In his pioneering study of Grande Dame Guignol (also referred to as hag horror or psycho-biddy), a female-centric 1960s subgenre of horror film, Peter Shelley explains that the grande dame, a stock character in this form of cinematic expression, “may pine for a lost youth and glory, or she may be trapped by idealized memories of childhood, with a trauma that haunts her past” (8). Indeed, a typical Grande Dame Guignol female protagonist/antagonist (as these two roles often merge) usually deals with various kinds of traumatic experiences: loss of a child, domestic violence, childhood abuse, family conflicts or sudden end of career in the fickle artistic industry, etc. Unable to cope with her problems, but also incapable of facing the inevitable process of aging and dying, she gradually yields to mental and physical illnesses that further strengthen the trauma and lead to her social exclusion, making her life even more unbearable. Unsurprisingly, scholars such as Charles Derry choose to name psycho-biddies horrors of personality, drawing attention to the insightful psychological portrayal of their characters. Thus, it would be relevant and illuminating to discuss films such as Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) as narratives of trauma. This will be the main concern of my article.


Grande Dame Guignol, hag horror, trauma theory, Gothic


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Derry, Charles. Dark Dreams 2.0: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film from the 1950s to the 21st Century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print.

Die! Die! My Darling! Dir. Silvio Narizzano. Perf. Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers. Columbia Pictures Corporation/Hammer Film Productions, 1965. Film.

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“Ladies of the Grand Guignol. An Essay on Actress Exploitation Films of the 1960 and 1970s.” Terrortrap.com. The Terror Trap. Web. 20 May 2019.

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Morrison, James. “Shelley Winters: Camp, Abjection, and the Aging Star.” Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s. Ed. James Morrison. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2010. 120–37. Print.

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Roche, David. “Exploiting Exploitation Cinema: An Introduction.” Transatlantica. Revue d’études américaines/American Studies Journal [Online] 2 (2015): 1–18. PDF file.

Shelley, Peter. Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from “Baby Jane” to “Mother.” Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print.

Smith, Gary A. Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956–1976. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000. Print.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? Dir. Curtis Harrington. Perf. Chloe Franks, Shelley Winters. America International Productions, 1972. Film.

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