by Emalie Soderback
If my life were a horror movie, the Sports Authority next to my house would have gone up in mysterious flames when I was 12 . Employees would be supernaturally thrown against walls, different athletic balls would be bouncing all over the place, propelled by an unseen force, all while my head spun around and around. It’s because when I was 12 years old I got my first period in a Sports Authority while trying on like, softball cleats or something (even though I would much rather have been at the mall or watching Pearl Harbor or hanging out in an AOL chat room.) If my life were a horror movie, my first period would have unleashed a bunch of supernatural angst and unforeseen powers, and I guess no one would make me go to dumb sports practices ever again.
I’m going to talk about one of my favorite subgenres of film, a category I like to call ‘supernatural-period-girl-horror.’ Rosemary’s Baby (1968) kicked off the trend of films depicting the terror and mystery of what women are capable of (giving birth to…perhaps Satan’s baby?), and focused on a woman’s body as a vessel of horror. However, in the 1970’s, starting with William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in 1973, horror films found yet another new way of unsettling the masses—possession and evil kids. And what could be scarier than evil kids or kids with supernatural abilities? Teenage girls of course. No one understands them anyway; their bodies are changing, hormones raging—they might as well be a terrifying, demonic force, sighing and complaining in their purgatory between childhood and womanhood.
The Exorcist depicts a 12 year-old girl, Regan, who suddenly begins exhibiting strange and crude behavior after playing with an Ouiji board. Her mother, a single parent and working actress, becomes concerned when her behavior turns violent and it becomes clear that Regan is possessed by a demon. Although there is no explicit mention of menstruation, the symbolism of a young girl going from sweet and innocent to using sexually explicit language, peeing on the floor, and violently masturbating with a crucifix is not lost on me. Regan, congrats, you’re a woman (demon), now.
Three years later, Brian de Palma, a director now known for his focus on mind-bending films about female duplicity and identity conflicts, brought Stephen King’s novel Carrie to the big-screen. Sissy Spacek is perfectly cast as the titular character, a quiet teenage outcast whose mother has kept her sheltered from the evil of the outside world. Being brought up in an ardently religious household and warned against boys and sex, the only knowledge Carrie gains about womanhood comes from her high school. When she gets her first period in the gym locker room and believes she’s bleeding to death, the other girls throw tampons at her, yelling for her to “plug it up!” This incident is what sparks her psychic abilities. Eventually asserting her independence as a woman, Carrie defies her mother and goes to the prom, (spoiler alert? I mean, seriously have you not seen or heard of this movie?) starting a chain of events that ends in her supernatural powers killing everyone at the school dance.
What happens when the possession isn’t demonic, but a possession of identity? 1977’s Audrey Rose focused on the possession of a girl named Ivy who was born the instant another young girl named Audrey Rose died in a fiery car wreck. When the distressed father of Audrey Rose (Anthony Hopkins) meets with psychics who tell him that his dead daughter has actually been reincarnated in another young girl, he decides to confront her family. Ivy begins having violent attacks, in one instance being burned by a cold window, and is only able to be calmed by Audrey’s father. She is eventually sent to a psychiatric institute, the perfect place for her to get her first period and begin exhibiting even more disturbing behaviors, blurring her identity with the deceased Audrey Rose and ending in tragedy.
The 70’s wasn’t the only decade that focused on the horror of girls becoming women. The 2000 werewolf movie Ginger Snaps ran with the idea that puberty can really bring on some animalistic tendencies. Ginger and her sister Brigitte are best friends. They are both obsessed with the macabre, often setting up photography shoots of fake suicides and making a pact to eventually die together. But when Ginger gets her period before Brigitte, she starts acting a bit strange. Hair in new places, carnal urges—the joke is that she’s becoming a werewolf—not a woman. Ginger grows claws and wants to have sex with and then brutally mutilate every guy she meets. The movie’s tagline is, “They don’t call it The Curse for nothing.”
Horror is a film genre intrinsically tied to women, whether it’s placing the focus on the final survivor girl (Halloween, Scream), emphasizing the horror of rape and imagining a violent revenge (I Spit on Your Grave, Ms. 45), or stewing in the terror of the female body and what it can create (Rosemary’s Baby, The Brood). The story of a girl going through puberty is no less frightening, and is a perfect theme to exploit for an unsettling scary movie, what with sexual awakenings, changing bodies, and literal blood escaping the ever enigmatic and oh-so-mysterious vagina.
So, as women, should we feel empowered that our bodies are depicted as supernaturally dominant? That this journey through pubescence is seen as all-powerful and a force to be reckoned with? Or is it signifying of a problem when our scariest movies are about women and their bodies, placed so definitely in the category of ‘monstrous other’ that the only way to explore female puberty, menstruation, and sexuality is through fear? I’m down for female monsters and teenage girls with supernatural abilities ready to kick some serious ass, but it’s also important to explore those implications. If you identify as a woman, watch these films with an open mind and remember that you’re scary and powerful. If you’re a dude…let this be a reminder that the women in your life are incredibly badass and go through enough to qualify them for entire subgenres of film. Also they can totally mutilate you.