Date of Graduation

5-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Advisor

M. Keith Booker

Committee Member

Robin Roberts

Second Committee Member

Lissette L. Szwydky-Davis

Keywords

critical theory, gender, horror cinema, horror film, possession cinema, possession film

Abstract

A dominant trope of the possession genre of horror cinema is the spectacle of the white female body that extends beyond narrowly-proscribed boundaries as being too active, too loud, too sexual, and too uncontrolled. This excess is depicted as monstrous, revolting to patriarchal ideology and in need of containment. In this dissertation, I argue that the long-standing horror genre of possession narratives reveals social anxieties about a loss of control over the productive and reproductive capabilities of the undisciplined female body in U.S. patriarchal, white supremacist, late capitalist culture. This study critically examines three sets of possession films: the Paranormal Activity franchise, possessed nun films, and the sole film focusing on a demon-possessed Black woman, Abby (1974). Historically and culturally-situated readings demonstrate that these films depict the carefully raced and gendered bodies of women as possessed by patriarchal institutions for the purpose of production and reproduction. In contrast to previous critical work on women in horror cinema, I read the systems which torment the female body as monstrous, rather than the women themselves and thus avoid reproducing dangerous notions of female abjection. This dissertation demonstrates the utility of an analysis that reads systems of oppression as horrific as doing so illuminates matrices of power in the real world. Understanding the filmic violence as the result of oppressive systems shifts the identification of the antagonist from the possessed woman to the force that limits her power and autonomy. This is more nuanced and more engaged with the complex and intersecting powers of real-world oppression than reading the films as narratives of monstrous rebels or abject monsters who are successfully suppressed.

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