Laura Palmer screaming
Posted on August 19, 2020

When the Woman Screams: A Digital Humanities Podcast

Elizabeth Erwin

The image of the screaming female in horror films is so ubiquitous that it has become a hallmark of the genre. And it is an image that has garnered more than its fair share of controversy. In a special episode of At the Movies that aired in 1980, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert decried the barrage of Halloween film rip offs that were popping up in theaters on an almost weekly basis. At the center of their critique was the argument that these films victimize women and are inherently anti-feminist. 

Setting aside that Siskel and Ebert are indicting an entire genre based upon the clips from slasher films, a sub genre, the notion that women scream in horror films simply out of fear has always struck me as rather simplistic. Sure, women scream because they are afraid. But they also scream when they are angry, grief-stricken, or just mad as hell. The reasons why women scream in horror films are complex, just like women.

All of which leads me to the point of this post. When the Woman Screams is a humanities podcast project that decenters the ‘women in peril’ trope of horror films by suggesting that the screams we hear are not always simple responses to stress stimuli, but are also complex responses to institutional and cultural misogyny. 

In this season, we’re focusing on horror films from the United States and we’re asking ourselves what these female horror screams have to tell us about the world and a woman’s place in it. Each episode covers a particular type of scream and considers what that scream suggests about the social and political context in which it was created.

In our first episode, we’ll explore the screams found in Hagsploitation films by concentrating on three films that represent this shockingly overlooked subgenre: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Lady in a Cage (1964). And we’ll connect these screams to second wave American feminism. I hope you’ll scream with me!

To listen to all episodes or to learn more about the project, please visit the website.

Or listen to episode 1 now!

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