To kick off the first weekend of Galloween here at Cinefilles, we’re dusting off a spooky old classic and finding a badass babe within it. If you haven’t already, meet Theodora from the 1963 adaptation of The Haunting.
Who is she?
Theodora (Claire Bloom), or Theo as she prefers to be called, is one of the subjects of Dr. John Markway’s study of the paranormal activity at the historic and mysterious Hill House, which has a history of tragedy for its owners the Crains. She, along with Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and Crain heir, Luke (Russ Tamblyn), are invited to stay at Hill House to record any and all paranormal activities they may experience.
Almost from the beginning, Theo and Eleanor become friends with Theo acting as the extroverted half of the very sheltered and introverted Eleanor. Theo is bold, brassy and unafraid—like most of the women we feature on Feminist Flashback Friday.
What makes her a badass?
Aside from being just plain awesome and easily the most likeable character in the movie, Theo is nuanced and the sort of person who successfully practices a gentle form of tough love with Eleanor and helps her come out of her shell.
On top of that, Theo is a lesbian—a fact that is made more apparent in the book (The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Go check it out; it won’t disappoint!) than in the movie, but the film doesn’t totally ignore this fact. Theo is ambiguous on purpose, for presumably her own reasons, and the audience is left to suspect her sexuality, but never given a clear answer because it’s not their business at all.
Theo is also an interesting sort of lesbian in that she is constantly hit on by Luke and sasses him back to the cradle, is both sisterly and motherly towards Eleanor and breaks the mold of the stereotypical “butch” lesbian. Theo is feminine, yet dominant; traditionally beautiful and traditionally maternal; confident yet unafraid to show fear. She is one of the most real women in classic cinema.
Why does she still matter today?
In a time when there’s people who still think being a lesbian means looking like a butch biker babe and nothing else, Theo is a reminder that people can be whatever the fuck they want and do not exist to satisfy our stereotypical expectation. More than that, Theo is an important character not for being a lesbian, but for being a confident, self-assured and proactive human being (who just happens to be a woman).
Lesbians are not borne of cookie cutters, nor are women. Theo is a perfect example of both those notions.
This piece is part of Galloween, Cinefilles‘ month of all-girl horror coverage. Click the image to read more.