Nonfiction Review -- Femspec: Women's Horror

SFRA Review #263-4, March-June 2003
by Gerardo Cummings

Weinbaum, Batya (Ed.) Femspec. Caddo Gap Press, 3145 Geary Boulevard PMB 275, San Francisco, CA 941118, 2002. Vol. 4. Issue I.140 pages.

After reading the special issue on "Women's Horror" of Femspec, a journal dedicated to critical and creative works of science fiction, fantasy, and other supernatural genres, it is easy to see how Gina Wisker's editorial remarks, serve as the correct introduction to the articles, authors and critics to be found within the journal because the correct contextualization of them facilitates their reading by those basically unfamiliar with the themes and subjects to be discussed. After Wisker, a section of creative writing by Suzy McKee Charnas, Louise Shaw, and Doreen Russell is posited before the meat and potatoes section of the journal: The Criticism.

While "Evil Thoughts", "The Which Bitch? Project", and "Spell" are not texts subjected to discussion in the criticism section that follows them, they serve as introductory statements to McKee Charnas, Shaw and Russell respectively. The horror themes and subjects in their works (Halloween, evil faries, and Freddy Kruger among them) suggest the validity of this literature in our post-postmodern world.

The main discussion of this review, is posited on the critical essays included in Femspec, for they present groundbreaking approaches to the Vampire myth, the Alien films, Xena: Warrior Princess, and other horror themes.

This critic must honestly state from the outset, that while excellently well researched and written, our bias toward such grade-Z shlock like Xena, makes it an unbearable chore to agree with discussion of the dark double, madness and horror in the TV series as referenced in Frances Tomaszyk's "Lunatics with Lethal Combat Skills: Dark Doubles, Bacchae, and Soulless Women in Xena: Warrior Princess." A much serious horror it is to know that such a TV show was even made in the first place.

The topics of the vampires and aliens divide the rest of the essays, with a couple of exceptions being the essays by Anita Biressi and Kathleen Kendall. The former's "True Crime, Medicine, and Corporeal Horror" contributes greatly to the theories of the body and corporeal corrosion, but surprisingly fails to address the role Kristeva has played in such theories; the latter's "Who Are You Afraid Of?: Young Women as Consumers and Producers of Horror Films" effectively offers the results of a study Kendall conducted in her Media Studies course. The key conclusion was that young women are prone to enjoy the visual aesthetics of the horror genre, but have their reservations about the way their intelligence may be underestimated.

The essays pertaining to vampire mythology are Sabine Meyer's "Passing Perverts, After All: Vampirism, (In)Visibility, and the Horrors of the Normative in Jewelle Gomez' The Gilda Stories,? Sara Mart?n Alegre's "The Other in Me: Nancy Collins's Vampire Heroine, Sonja Blue,? and Lorna Jowett's " 'Mute and Beautiful': The Representation of the Female in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire." Meyer first theorizes on what she calls "the new vampire" before delving into a study of The Gilda Stories. Mart?n Alegre's work introduces the concept of the "reluctant vampire"--or vampirism imposed onto innocents--in her discussion of Collins' novel. Lastly, Jowett's take on Rice's canonized work and her Claudia centered study on the paradoxical and enigmatic nature of this character, should be included in a critical collection dedicated to Anne Rice's reconfiguring of the vampire myth.

The Alien subject encompasses the essays by Aline Ferrara and Andrea Greenbaum. It is hard to decide which of the two is the most ambitious piece of critical research. Ferrara's "Artificial Wombs and Archaic Tombs: Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve and the Alien Tetralogy" considers the strong similarities between Carter's post-apocalytic novel and the films with Ripley's antagonist; Greenbaum's "Biotechnology as Kabbalah: Reconfiguring the Golden Myth in Alien Resurrection and Species" presents the Golem, codes, DNA, and Hebrew literature in connection to the films of her title.

As prelude to our final remarks, we must reinforce the role of Wisker, who in her article " 'Honey, I'm Home!': Splintering the Fabrication in Domestic Horror," does a superb job of discussing the foundations of horror and presenting prime examples in literature and film. Her tour through Freud, King, Carter and Kristeva adequately exemplify her points of discussion.

In conclusion, there are no discernible flaws with any of the articles included in this volume of Femspec, even the Xena article. All the essays presented an interest aspect of what we could begin to identify as 21st century horror literary criticism.