Date of Award

Spring 4-22-2021


While the Grande Dame Guignol films of the early 1960s served in their time to capitalize on the reputations of aging female stars and the growing popularity of the horror genre, an updated reading of this subgenre proves that it is rich with social critique regarding the feminine experience, social performance, and the tendencies of classical Hollywood cinema that promote a dominant, patriarchal social narrative. While many popular and critical responses diminish them as “psycho-biddy” or “hagsploitation” films, the Grande Dame Guignol tradition’s transformation of its actresses from glamorous icons to unrecognizable villains rejects such limiting appraisals by focusing on the performative, interpretive nature of one’s public persona, appearance, and character. In reference to three selected Grande Dame Guignol films—What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962), Strait-Jacket (dir. William Castle, 1964) and Lady in a Cage (dir. Walter Grauman, 1964)—I liken the narrative and stylistic themes of this subgenre to Judith Butler’s discussion of gender performativity, arguing that each film depicts its female leads responding to the social cues that define gender roles with varying degrees of success. Further, I discuss how the films’ legendary actresses—Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland—embody this relationship between film art and the study of gender performativity through their subversive Grande Dame Guignol roles and through successive conversations regarding their star images, legacies, and popular reception of their work and of their lives.


Dr. Carla McDonough

Committee Member 1

Dr. Sarah Blomeley

Committee Member 2

Dr. Caresse John


English, Department of


Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, College of

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Level


Degree Grantor

Belmont University