'From grade B thrillers to deluxe chillers': prestige horror, female audiences, and allegories of spectatorship in The Spiral Staircase (1946)

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Abstract

This paper examines the prestige ‘shocker’ The Spiral Staircase (1946), suggesting that it challenges the perception of the decline in quality in the horror genre in the 1940s, as well as assumptions in scholarship that the genre has historically been addressed to a male audience. Whilst the film is usually discussed as a woman’s film, on release it was centred as part of a distinct shift in the horror genre from ‘grade B thrillers to deluxe chillers’. The reclassification of films like The Spiral Staircase as woman’s films could be seen as an attempt to make text fit established theory – the film is addressed to a female audience and thus cannot be a horror film. Through an analysis of textual and extra-textual discourses, including reception and publicity materials, this paper will challenge the pervasive theories that suggest female pleasure or identification is unattainable in horror spectatorship. Whilst the theory is that women refuse to look at horror, averting their eyes or turning away, in 1946 The Spiral Staircase asked a predominantly female audience to take a closer look and question the very act of looking at the cinema screen.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Review of Film and Television Studies
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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