How Nottingham’s Monstrous Flesh: Women’s Bodies in Horror Film course explores gender through a feminist lens
Home to a plethora of female narratives while also being known for its bank of sexist tropes, horror has a complicated and contradictory relationship when it comes to women. Clelia McElroy, host of Monstrous Flesh: female bodies in horror – the feminist horror film course currently offered at the Sherwood Community Centre.
“I take a few movies that people know and love, and dissect them down to an inch of their life,” Clelia jokes, referencing the ten-week course that dives deep into a new trope every session. “In the first session we talked about the origin of horror, for example, then in week two we looked at the vampire trope and how it was used to demonize female sexuality and desire. feminine.”
What inspired this course? “I’ve always loved horror movies. I grew up in the 90s and I loved slashers and all that kind of stuff,” she says. “I’ve spent time running community film initiatives, so I’ve always been interested in that community aspect and film education. I’m also really new to Nottingham, and thought the best way to meet my people would be to start a little course like this.
A study has shown that it takes twice as long to kill a female victim on screen. Horror is a sensational genre, it’s like pornography
Horror is a subject Clelia is passionate about, and after many years of hearing the genre considered a secondary subject of film study, she is quick to champion it. “There is an idea that horror has no cultural value, but that’s not true. When you can contextualize a film, you can see what societal fears it’s addressing,” says Clelia, keen to illustrate that horror is a mirror of society, reflecting the thoughts and cultural mores of its time.
In this way, the film class acts as a lesson in social history, tracking attitudes towards women through horror films. As expected, the misogynistic history of the genre is inescapable, and violence against women is often a visceral and central part of many of these films. “There’s no denying that horror is much more about violence against women,” Clelia says. “A study has shown that it takes twice as long to kill a female victim on screen. Horror is a sensational genre, it’s like pornography, these genres make people feel at home. times horrified and titillated. It’s not fair, but it’s there.
Nevertheless, horror also has a deep history of female involvement. Many of the earliest Gothic writers were women, from early contributors like Ann Radcliffe to iconic novelists like Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson. And in the modern era, we see a new cohort of exciting female directors and writers. “We see that the representation of women is changing a lot, women are getting much more involved behind the camera,” says Clélia. While “lazy horror,” as McElroy calls it, continues to employ sexist tropes, the genre is beginning to move away from its pejorative past, with films like Censor (2021), candy man (2021), Raw (2016), The Street of Fear Trilogy (2021), and Jennifer’s body (2009) given as examples of great films created by female directors.
Nottingham is clearly a creatively vibrant place, and I can’t wait to do more here.
The course, which plans to run until mid-February, has received a positive response so far. “I started with eight students, then four more people joined. It was just lovely, everyone joined for very different reasons; either they like cinema, or they want to do something different, or they are interested in feminism,” says Clelia. “We have a bulletin board on Facebook where everyone shares films, podcasts, suggestions and plays. I’ve never had that kind of response so it’s a real testament to how Nottingham is a creative city.
I ask Clélia what the future holds for the horror genre. “Horror is definitely rebranding, which is great,” she says. “The concept of high horror started not so long ago, with movies like Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019), and The witch (2015). I have nothing against that, it gives middle-class audiences an excuse to go see films they previously considered unscrupulous. Nonetheless, Clélia refuses to dismiss the work of ancient horror directors, despite whatever flaws they may present to a modern viewer. “If you look at the themes, horror has always been about societal fears. If we put it into a socio-cultural context, we’ll see that it always did the job it does now. In that sense, it’s documents social and historical significance, alongside works of art in their own right.
Looking forward to her own future, Clelia is excited to take this course again, as well as pursue new creative endeavors. After asking for final thoughts, Clelia brings the conversation back to her sense of gratitude. “I have been blown away by the community support so far. Nottingham is clearly a dynamic place creatively, and I can’t wait to do more here.
Find out more about the film course on the Monstrous Flesh Facebook Page