Oscar Horrors, a daily series for October, looks at Oscar nominated contributions to the horror genre. Here's Jose to talk about one of the best villains of all time.
HERE LIES...Mrs. Danvers, played exquisitely by Judith Anderson who was nominated as Best Supporting Actress of 1940 for her work in Rebecca. She lost the Oscar to Ma Joad and vanished in the fire.
I grew up in a family where Hollywood classics were as revered as Catholic saints. I remember being a child and being freaked out by the black and white people uttering undecipherable phrases from what I assumed was some sort of TV grave. None however freaked me out as much as the wide eyed Mrs. Danvers (did she ever blink?!?) who endlessly haunted the poor new Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine).
The passing years didn't make Mrs. Danvers less creepy. In fact, the more I aged, the scarier she got. It must be due to the fact that she's not only a horror figure in the strict physical sense. Yes, her long black dress, severe hairdo and eerily seductive voice didn't help, but there was something else about her that made me fear the idea of marrying Laurence Olivier and moving to a mansion.
Reading Hitchcock Truffaut I suddenly got what is it that made her so terrifying and the master himself explained it best:
Mrs. Danvers was almost never seen in motion. [The heroine] never knew when Mrs. Danvers might turn up and this in itself was terrifying. To have shown Mrs. Danvers walking would have been to humanize her.
So, there we have this diabolical creature, almost a human mausoleum, whose entire existence revolved around protecting the legacy of a woman who was never that nice to begin with. The director cleverly framed all of Mrs. Danvers scenes so it always appears that it's Mrs. de Winter who must serve her.
The heroine's submissive position and Mrs. Danvers' ominous presence make for one of the most complex relationships in any Hitchcock movie (the homoerotic and homophobic undertones contained in this movie have inspired countless essays of their own!). Though Hitchcock would go on to shape countless other fascinating character dynamics, Mrs. Danvers still looms large. She's inspired a myriad of characters since that range from the surreal (HAL 9000) to practical carbon copies (Mrs. Obrien in Downton Abbey) whose only purpose is to show their masters who's the boss.