short story and novelette respectively.


Jemiah Jefferson

(01/01/1972 – Present)

Jemiah Jefferson

Another elegant African American horror author, Jemiah Jefferson toes the line between horror and erotica through her gift to horror-loving women everywhere—her Voice of the Blood series about the famous creatures of the night has been called “smart, beautiful, sexy, and vicious.” (I’m not going to lie, I may have purchased all four of them the very same day I discovered her.) Jemiah has a lot more to offer in the way of novels and short stories, however, and we’re exceptionally excited to share her with you all.


Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi

(12/10/1984 – Present)

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi and her writing are equally unique, her writing transcends any genre that attempts to confine or define her, so the best way we can describe her work is a blend of horror, fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore. While not a dedicated horror writer, her work is often unsettling (just the way we like it), frightening, and she often explores the paranormal, bizarre, and supernatural elements of fiction. When she was a young woman, just twenty years of age, she published her first novel The Icarus Girl (2005), which mixed the paranormal with Gothic horror themes and Nigerian folklore. In 2009, her novel White is For Witching, was published and is considered one of the great modern cosmic horror novels—we personally loved it!


Kat Howard

(09/14/19** – Present)

As a modern-day writer in a genre dominated by a more masculine influence, Kat Howard is a refreshing change of pace–since the best writing is when you are allowed to immerse yourself in the story and are otherwise unaware of the writer’s gender, skin color, sexuality, or how they otherwise identify themselves.

We were lucky enough to be able to speak to Kat Howard recently—so, check out the interview that we did with Kat Howard, where she speaks about her novel The End of the Sentence (2014), horror, and what it’s like to be a writer. You can check out that interview here if you’d like to know more!

You can find out a bit more about her on her official website, kathowardbooks.com and you can also follow her on twitter!


We reserve the right to update this list in the future to further represent female writers of the horror genre that we may currently be unfamiliar with–an exclusion of an amazing female horror author here only means that we have yet to be introduced to her work! Let us know if you believe someone should be included here!

Advertisements

Join Us

Chasing Transgressions: Censoring Excess in Exploitative Horror

Categories
Featured

Ever since the introduction of the Hays Code in 1927, films in the horror genre have fought to remain true to the voice of the genre. The consistency in which film creators have chipped away at those codes since their inception has brought us to where we are today; while movies like Hellraiser (1987) have still had to deal with censorship before they premiered, what is deemed excessive or exploitative is brought to new heights with each film that dares to push the limits.

Fully banned in Kansas…

When Frankenstein (1931) was first released, the local Kansas board banned it for the entire state; thousands of unhappy moviegoers wanted access, so eventually, the board relented. The Kansas board bastardized the movie with so many cuts that it, “would have stripped it of all its horrific elements,” which brought the intervention of the MPDDA and fewer cuts (Petley 132). The film standards that were enforced in the 1930s didn’t take into account the production of the horror genre; after wondering where the line would be drawn for a genre that consistently dug further into the dark, it was decided that:

As long as monsters refrained from illicit sexual activity, respected the clergy, and maintained silence on controversial political matters, they might walk with impunity where bad girls, gangsters, and radicals feared to tread.

(Cited in Petley 131)

Those standards wouldn’t last for long. The lines within horror are blurred, humans can be the monsters who don’t refrain from illicit sexual activity, demonic representations within films regularly disrespect the clergy, and have had a tendency to be outspoken on controversial political matters [see Night of the Living Dead (1968)]. Censorship for violent or graphic content was incredibly strict from the inception of the Hays Code until the 1960s when the standards for censorship were relaxed (Petley 130).

With the growing popularity of television sets in the home came tight restrictions for television programs. Televisions made entertainment easily accessible to people in the comfort of their own homes—this created stiff competition for filmmakers. While television standards were stricter, it allowed film production codes to be lowered in order to lure viewers back to the theater with the prospect of seeing something more forbidden. When Hellraiser was first released in 1987, audiences may have been a little shocked at the overt sexualization of pain and violence.

The graphic nature of the gruesome torture scenes cut in between scenes of sexual conquest and that starts within the first fifteen minutes. The mise-en-scène we are given with Julia’s flashback to her affair with her soon-to-be husband’s brother Frank sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Frank appears at the door, confident if not rude and slightly mysterious, drenched from the downpour of rain. He imposes himself upon Julia and we see her in her most innocent and unassuming form—cut to her walking into the third floor attic, a dusty, dingy, room in ill repair, to be alone with her thoughts.

Every inclusion of prop, from the knife that he cuts her nightgown strap with, to the wedding dress he lays her down upon to begin their torrid love affair, is essential to the story. Frank will take what he wants from Julia; having never been with a man who so confidently takes what he desires, Julia falls lustfully into their fervent and passionate, if not taboo, lovemaking. Engaging with Frank atop her pure white gown, sullying her presumable innocent reputation, is at the core of what Hellraiser translates to. Pleasure that feels sinful, Pain that feels pleasurable—two things that, with the Lament Configuration, blend together seamlessly.

