Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Womens Studies

Major Professor

Amy L. Rust


Carnivalesque, Exaggeration, Feminism, Horror films, Performance, Transgression


The threats found in horror films change with time, each decade consisting of threats that were most frightening for the time period. Horror film scholars, such as Andrew Tudor, determined that in 1970s horror films the threat has migrated from external forces into the home and the family. Invading aliens and monsters were thrown replaced by psychosis and evil children. This notion of making the familiar unfamiliar and threatening is paralleled in concerns addressed during the second-wave of feminism; women were making the normative and familiar idea of mother unfamiliar as they migrated from the private and into the public sphere.

This thesis looks at what happens when women from three separate horror films of the 1970s begin to trouble the normative ideas of what a good mother is by exaggerating the very conventions themselves. The films of analysis are Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), The Brood, and Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976). Rather than directly defying normative expectations of the good mother, the women of these films adhere to these codes in such exaggerated fashions that they become monstrous. Once the spectator deems these women as monstrous, their behavior is noted as performative and open to a possible reimaging of what constitutes a good mother.

It is in this possible reimagination of the good mother, due to negative illumination rather than positive prescription, where the revolutionary power of the carnivalesque perspective truly lies. As the main theoretical framework for this thesis, Mikhail Bakhtin's carnivalesque perspective grants spectators the chance to participate in the reimaginations of the normative construction of the good mother. It is here where the monstrosity of these mothers can be seen as not solely as monstrous but also as critical of the normative. As the monstrous interrogates the normative, the spectators begin to question the patriarchal ideals and expectations of the good mother, which allows for reimagining of what constitutes the good mother.