Mothers play such an important role in the modern horror film that it would be remiss not to do a little post on Mother’s Day about all of the crazy moms in the genre. We have Freud to thank for this demonization of motherhood–it was he, after all, who suggested that our attachments to our parents drive our psycho-sexual development for better and for worse–it’s the “worse” that the horror film relishes to the point of cliche.
Of course, modern serial killers also seemed to confirm Freud’s theories, particularly Ed Gein, whose hyper-religious mother resembles the mother of Carrie. Like Gein’s mother, Carrie’s mother asserts that women are the source of all evil and associates Carrie’s menarche with sinful behavior. In other words, Carrie’s mom doesn’t take the news of her daughter’s first period well:
Of course, a film that drew heavily from the Gein playbook would have to be Psycho since the film’s killer, Norman Bates, seems abnormally attached to his mother as was Gein. Gein also expressed a desire for a sex change, an idea which Psycho plays upon due to Norman Bates’ assumption of his mother’s personality. In the end scene, it becomes clear that Norm has been fully subsumed by the “mother half” of his self:
While you might be able to argue that the mother of Bates’ mind is merely a projection, the sadistic matriarch in Mother’s Day is flesh and blood, provoking her sons to acts of rape and murder. I’ve yet to see the film, but the trailer suggests a fairly standard rape-revenge plot with the added bonus of the crazy mother for camp value:
Other mothers in the genre set out to take revenge for the past wrongs committed against their children. Most memorable of these would have to be Pamela Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series. Her reign of terror kicked off the series before Jason became its iconic killer. Below, final girl Alice fights Mrs. Voorhees.
Just as with Psycho, a kind of telepathic connection occurs between child and mother, this time with the mother taking on the child’s persona. In such cases, the close (too close?) bonds between parent and progeny come under scrutiny.
Of course, some mothers get a bad wrap in horror for the opposite reason: Nancy’s mom in A Nightmare on Elm Street, for instance, is presented as a neglectful alcoholic whose desire to protect her daughter from the truth of Freddy’s existence may have caused more harm than good (to be fair, fathers also behave in misguided ways throughout the series).
Perhaps the most terrifying kind of mother in horror is the one who uses her reproductive power for evil. Such a mother embodies the montrous-feminine, which I have discussed at length in previous posts. While there are many of these types, the mother from The Brood stands out as a prime example. In that film, Nola undergoes psychiatric treatment called “psychoplasmics” in which patients manifest psychological symptoms physically. For Nola, who fights over custody of her daughter Candice, the therapy results in her ability to give birth to deformed children and through telepathy (once again!) send them out to do harm to various people who have wronged her in some way. Here’s one such scene:
You’ll never look at kids in snow suits the same way again! The climactic scene shows Nola giving birth to these creatures (described as “the children of her rage”) in quite a grotesque fashion. Below is a clip from Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies, describing the film’s affect:
In the end, Nola is vanquished, but the concluding shot implies the Candace has inherited her powers.
It goes without saying that such portrayals present a problematic image of motherhood. In the process, mothers get blamed for the horror that takes place on screen because they have mothered excessively. Fatherly equivalents do exist especially in more mainstream genres, but such paternal figures seem far fewer in the horror genre than their maternal counterparts. The reason: horror’s interest in notions of the body makes motherhood particularly–dare I say it?–pregnant with possibilities.
I do not currently have a cable subscription, so much of my “television viewing” has been limited to shows available via the internet (welcome to the 21st Century). For that reason, I am a frequent visitor to the Comedy Central website where I can get a dose of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert when a little political comic relief is needed. Of late, these shows have featured promos for the latest animated series on the network called Ugly Americans.
Now, I am attaching a huge caveat to this post up-front: I HAVE NOT SEEN A FULL EPISODE OF THE SHOW. Unlike The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, Comedy Central does not provide full episodes online. It does, however, provide clips from the series that offer a glimpse into it, and from what I can tell, it’s your classic fanboy fantasy cartoon with adolescent antics mixing equal parts body humor and body horror.
The series envisions a world in which grotesque monsters from lore both old and new live amongst typical human beings. To deal with the inevitable conflicts that might arise, social workers like the series’ protagonist Mark Lilly assist the monsters with assimilation into society (he works for a fictional “Department of Integration”). This basic premise calls to mind True Blood since both shows play with the idea of monsterous archetypes living openly in society. But while True Blood takes that concept and explores all of its political implications, Ugly Americans seems less interested in a progressive critique of contemporary political realities and the fantastical world it envisions.
