c o n c l u S I o n
k i lling o FF t H e Femme
The Haunting
In The Haunting (1963), a classic horror movie directed by Robert Wise,
Julie Harris plays Eleanor Lance, a tense, high-strung woman who ac-
cepts an invitation to participate in a psychic experiment at Hill House, a
supposedly haunted mansion in remote New Eng land. As a ten-year-old
girl, Eleanor had a violent encounter with a poltergeist, who showered
her home with rocks for three days, and Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson),
the anthropologist who has organized the Hill House experiment, hopes
to assemble a group of people “touched by the supernatural,” who will
stimulate the “strange forces at work there.” Built some ninety years be-
fore by Hugh Crain, a “misfit who hated people and conventional ideas,”
Hill House is the site of four women’s deaths, which Dr. Markway re-
counts in an opening voice-over. Those who died were Crain’s two wives;
his daughter, Abigail, who lived to old age in the house; and Abigail’s
paid companion, who committed suicide after inheriting the house from
her former mistress. Eleanor has spent all of her adult life taking care of
her mother, a bedridden invalid who died two months before she re-
ceived Dr. Markway’s invitation, which she eagerly accepts as a chance for
a “vacation.” When she arrives at Hill House, she discovers that only one
other person has accepted Dr. Markway’s invitation: Theodora (Claire
Bloom), a chic, sophisticated woman from Greenwich Village, who as
Richard Dyer has noted embodies the stereotype of the predatory les-
bian.1 Theodora has extrasensory perception, which recalls the “radar-
like communication” that Jess Stearn in The Grapevine claimed enabled
lesbians to spot other lesbians. Theodora recognizes in Eleanor a “kindred
spirit” and, being attracted to her, hopes to seduce her.
The Haunting’s exploration of perverse female desire reflects the shift
in the homophobic deployment of the category of the lesbian that has
been the primary focus of Cold War Femme. In the Cold War era, the
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