female driven horror

The Costumes of Crimson Peak: Edith

It's been over 7 months since I last posted here but life and uni and work has kept me very busy. I wanted to write this post in MAY and I laughed and said I would get it done by the end of May but it didn't happen. The costumes of Crimson Peak. It's been a long time coming with this piece so let's get to it. 

Crimson Peak is a Gothic Romance, but it is also a Gothic Romance made for modern day audiences. It plays hard with classic tropes in its characters, symbolism and plot devices, but subverts many of them in the final act which is what makes it so fresh and compelling to the women I've spoken to about it. It gives us a thoroughly female driven Gothic Romance/Horror story where the female protagonist and antagonist actively drive the film and are allowed to be vulnerable and flawed.

Edith Cushing's look
Edith's look is a combination of rich yellows and golds, and any other accents and colors that reference the land or nature. She is the beautiful, seemingly fragile butterfly of the story, with the black moth that is Lucille serving as her foil. Costume designer Kate Hawley and Director Guillermo Del Toro have both mentioned and shown that her look, from her hairstyle to her costuming, was very influenced by pre-Raphaelite paintings such as Rossetti's Helen of Troy

The Buffalo Bookworm
If you've read The Art of Crimson Peak or watched any interview with Kate Hawley, you would know that she named many of the costumes in the film. Edith's first costume was named 'The Buffalo Bookworm'. It's pretty obvious that Edith's color palette is YELLOW and GOLDS. This is to symbolize life and freshness and the new generation, in contrast to the Sharpes' belonging to the old world (and are coded in dark blues and blacks).

The butterfly symbolizing Edith is also pretty obvious throughout the film. It's established right from the opening scene as she's striding through the streets of Buffalo that Edith cuts a strong silhouette with those voluminous sleeves. This was of course the silhouette of the era as well, but as you'll see in the screencaps with the other ladies of the film, it was especially emphasized on Edith. Her sleeves are bigger than everyone else's. Costume always works the best in a setting where you get to compare it with other costumes since costume is about identity. It tells the story of a character. 

This first costume is also important because of how stark it is compared to the other ladies because of its clean, striking and simple outline compared to the other ladies who are adorned with frills, lace, feathers, flowers that clutter their look. Even Edith's hat is simple and set with just a netting and ribbon. This is to set Edith apart as a no-nonsense bookworm next to the other ladies of the era, who are all clad in a reddish color palette, except for Mrs. McMichael who is in dark rusty brown, probably to stand in contrast as an older figure to her daughter in red, but also tying them together in the same color family. 

And because Edith is here on a business meeting to pitch her novel, they've put her in a costume that subtly mimics menswear. The flat lapels and the 4 large buttons mimic a man's double breasted suit, since Edith is meant to be a modern woman trying to break into a man's world. The masculine touches are part of her costume but Edith is still meant to be very feminine because the story wants to always remind you of the character's femininity, as this is a very female-driven film between Edith and Lucille. 

This is the blouse underneath the Buffalo Bookworm coat. It's classic Edith with the see through billowy sleeves and fabric that denotes fragility. finished with floral embroidery all over. It's meant to contrast with her Buffalo Bookworm coat in that when she was in the coat, she was trying to get into a man's world and her dressing reflected that, but in this scene, where she talks about using a typewriter to disguise her stories as a man's, she's in a very feminine blouse to once again remind us of the character's femininity and how her writing seems to reflect that. Also, it's a scene with her father, and she is very tender and loving towards him, so the dressing reflects the dynamic between the father and daughter.

Edith is at work at her father's office. She's in a blouse that she probably has variations of through her entire wardrobe, paired with a simple black silk tie. Again, mimicking of menswear in a male-dominated setting. The older secretary is in a similar silhouette but is distinguished from Edith in a plaid and dark grey fabric. If you compare them to the the McMichael women, it's just so starkly different and shows what these two set of characters are all about. Edith and the older lady secretary are working women. 

Edith's butterfly silhouette continues even through her dressing gown. Again, to reinforce Edith as a fertile field of life, spring metaphors etc, the color moves to like a yellow grassy green, and with the flowers.  Edith is starting to fall for Thomas and her costuming reflects that with the blooms of flowers. Note the introduction of green in this scene: I'll come back to that color in a later costume. 