The promos do suggest that the show lampoons multiculturalism and its underlying goal of inclusion. The monsters sit around a circle in group therapy with Mark lamenting the ways in which they feel slighted in a human world. A siamese-twin like monster decries the lack of “double-assed toilets” in Manahattan, for example. While Mark sympathizes with the monster’s plight, the complaint is meant to illicit laughter from the audience due to its absurdity. Descriptions of the show also highlight its emphasis on assimilation, with the Comedy Central page explaining the following:
There are easier tasks than weaning vampires off of blood, socializing land-whales, and housebreaking werewolves, but Mark is up to the challenge. Between his stressful job, a zombie roommate, and a demon on and off girlfriend, Mark’s lucky if he can sneak in a few minutes of sleep. But who can sleep when there’s a drop-dead gorgeous Mermaid sitting at the bar?
The final line brings me to my last observation about the show: it’s obssession with fantasy female bodies and what Barbara Creed calls the monstrous-feminine (read my post on Grace for more another discussion on the topic). Clip after clip literalizes the monstrous-feminine through the character of Callie Maggotbone, the boss and love interest of Mark and self-described succubus. Click on Callie below to see a clip:
In short, Callie represents the soul-sucking (literally), power-hungry, professional urban woman. Here’s the Wikipedia description in case you needed more evidence:
Mark’s immediate superior, and also his on-again/off-again girlfriend. In between stealing Mark away for bathroom rendezvous, Callie is berating him for being so soft. She’s the typical 20-something girl who doesn’t know what she wants, but is also bona fide hellspawn, as her father is a high-ranking minion of the Devil. However, since Callie is the product of that demon’s union with her waifish human mother (who was drugged by a cult), Callie is frequently conflicted by her human side. She is drawn to Mark the nice guy, but feels in her heart that she will inevitably end up with someone like Twayne the Bone Raper… after all, it’s what daddy wants. Unfortunately for all of us, such a union could potentially lead to the apocalypse. She also does not like her father, seeming to be more turned on to Mark after believing her father hated him.
Need I say more about how problematic I find this character?
Other female characters prove to be less dangerous but more troubling sexually, like the woman with a face on her crotch and about a dozen breasts on her chest. Even Callie’s yonic abnormality receives attention on the show. The show, then, manifests both fear and awe over female difference through its monstrous-feminine figures.
While I’m not surprised to see Comedy Central churning this stuff out, I’m just a little bit disappointed that the show seems so obviously targeted toward the fanboy with little interest in the fangirl. Gone, it seems, are the days of animated shows like Daria geared toward adolescent and young-adult females. When will producers of such cultural products recognizes that the sex of genre fans isn’t always male?
Since I first heard about the Karyn Kusama directed and Diablo Cody-scripted Jennifer’s Body, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the trailer. For those with short memories, Cody wrote the screenplay for the ridiculously successful Juno. Contrasting Juno somewhat, Cody’s follow-up script takes a humorous approach to the horror genre. Like Juno, the film focuses on the transformation of the adolescent female body, but rather than pregnancy as the cause, demonic possession is the culprit. Here’s the trailer for a taste:
My good friend Alyx over at Feminist Music Geek made some pointed observations about the trailer, noting the soundtrack, dialog, and representations of gender and sexuality. I agree with Alyx that the trailer’s hints at Jennifer’s bisexuality raise interesting possibilities AND concerns about using bisexuality strictly for titilation. These elements of the film will be interesting to dissect upon its release.
What I find especially fascinating is the way in which the film draws upon actress Megan Fox’s burgeoning star persona in its depiction of her character Jennifer’s monstrosity. Again, I draw from an entry by a friend of mine named Annie at her blog Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style. Among other elements of Fox’s celebrity image, Annie discusses the ways in which Fox has been photographed for various magazines. Many of these photos emphasize Fox’s mouth by showing it partially open or by portraying her in the act of eating. Here’s an example:
Interestingly, the trailer above similarly emphasizes Fox’s mouth as an orifice with the potential to enact pleasure, but also suggests it to be a horrific weapon. In other words, Jennifer’s mouth both seduces and destroys. One of the movie’s poster’s perfectly combines these seemingly paradoxical uses perfectly:
(Side note: this poster seems like a big rip-off of the True Blood promotional posters–see previous post for example.)
It should be no surprise that the filmmakers use the mouth in this way, given the long history of horror literature and films with similar iconography. Vampire stories, for instance, draw upon the lethal and sexual possibilities of the mouth. My academic hero Barbara Creed connects such imagery to the myth of the vagina dentata (translation: toothed vagina) common to cultures around the world. These myths illustrate male fears of castration and anxieties about women’s sexuality. While modern societies may have seemingly dispensed with the notion, the anxieties surrounding women’s sexuality remain and thus filmmakers continue to use images that echo the vagina dentata to horrific effect.
I find it fascinating, though, that a young celebrity who has already established herself as a sex object through such orally fixated images will soon be associated with the more violent side of the mouth. For me, this demonstrates just how multivalent this orifice can be. Horror films will continue to use it to inflict pain, while the GQ crowd will continue to allude to it’s possibilities for pleasure.