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Phantom Ladies

Phantom Ladies: Hollywood Horror and the Home Front

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Phantom Ladies
    Book Description:

    Defying industry logic and gender expectations, women started flocking to see horror films in the early 1940s. The departure of the young male audience and the surprise success of the filmCat Peopleconvinced studios that there was an untapped female audience for horror movies, and they adjusted their production and marketing strategies accordingly.

    Phantom Ladiesreveals the untold story of how the Hollywood horror film changed dramatically in the early 1940s, including both female heroines and female monsters while incorporating elements of "women's genres" like the gothic mystery. Drawing from a wealth of newly unearthed archival material, from production records to audience surveys, Tim Snelson challenges long-held assumptions about gender and horror film viewership.

    Examining a wide range of classic horror movies, Snelson offers us a new appreciation of how dynamic this genre could be, as it underwent seismic shifts in a matter of months.Phantom Ladies, therefore, not only includes horror films made in the early 1940s, but also those produced immediately after the war ended, films in which the female monster was replaced by neurotic, psychotic, or hysterical women who could be cured and domesticated.Phantom Ladiesis a spine-tingling, eye-opening read about gender and horror, and the complex relationship between industry and audiences in the classical Hollywood era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7044-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Horror on the Home Front
    (pp. 1-10)

    We begin with a warning. The unholy sights and bloodcurdling chills you will encounter inPhantom Ladiesare neither pleasurable nor suitable for refined, feminine tastes. Any unescorted women should turn back now before it is too late. Those who believe they can take it are advised to bring along a group of like-minded female friends or, preferably, a male escort. If you choose to proceed alone, however, you do so at your own peril and against the advice of the house. You have been warned!

    Despite, or perhaps in part because of, such promotional hyperbole, American women flocked to...

  5. 1 Rebecca Meets The Wolf Man at RKO: The Emergence of the Female Monster Cycle, 1942–1943
    (pp. 11-54)

    In her article “Gold in Them Chills,” Barbara Berch identifies an emergent cycle of horror films placing women in their central roles. She proposes that the novel characterization and stylistic traits of RKO’sCat People(1942),I Walked with a Zombie(1943), andThe Seventh Victim(1943) have opened up a new market for horror—beyond traditionally male-orientated grind-houses like the Rialto—in neighborhood theaters associated traditionally with more refined, feminine tastes.¹ She explains that these films had generated a “gold rush at the box office—not only in theaters specializing in ‘triple Horror Show Tonight’ but in neighborhood houses...

  6. 2 Series, Sequels, and Double Bills: The Evolution of the Female Monster Cycle, 1943–1944
    (pp. 55-89)

    In her article “Shebas of Shudders,” Dee Lowrance rejoiced that “the screen now offers a great variety in horror queens.” Pointing to the evidence of both the Lewton films discussed in the previous chapter and a number of the Universal films discussed below—includingWeird Woman, Son of Dracula, andThe Mummy’s Ghost—she demonstrates that “zombies, werewolves, bats and ghouls[are] all in the day’s work for these heroines of horror films.”¹ Like Donald Kirkley of theBaltimore Sun, Lowrance sees this phenomenon as a bottom-up movement, with Hollywood responding to audience demand rather than directing it. Instead of seeing...

  7. 3 A-Class Monsters: The Escalation into Prestige Productions, 1944–1945
    (pp. 90-132)

    Due to the waning popularity of war films, the critic Fred Stanley explains, “Hollywood, temporarily at least, has all but shelved martial projects” in favor of this cycle of A-class horror productions.¹ The RKO, Universal, and Columbia female monster films discussed previously would be positioned somewhere between routine B and near-A status, in the production category Richard Maltby classifies as programmers that could play either half of a double bill.² The inflated budgets, investments in presold properties, and casting of established and emergent talent in prestige productions likeThe UninvitedandPhantom Lady, however, demonstrate the escalation of the female...

  8. 4 From Whatdunit to Whodunit: The Postwar Psychologization of Horror, 1945–1946
    (pp. 133-159)

    TheNew York Herald Tribune’s disappointment atThe Spider Woman Strikes Back’s undercutting of generic expectations exposes the ubiquity of the female monster by 1946, but also her postwar secularization.¹ As Rick Altman explains, “Once a genre is recognized and practised throughout the industry, individual studios have no further economic interest in practising it as such (especially in their prestige productions) … When a genre reaches saturation point, studios must either abandon it, restrict it to ‘B’ productions, or handle it in a new way.”² Following its unsuccessful attempt to handle them in a new way—as the quote above...

  9. Conclusion: Only for the Duration
    (pp. 160-164)

    Shifting the analytic focus from movie genres to film cycles,Phantom Ladieshas demonstrated how the conflicting and shifting demands of industries and audiences might be resituated within their wider cultural contexts. In his growing body of research into the relationship between the serial production of movies and the public sphere they participate in, Peter Stanfield has developed and empirically tested an increasingly nuanced theory of cyclical change. Drawing upon the theories of historians, literary theorists, and business scholars, he has analyzed a range of Hollywood film cycles across a number of essays, identifying the often conflicting textual impulses of...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 165-206)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 207-211)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)