Friday, March 6, 2015

Coming of age in horror...

Greetings all.

Women in Horror Month has drawn to a close, and March madness is upon us.  In previous posts, many fine examples have been cited of interesting and dynamic female characters in the realm of horror.  It got me thinking of several even more interesting female characters of the teenage variety.  The girls of horror.  One doesn't usually think of murderous horror as a coming of age experience for a teenage girl blossoming into womanhood, but that's what makes it interesting.

The most famous such character of all is probably the immortal "Carrie."  Though the creation of a male writer (Stephen King) Carrie aimed at the everyday struggles of a shy, awkward girl in the cruel world of high school.  She fought to escape her domineering, puritanical, extremely scary mother and fended off the cruel taunts of her bitchy classmates while above all fighting to become, as she put it "a whole person."  Her emerging telekinetic power evolves in tandem with her emerging sexuality.  The now-famous, horrific scene at the school prom, her superhuman power exploding into an apocalyptic revenge fantasy come alive, and her mutually fatal duel with her mom, though in an extremely bizarre way, hit home, I suspect, to many, if only at a subconscious level.  The story illustrated how the darkly fantastic can metaphorically express the kind of primal horror common to all.

And, does anyone remember the movie "Teeth?"  Oh, that one had bite.  The teenaged heroine in that one had to come of age in a puritanical Christian town where all the kids were required to take a chastity pledge, and the school text books selectively covered the illustrations of the female genitalia.  From the gilded misogyny of the Christian conservative mindset to the deceptive smiles of handsome, seductive boys who turn out to be cads and would-be rapists, our young protagonist runs the full gamut of dangers every teenaged girl must face.  But, she does so with her own emerging paranormal power:  an extra set of extremely sharp teeth.  No, not in her mouth.  You guessed it.  Vagina Dentata.  Every slick, smooth-talking young swine who tries to take advantage of her finds his most prized possession bitten off in the process.  In one scene, she even bites off the cold, probing fingers of her completely non-empathetic male gynecologist.  What girl hasn't fantasized doing that?  The film starkly illustrates the primal male fear of female sexuality, and implies a quantum leap in female evolution.

And, last but not least:  "Hannah."  A bizarre cross-genre film of spy action, horror, sci-fi, and what could arguably be called ghoulish black comedy, this round-the-world action flick was also a coming of age story of a sheltered girl raised alone by her adoptive father in the arctic wilderness for reasons known only to him.  When she reaches the age of emerging womanhood and demands to see the world, to be free, she learns the dark secret her dad-wannabe has been keeping from her all her life.  She's really a genetically engineered killing machine, and the C.I.A. is out to put her down.  The life-and-death international chase, from Morocco to Spain to Germany, may not seem like the kind of story any normal girl could identify with.  But, again, the metaphors keep coming.  The natural desire to break free of parental control and live.  Dad holding on too tight, and keeping the facts of life secret too long.  The touching bits of humanity that emerge in Hannah's otherwise cold and perilous life, like her brief but heart-felt friendship with a teenaged girl she meets in her travels, keep the blood pumping.  Life is new to Hannah, and still a mystery.  But, she knows she just wants a life.  And, she'll fight to get it.

Horror is at its best when it strikes home.  The female perspective is one that's been largely overlooked for a very long time.  But, the creative use of horror themes can artfully and graphically illustrate that perspective.

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