The Ballgown
Edith's ballgown silhouette is basically the height of turn of the century Victorian fashion. It is in notable contrast to the startling blood red 1880s dress Lucille is in and the first costume she's in as we're introduced to her. Of course Edith is in white, with only simple pearls and a black bow at the back as embellishments. She's in a mushroom collar cape that gives her the fairy tale princess look, because Crimson Peak is a Gothic fairytale, and the whole white color palette enhances the virginal princess look. Edith stands in contrast to Eunice, who is also in peak 1890s fashion, but she's adorned with voluminous sleeves and all sorts of embellishments, along with her mother. The two women also continue their color palette from the scene we previously saw them in, with the red hues, but Eunice is in peach this time, which was the kind of colors debutantes in the Victorian era wore to look fresh and inviting. Next to Edith however, she's meant to look like overripe fruit.  . 

The Butterfly and The Moth
Again, how costume works with characters, and specifically in this scene, how they can be changed up to mean something different in a different context. Edith is wearing the same blouse she wore during the dinner with her father. She's falling in love with Thomas, and her dressing reflects that. Remember she wore this same blouse in her Buffalo Bookworm outfit but paired with a much more functional hat. Her hat here is adorned with flowers and the black bows that are a very obvious reference to the butterflies she and Lucille are observing. Lucille of course, is painted in stark contrast with her black moth color palette, which I will go more into in her piece. It is fantastic how they repeated this blouse in an entirely different setting and state of mind of Edith's. Also notable is that she wears this blouse with the two most important men in her life. 

The Heartbreak Dress
Costume designer Kate Hawley referred to this dress as 'The Heartbreak Dress', for obvious reasons. Edith has been incorporating ruffles and more romantic elements to her wardrobe after falling in love with Thomas and this dress reflects that, although with the context of the heartbreak, the dress is free from any floral embellishments. 

This is a spectacular screencap so I just had to include it. In The Art of Crimson Peak, it's mentioned that Edith's mourning dress is extremely detailed with many hand applied elements. Unfortunately we never get to see it in the film and this is the best shot we get of her mourning dress, which pains me a little. Hopefully one day there will be an exhibition or images released of the costumes in their full glory. 

The Bridal Outfit
This is probably my favorite costume in the whole film. Edith is a blushing bride and in the honeymoon period of her love for Thomas. There's pink/purple in her color palette! The floral embellishments in her costuming are at an all-time high. To reflect her new status as Mrs. Thomas Sharpe, she has also added blue to her wardrobe, which is the color palette of the Sharpe siblings, so she's dressing to match them, which is a thing that costume designers do to group characters together.

This costume is my favorite also because of a later costume in the film that matches this one nicely.

This is another favorite costume. It reminds me very much of the House of Worth's designs, who dressed only the richest socialites across Europe and New York. Edith's butterfly silhouette with the giant sleeves are again at an all time high. John Everett Millais's 'The Bridesmaid' was a key painting from the Pre Raphaelites that influenced the look of Edith and it's the most apparent in this look. This gown has leaf patterns all over to reference the falling (and very much dead) leaves that fall through Allerdale Hall's roof. I believe the green touches in the robe are to bring together hers and Thomas's colors. 

After this outfit appeared, a dark green velvet with fruit pom pom embellishments, my theory is that the very obviously green costumes- the green robe Edith wears before she goes to the ball, are to represent a particularly notable haunting. In this scene Edith has found the 'E.S' and confronts Thomas to ask him if anyone has been murdered at Allerdale Hall. When she was in the green robe, her mother came back to haunt and warn her about Crimson Peak again. Green seems like an apt choice, since it is a mix of Thomas and Edith's colors.

The Nancy Drew/Canary in a Coalmine Dress
This is the dress Edith goes snooping around Allerdale Hall in. It is as signature a dress for Edith as one can possibly get, the same way the Buffalo Bookworm dress is. Bright yellow, huge butterfly-esque sleeves with a tumbling black bow down her back. The sleeves are embroidered with flowers which is in contrast to her simpler Buffalo Bookworm dress, because she is a woman in love. 

The Deflowering Dress
This is not a name Kate Hawley coined, it's one I coined. This is basically the bridal outfit, but without the floral embellishments, a different hat (different flowers, sans veil) and with a different colored bow. Edith is no longer a virgin, and they put her in the exact same costume as her bridal one, but sans all floral embellishments (besides the hat). This costume and the bridal one make for such a good pair, and I love the tongue in cheek blink and you'll miss it "deflowering" reference. 

The Nightdress
The nightdress is probably the costume that people will most remember Edith for. If you notice carefully, the size of her sleeves fluctuates depending on the state of mind/health Edith is in. So towards the end of the film, where Edith is injured and poisoned, the sleeves are at their flattest. This nightdress is as Edith as a nightdress can get, they are her blouses in nightdress form. In this too, she's meant to look the most fragile and butterfly-like than ever. 

The nightdress highlights the innocence and naivety of Edith as a young woman who has led a sheltered life with her father. She looks like a doll when in this costume, with her hair down and curled, and none more so when she is in the 'chair' scenes of the film. If you notice, the size of the chair changes depending on Edith's state of mind, the same way the size of her sleeves change. 

