Architects of Horror: Alice Guy-Blaché, Ida Lupino and Paula Maxa

By Marian Phillips

Marian Phillips is a second year Master’s candidate at Sarah Lawrence College studying Women’s History.

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about during the month of October, I considered everything I knew about women and feminism mixed with the horrific, absurd, and surreal. I thought about women I have written about previously (Diablo Cody, Karyn Kusama, and Millicent Patrick), flipped through my horror anthologies, and then I asked myself, “What about the women architects that helped build the genre?” I was drawn to three of my personal favorites that worked with and made space for women in the genre: Paula Maxa, Ida Lupino, and Alice Guy-Blaché. Sadly, they are not alive today, but their impact on the 19th and 20th century has deeply influenced contemporary horror films and literature, making it what it is today. 

In 1896, a 23-year-old Alice Guy-Blaché was recognized as the first woman director in history. While her films are not always considered outright horrific for an early 19th century audience, 21st century audiences consider them disturbing. Over the course of her career, Guy-Blaché directed approximately 1,000 films. One of these works includes the first woman directed film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum in 1913. Guy-Blaché is no stranger to firsts. As such a prolific figure in film and horror, she has influenced some of the greats, including Alfred Hitchcock ad Sergei Eisenstein. She has received countless awards posthumously and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013. 

Alice Guy-Blaché

London, England born director, Ida Lupino was one of the only women directors in Hollywood, California during the 1950s. In 1953, she became known as one of the queens of B-movies with her film The Hitchhiker. The psychological horror film was the first done by a woman director. She showed her audiences that jump-scares weren’t necessary to incite fear; it could be achieved through the slow process of building psychological tension and emotion. Her most noteworthy achievement – besides this remarkable first – was her episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Masks.” Lupino is the only woman that directed episodes for the iconic horror and sci-fi series. Undoubtedly, she paved the way for many more women to take on directorial positions in the genre. 

4/23/1943- Ida Lupino in surrealist portrait.

Unlike Guy-Blaché and Lupino, the most assassinated woman in history, Paula Maxa performed in horror productions. Having been murdered on stage over 10,000 times, historians note her as the original “scream queen.” She performed at the gore specialized French theatre, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, from 1917 to the 1930s. Every night she was on stage, Maxa was either steamrolled, stabbed, disemboweled, slashed, or some other form of murderous activity. These performances had no deep meaning or critique on society, culture, or politics, but Maxa and her ability to die a unique death every night constructed the most utilized character in horror, the scream queen.

These women may have never been in direct contact with one another, or even enjoyed the media that each of them produced, but they built the pathways for each other and for future women in the horror genre. Guy-Blaché crafted film after film to incite fear and wonder from her audiences that ultimately influenced some of the greatest minds in the genre. Lupino showed the world that women could direct horror just as good as men, if not better. Maxa died 10,000 times so Janet Leigh (today’s most famous scream queen) could scream when Norman Bates peeled back the shower curtain. Their influence is long lasting and their presence in the field paved the way for more great women of horror, such as Shirley Jackson, Karyn Kusama, Leigh Janiak, Millicent Patrick, Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Janet Leigh), and countless others. 

Jennifer’s Body (2009): Sexuality and Social Relevance in Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama’s Cult Classic Horror Film

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a second year graduate student studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Her interests include LGBT+ History, Media and Film Studies, and the use of music and movements.


Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for Jennifer’s Body (2009).


Ten years ago, in the fall of 2009, I was thirteen years old. I was hanging out at the mall, waiting for the moment that I could enter the movie theatre and see the film I’d been obsessing over for the entirety of the summer – Jennifer’s Body. Surrounded by fellow mallrats, I was wearing the “I Eat Boys” shirt I purchased from Hot Topic, and a messenger bag filled with dollar store candy. I was ready. As we all know, the film didn’t quite garner the success it deserved upon release. Now, ten years later, Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama are finally receiving praise for creating a brutally honest depiction of bisexuality and what it means to be a woman growing up in a patriarchal society. 

The film follows best friends Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) as they face the hell that being a teenage girl is, figuratively and literally. Friends since the days of sandboxes and playing house, the two exhibit a bond that cannot be broken by high school popularity and even demonic possession. Jennifer plays the beautiful cheerleader, and Needy, the unpopular and awkward teen. In the first moments of the film, the audience finds Jennifer begging Needy to attend a concert for indie band Low Shoulder. The scene quickly escalates, and ends with the two escaping a music hall engulfed in flames. Once they’ve made it out, the band offers to take the two to safety. Needy begs Jennifer not to go with them. Ignoring her best friend’s pleas, she enters the sinister van.

The next time we see Jennifer is in the van. Now that they have her alone, the lead singer asks if she is a virgin, to which she responds “yes” with the hopes that having little to no sexual experience will save her from the unknown. What she doesn’t expect, but becomes swiftly informed of, is that they need a virginal body to sacrifice to the devil in exchange for fame. As she begs and pleads with them not to kill her, the men begin to sing Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” in a taunting manner as they slash and stab her. What they don’t know is that Jennifer Check is no virgin. The sacrifice that they enacted results in the demonic possession of her body. 

This scene is disturbing to say the least, but it is also familiar. Not in the sense that being a literal blood sacrifice is common, but her total loss of control and bodily autonomy at the hands of men that wish to grow into a place of power feels all too familiar. The sacrifice of Jennifer speaks to personal and publicized stories of assault by the hands of privileged white men that hold high positions of power politically and socially – for example, the case of Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh. Cody presented her audience with a story that begins with trauma, is fueled by heartbreak, and ends with revenge wrapped up in demonic possession and teen drama. 

In recent years, many have come to realize that the film was well ahead of its time on social commentary, and its rise in popularity has sustained a steady increase since 2017. Fans of the film have marked it as a symbol of bisexuality, featuring lesbian overtones between Jennifer and Needy. The film itself is a larger statement on women’s sexuality, but the relationship between the two friends is a love story and it permeates throughout the entire film. When we first enter the film, we see them looking at each other with complete adoration as the lyrics for I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You by the band Black Kids plays in the background – “You are the girl, that I’ve been dreaming of / Ever since I was a little girl.”  The love between Jennifer and Needy isn’t simply sandbox love, and Cody never intended it to be read as just that either. 

Cody’s film starts, climaxes, and ends with the two women as the primary focus. Kusama and Cody created a unique and honest depiction of a lesbian relationship; one filled with longing, resentment, joy, and love. It’s one that we don’t see in mainstream films that identify as marketed towards an LGBT+ audience. Despite this, Jennifer’s Body was unable to escape the male gaze and poorly executed marketing team that manipulated the trailers to appease an audience of teenage boys. Back when I was thirteen and walked into the theatre, most audience members were indeed men. I remember hearing my classmates talk about how incredibly hot the “girls kissing on the bed” scene was and how Megan Fox was the epitome of sex. To this day, I get a little aggravated by these remarks when I look back on it. It’s so obvious that the director and screenwriter did not want this to be the takeaway.

Jennifer’s Body is a movie about a teenage girl that was brutally taken advantage of by men for their benefit. It follows the relationship of two friends that are actually deeply in love with one another. The ending showcases the revenge that Jennifer wanted and the love that Needy felt for her, even when she killed Chip. I refuse to spoil the ending for any of you, so what I will do is suggest that once you finish reading this post, go online and rent the film, watch for the details, and appreciate what Cody and Kusama gave to their audience in 2009; how deeply it reflects what we see today in politics, society, and culture and how important it is for teenagers to see accurate depictions of bisexuality to combat against its erasure.