I’m always interested in what horror looks like and what it means at any particular moment—what it says about anxieties brewing in the larger culture, and it’s in that spirit that I want to point out an interesting refrain through several high-profile horror films of the 1970s: Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971), The Stepford Wives (Brian Forbes, 1975), Jaws (Spielberg, 1975), and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1975).
In The Stepford Wives, the protagonist Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to Stepford, Connecticut, where she soon notices women are, well, different—obsessed with cleaning their houses, for one thing. Joanna is a photographer: she’s intelligent, ambitious, and curious, and so much of the film involves her looking—the camera dwelling on her very human stare, as she tries to figure out what’s going on in her town. Joanna’s encounter with the “monster” at the end of the film is all the more horrifying, then, because what Joanna finally sees is her own robotic double—and as she looks in horror, her lifeless twin looks back with empty, soulless, black eyes. Joanna will soon become this “thing,” killed by the men in the town who sacrifice real women for inanimate, submissive machines.