‘Monster House’: Constance as Kathleen Rowe’s Female Grotesque and Spectacle (Stewart Clark)

In Kathleen Rowe’s ‘Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter’, she discusses female characters in cinema that are grotesque and draw spectacle to themselves. She argues that “women who make spectacles of themselves as vulnerable to ridicule and trivialisation – but also as vaguely demonic or threatening.” [1] Rowe uses Miss Piggy from The Muppets as an example of a grotesque figure who “preens coyly and coos in a throaty falsetto,” and “overpowers Kermit the Frog with her size and affection.” [2]

 

With Rowe’s assertion in mind, I was immediately drawn to the character of Constance in Monster House (Gil Kenan, 2006). The film follows a narrative of a group of children who are convinced the house of Mr Nebbercracker across the street is alive and is stealing toys and eating people. It is revealed near the end of the film, in a flashback, that Constance (the dead wife of Mr Nebbercracker) was an overweight circus performer who was ridiculed for her size and ugly looks and has tomatoes thrown at her. Mr Nebbercracker takes her away and marries her. Following further ridicule from egg throwing kids, Constance attempts to confront them but, due to her size, stumbles and falls into a construction site to her death. Her spirit carries on and possesses the house and turns it into a monster.

 

 

The narrative of Constance in Monster House is an ideal representation of Rowe’s assertion of the female grotesque but is perpetuated due to the house being an actual demonic figure. Her death in the film comes from her being a female spectacle and an ugly figure for people to laugh at. Rowe further comments that “laughter is a powerful means of self-defintion and a weapon for feminist appropriation.” [4] With relation to Monster House, this suggests that the ridicule of Constance is a symbol of patriarchal tendencies within cinema.

 

 

[1] Kathleen Rowe, “Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter,” The Unruly Woman” Gender and the Genres of Laughter (Austin: Texas, 1995), p. 3.

[2] Ibid., p. 3.

[3] Ibid., p. 3.

2 comments

  1. Constance is a good example of Kathleen Rowe’s unruly woman. Just like Miss Piggy, in the above clip Constance tries to “overpower… with her size”. However, an interesting change is that she attempts to murder with her overpowering, whereas Miss Piggy attempts to gain the love of Kermit.

  2. How do you think Constance possession of the house affects her as a female character? The house is inherently demonic. Is it able to subvert the societal conventions and symbols that aim to degrade and or maintain the relatively lower status of women with regard to men? Is it dependent upon the timing of the reveal or is it inherent to the character as being openly female as the house has no gender initially?

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