The scene continues, cutting from the flashback of the affair to present-day Julia in longing remembrance, and then to her husband as he struggles to move a bed into their home. Frank and Julia climax in the flashback, Julia begins to cry, and Larry cuts himself deeply on a nail protruding from a wall. In these five minutes, we have excess in the taboo sexual act of cheating, the emotional show of Julia’s aching desire for Frank, and the adverse reaction Larry has to his own hand gushing blood. The movie continues on in this manner, unapologetic and all the more entertaining for it—we spend the next few minutes watching the floorboard soak up Larry’s blood and subsequently reconstitute most of Frank’s body.

Pinhead from Hellraiser

Torture Porn and Erotica?

Some people might have found those two scenes to be subversive or even repulsive—some, according to movie critics at the time, found it comical. As if the excess pushed it from a horrifying experience, to a campy overdone joke. I think, when appreciated for the time it was created and given a little benefit of the doubt, it sows the seeds of a completely gratifying horror experience. Any attempt to relate to Julia, one might actually feel sorry for her—she feels as if she’s fallen in love with Frank and that he loves her back. The truth that she doesn’t really take into consideration is that desire and love don’t always coexist; Frank doesn’t actually care about Julia past using her for his own personal gain. We find out later, Frank’s coercive nature leads her to bring back men for him to feed off of and escape hell. Her own selfish desires lead her to assume that once he’s back in his skin (quite literally), they’ll rekindle their love-affair.

Violence and sex have had a tendency to be viewed differently in different countries. Where America has historically fallen back on christian outrage when it comes to depictions of sex (especially premarital sex) on the big screen, violence has been considered more acceptable. Alternatively, as Dumas has noted, countries like Sweden have had the opposite policy (29). People experience an incredible amount of shame and anxiety surrounding their own sexual desires that may or may not be considered taboo within an otherwise moral society—this of course causes an internal conflict for the audience (Dumas 29). What’s more is when Hellraiser’s Pinhead suggests that, “pleasure and pain (are) indistinguishable,” within his realm, it cements the concept of sexualizing brutality.

A certain morbid curiosity has escalated the gory nature of horror films with the release of each new feature. Post 9/11 audiences seemed to be even more desensitized than before—torture porn like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) hit the theaters—horror fans flocked to experience the repulsion and anxiety that comes with watching the suffering of others (Pinedo 345). A world where fear and uncertainty were becoming more commonplace, there became a vaccuum for horror. These gratuitous, taboo, excessive movies gave viewers a space in which we were free to be afraid.

Excess turns exploitative when the horror no longer fits around an underlying story, but instead, a story is made to fit around underlying ideas of violence and repulsion. Like pornography that attempts to have a plot—just look at any motion-picture porn parody—exploitative horror like The Human Centipede (2009), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), A Serbian Film (2010), and Tusk (2014) is simply an excuse to showcase gratuitous violence. These films are still liable to be heavily cut (Petley 146-147) and for good reason.

What is interesting is that such exploitative films are defended regularly, but are they films that need to be defended? A Serbian Film’s subject matter is indefensible, yet there are people who try to reason away the infant rape scene by bringing up that it wasn’t a real infant. Regardless of whether it’s a real infant or not, it’s meant to convey the scene in the most realistic way possible so as to instigate a severe repulsion response. It’s even suggested that “the masochistic and sadistic aspects of the film-viewing experience [implies] that viewers get some form of sexual gratification from these images,” (Pinedo 347) which in the case of A Serbian Film is beyond horrifying.

Horror and sex have a long, intertwined history, the eroticization of depictions of violence is nothing new. However, a horror film’s ability to stimulate viewers sexually, “not only draws their attention, but also primes them to react more strongly to other feelings, such as suspense and fear,” (Pinedo 347). In the end, what is considered exploitative or excessive is dependent upon the audience—there will always be those who object, just like there will always be those who call for more violence, gore, repulsion, and explicit sexual content.

Strong reactions and emotions have historically created experiences fewer people can forget. As an example, who can forget the release of Hostel in 2005, where viewers were not only fleeing the theater, they were reportedly throwing up in their seats. If the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad press,” is true—which it certainly seems to be within the horror genre—then these outrageous claims of such violent repulsion created a more morbidly curious audience.

Works Cited

Dumas, Chris. “Horror and Psychoanalysis: An Introductory Primer.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 21–37.

Petley, Julian. “Horror and the Censors.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 130–147.

Pinedo, Isabel C. “Torture Porn: 21st Century Horror.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 345–61.

Advertisements

Join Us

Signup to our newsletter