Kick-Ass Women Column: Young Monsters
Horror films are about the crossing of lines: the line between good and evil, light and dark, but also between the human and the monstrous, natural and supernatural. Emphasizing these lines and crossing them is a way in which horror films reflect on the taboos present in our society. But what about a character who is constantly on this edge, in a state of continuous change? Like a child or teenage character.
This character lives on the border between child and adult. A body in development, on its way to maturity, exploring the boundaries of sexuality and becoming aware of their own bodies. In the child or teenage body we can see the formation of an own identity, but also the malleability of the body.
Still, it seems like cinema is mainly inhabited by female child-monsters, or as film scientist Barbara Creed puts it: “baby bitches from hell”. An accurate example of this statement can be seen in Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1967), in which Virginia is obsessed by spiders. In Brian de Palma’s Carrie (1976), she uses her telekinetic powers to get revenge on her classmates. While these tiny monsters certainly terrify us, they also confront us with our social taboos. These female child monsters create a mirror for the real life adult world in which they become embodiments of desires and fears.
One of the most well-known child-monsters is Regan, the twelve-year-old from William Friendkin’s The Exorcist (1973). Simply put this film is about a girl possessed by the devil. Within hides female passivity, as it is a female body which is controlled unwillingly. Yet, within the possession of Regan’s body, I see a power trying to free this female body from control.
The monstrous transformation of Regan’s body in The Exorcist can be read as a manifestation of puberty. Her voice changes, her skin breaks as a symbolic interpretation of acne and she goes through her first menstrual cycle. Maybe even more important is that her malleable teenage body has its first introduction to sexual oppression and violence. To read Regan’s character as a strong woman it is important to look past the gruelling horror scenes, the scenes we strongly associate with The Exorcist.