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Witches, 'Bitches' or Feminist Trailblazers? The Witch in Fold Horror Cinema

Germaine Buckley, Chloe (2019) Witches, 'Bitches' or Feminist Trailblazers? The Witch in Fold Horror Cinema. Revenant: Creative and Critical Studies of the Supernatural (4). pp. 22-42. ISSN 2397-8791

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Abstract

Witches have a long history in horror cinema but their status (feminist heroine or patriarchal monster?) continues to be the subject of critical debate. Barbara Creed’s seminal analysis notes that the witch is invariably represented as an old, ugly, crone. Elsewhere, Linda Williams’s suggestion that women and monsters share an affinity in horror film and pose a threat to vulnerable male power, has lead recent critics to consider depictions of the witch as offering a challenge to patriarchy. This article considers the genealogy of the witch in cinema through her depiction in folk horror, culminating in an analysis of Robert Eggers’s 2016 film, The Witch. Examining the debate around the feminist potential of the witch, the article concludes that she offers critics and viewers of horror cinema a troubling ambiguity that serves neither liberal nor conservative politics. The ambiguity of the witch means she can pressed in the service of competing discourses. Moreover, we cannot read the image of the witch independent of her origins in Early Modern history, nor of political and cultural contexts of these early decades of the twenty-first century. These contexts include the rise of the ‘Men’s Rights’ movement, a post-feminist backlash against women in authority, the creation of mainstream media platforms for misogynist ideas and rising economic and social inequalities that have disproportionately affected women. In these contexts, the figure of the witch looms large and ambiguity in itself is not necessarily subversion. As one reviewer of The Witch notes, the audience will see what they want to see.

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