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Fatal Attraction: Women on the Serial-Killer Movies That Thrill Them

Features

Nov 17, 2021

Fatal Attraction: Women on the Serial-Killer Movies That Thrill Them
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Fatal Attraction: Women on the Serial-Killer Movies That Thrill Them

Features

Nov 17, 2021

Decades after Peter Lorre’s knife-toting creep Hans Beckert prowled the Berlin streets in search of little girls in Fritz Lang’s M (1931); after Robert Mitchum’s silver-tongued Harry Powell cut down all the “smooth and curly-haired things” he could get his hands on in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955); after Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates slashed through the shower curtain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), audiences are still captivated by psychopaths and serial killers. The end of Hollywood’s censorship codes in the 1960s, as well as the move toward a grittier kind of realism in postwar cinema all over the world, opened the floodgates to increasingly graphic depictions of sex and violence on-screen, paving the way for even more demented and blood-lusty villains. As the realities of gendered violence continue to make headlines and inundate our social media channels, these cinematic tales of brutality feel all the more palpably horrifying to women spectators, because we feel them to be possible, to be potentially true.

What are the implications of spectatorship premised on our fascination with and eager consumption of violent images—images that, however fictional, brush up against an all-too-familiar darkness? What does it mean for women—typically the preferred victims—to witness these images, and to perhaps even relish them? To look back on crime and horror films that generate pretty corpses, that delight in a woman’s screams and linger on brutalized women’s bodies, is to reckon with the misogyny baked into popular culture. Enjoying such films is a kind of Gordian knot for the woman viewer, tugging uncomfortably at questions of pleasure and power without the comfort of easy answers. 

In conjunction with two series currently on the Criterion Channel—Home Invasion and True Crime—we’ve gathered half a dozen women writers to wrestle with a serial-killer movie of their choice and the ways it fascinates, disturbs, thrills, or provokes them. —Beatrice Loayza


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