Mary Shelley invented science fiction. That’s a fact. But she also created the greatest monster of all time.
Back in 1818 when Shelley introduced her uncanny creation to the public, she couldn’t have predicted the ripple effect her novel would have. Cobbled together from romance and gothic literary traditions, Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus generated an ongoing interest in science fiction, horror and monsters that hasn’t abated in over 200 years.
In the book The Science of Women in Horror, co-authors Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence trace women’s influence in horror throughout the years. In fact, they strongly imply that women are the ultimate monsters because they are alluring and powerful predators. Women have been exploited again and again to strike fear in men’s hearts, they say.
Most female monsters are heteronormative preying easily on men who think with their dicks. But what about other women in horror? Women are not all whores, sirens or gorgons after all. What about those who exist somewhere else on the Kinsey scale?
The lesbian vampire, besides being a gothic fantasy archetype, can be used to express a fundamental male fear that female bonding will forever exclude men and threaten male supremacy.
Take Carmilla, for example. In the 1871 novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Countess Karnstein represents the most complete vision of the female vampire; a lesbian seductress who desires to overturn patriarchy by promoting female independence from men, and the rejection of biological reproduction.
Conversely, female werewolves offer another version of fear and loathing. They embody a kind of gendered body crossing where a woman expresses characteristics labeled both masculine and male by the dominant culture such as power, strength, rage, aggression, violence and body hair. Check out the movie Ginger Snaps (2000) for a good example of this.
Even off-screen, women have been making their mark on monsters for a long time. According to Guillermo del Toro, special effects artist Milicent Patrick designed the “number one monster suit in film history” (the awesome Creature from the Black Lagoon). Ruth Rose co-wrote the original King Kong script and contributed the last and most memorable line of dialogue: “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”
Inevitably when thinking about horror movies, the gaggle of monsters from Universal Studios come to mind. The only female creature from the studio’s MonsterVerse to transcend its era is the Bride of Frankenstein. Considered by many film buffs to be better than the original movie, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the first sequel to Frankenstein and revolves around a subplot in Mary Shelley’s novel in which the creature yearns for a suitable mate. The Bride has little screen time and is ultimately rejected by science and her intended bridegroom, but her aesthetic (including her tall, skunk-streaked hair-do) endures to this day. Inspired by Shelley, Frankenstein’s bride is the mother of all monsters.
[The Science of Women in Horror / By Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence / First Printing: February 2020 / ISBN: 9781510751743]