With Edith, what Kate Hawley and Del Toro have done is use the audience's familiarity with characters like Edith and period dramas and subvert their expectations through costume design. Edith is coded to be a fragile princess, but even within her costume design you are given hints that she is much more than that. 

Next up: The Sharpe Siblings, particularly Lucille Sharpe.

Hell is a Teenage Girl: The Teenage Girl Killer's Place in Horror Cinema

Last year, I started a graphic and fanmix series on my tumblr titled The Teenage Gaze Series, with a horror themed one for Halloween called Hell Is a Teenage Girl. They were extremely well-received so I thought I would finally get around to writing a piece on it this Halloween as part of my female-driven horror cinema series. 


"A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door." - Ginger Snaps

Teenage girlhood is almost like a cult. Only the ones who have been through it understand how hellish it can be. It is a world on its own that is so vastly complex and different from the male experience, and frankly, make for more compelling stories. 

Cinema has long tried to explore these secret, dark parts of teenage girlhood. Astute directors and writers have realized that it is a breeding ground for horror stories. The teenage girl sees everything and feels everything with such intensity. Everything burns.So turning these experiences into a fantastical, heightened story is only natural. 

Teenage girls are also particularly misunderstood and marginalized group.The media treats her with disdain. Her interests are frivolous and unimportant. She is sexualized and fetishized for her innocence and budding sexuality. Her moodiness and angst is a way of attention seeking. Meanwhile, schools all over the world still continue to study Holden Caulfield's dribble and see his white upper middle class angst as "complex". 

Teenage girls in horror movies are often victims. But when someone is able to see beyond a female's perpetual victimhood (as you know, an actual human being), the girl can be a monster, or both victim and monster. They can range between cruelty (Lola in The Loved Ones), seductiveness (Jennifer in Jennifer's Body), naivety (Dawn in Teeth), awkwardness (Carrie White in Carrie), hormonal angst (Ginger in Ginger Snaps), madness (Pauline in Excision), and simmering aggression (India in Stoker). Some of them, like Eli and Abby in Let the Right One In and Let Me In, are a combination of all these traits.

Stephen King's creation in Carrie White, memorably portrayed by Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma's horror classic Carrie, is the perfect combination of both victim and monster, created by the kind of bullying and cruelty specific to a teenage girl that turns her into a monster. 

These girls could be a representation of the patriarchal fears of one of the most vulnerable groups of society, they could be a subversion of the age old tropes of teenage girls being the damsels in distress, the victims, the sexually objectified playthings for the male characters onscreen. They could be simply a representation of the metaphorical hell that teenage girls go through from bullying to puberty and menstrual cycles (Carrie, Ginger Snaps), toxic friendships, sexual frustration and angst (The Craft, Jennifer's Body).

And most horrifyingly, they could be a way of taking revenge for the way teenage girls' sexuality are turned against them in the way that Hard Candy, Teeth and All Cheerleaders Die explore the rape and revenge trope in different ways.

In Hard Candy, Ellen Page's character Hayley Stark is a teenage girl who takes matters in her own hands and actively seeks out a predator. With her red hoodie, she is clearly inspired by Red Riding Hood and turns the classic tale on its head, as she follows the wolf of the story into his own lair, and proceeds to trap and torture him in his own home. 

Teeth shows a more complex arc where Dawn starts out naive and unsure, before learning the hard way about rape culture. Her vagina, however, has teeth, and is weaponized to attack any signs of intrusion. Teeth is the blackest of comedies and the darkest of coming of age stories as Dawn learns what it means to be a young woman in a society that breeds rape culture. 

If hell is a teenage girl, then society as a whole has made her that way. The media has instilled images and ideas in its youth of how to look, how to behave, and now with social media, youths have allowed themselves to become more savage behind the anonymity of a computer or phone screen.

Patriarchal values and rape culture have breed the real monsters in our society--- and yet people continue to close their eyes and hand wave rape culture. Rape, and in particularly the rape in young, teenaged girls is normalized in shows like Game of Thrones. Where the rape of a young girl is used as a way of inciting an emotional reaction out of a male character. Where her trauma is not even properly recognized or dealt with. It is all about the male character. It is that kind of story that Game of Thrones is telling that I am glad for the Teenage Girl Psycho Killer in horror cinema.

Kicking and screaming and dripping in blood, the teenage girls in these stories have to in turn, become monsters to defend themselves against the real monster that is society. 

The Hell is a Teenage Girl playlist on 8tracks
The Hell is a Teenage Girl list of films on letterboxd
The Hell is a Teenage Girl post on tumblr