Puberty is a terrifying time for everyone, but puberty for girls is like something out of a Cronenbergian nightmare. In what feels like an instant – our bodies begin to mutate into unfamiliar forms we can’t control, chemicals rushing through our veins begin to send signals to places we never thought to explore, and we discover we have the capability to bleed for seven days without dying. On a metaphorical level, puberty is a way to condition women for the proverbial horror movie that will soon become our existence. Often touted as a male-dominated genre, horror cinema has consistently been one of the strongest forms of artistic expression in its dissection of the female coming-of-age experience.
Socially, we’ve come to accept that the first sign of our change into womanhood is with the menstrual cycle. In Brian De Palma’s interpretation of Stephen King’s CARRIE, we witness a woman who transitions into womanhood much later in life. As the blood runs down her leg, she’s met with ridicule while simultaneously fearing that she’s dying and no one is willing to help her. While Chris, Sue, Norma, and the rest of Carrie White’s class continue to harass her for starting her menstrual cycle, the audience looks on in horror for this poor, vulnerable girl. For many of us, this moment personifies the female experience. Obviously, we’re not literally dying, but growing up into a woman can sometimes leave us feeling just as hopeless. As Carrie White learns to harness the powers that seem to have been brought on by puberty, she quickly becomes desperate and out of control. Much like the emotions rushing through Carrie White, the hormones raging in our bodies overwhelm us and we’re left to feel like we need to burn down the entire fucking city.
GINGER SNAPS showcases the transition into womanhood in a more exaggerated manner, drawing parallels between maturation and turning into a werewolf. “I get this ache… And I, I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.” This lycan transformation personifies all that it is to start “the curse.” Ginger Fitzgerald loses any control over her body she once had, and her emotions start to morph her personality into something almost unrecognizable. As Margaret White said in CARRIE, “After the blood come the boys. Like sniffing dogs, grinning and slobbering and trying to find out what that smell is.” Ginger’s transformation from human girl to wolf/woman also brings along the most confusing aspect of anyone’s life… sex. Men are suddenly flocking to her, and Ginger embraces her newly acquired attention, much to the dismay of her sister Brigette. The attention of the opposite sex is something girls are warned about since childhood, but until it happens, there’s no way to determine just how we will respond.
First there’s the struggle of discovering what you like, and how you have to go about it to get it. Despite popular belief, girls are just as sexual as their male counterparts, and we crave sexual encounters just as frequently. More often than not, that craving can be confusing. Witness Dawn O’Keefe in the cult favorite, TEETH. Living her life atop of the virginal pedestal many women are placed upon shortly after birth, Dawn soon discovers that the things she wants and the things that will be given are not always the same thing. Using the body horror elements of having a literal killer vagina, TEETH explores the sexual politics teen girls are thrust into whether they’re willing participants or not. Dawn is a forbidden fruit while simultaneously a sought after delicacy. Those around her treat Dawn like a pawn in their game of sexual conquest, but we all know the true power lies with Dawn, and what she has inside of her.
Ricky Bates’ EXCISION combines both the taboo topic of menstruation with the awakening of female sexual exploration with the lead performance of AnnaLynne McCord as Pauline. Pauline is an outcast like Carrie White, but owns and accepts her misunderstood nature. Everything Pauline does is made with conscious thought and purely out of her own desires, leading her exploration of her disturbing and delusional perspectives into a terrifying reality.
Similar to Pauline, Lucky McKee’s titular MAY finds an awakening through the discovery of herself as a sexual being. The things she lusts for aren’t always going to be reciprocated, and May finds herself feeling just as isolated as she did before.
Exorcism films frequently feature young women as the victims, acting as sort of a “sister-subgenre” to these female coming of age flicks. EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, THE LAST EXORCISM, AVA’S POSSESSIONS, THE POSSESSION, ABBY, THE DEVILS, and even GHOSTBUSTERS all showcase women as the victims of possession. Thanks to the miracle of childbirth, women’s bodies are often seen as vessels, which make us an easy target for films dealing with supernatural entities. Starting with women as young as Regan MacNeil in THE EXORCIST, a demonic spirit forces into her body without her consent, and attempts to use her as a tool for evil. While Regan never explicitly shows signs of menstruation, upon having this demonic spirit “enter” her, she begins using adult language and violently masturbates with a crucifix. Long gone is any semblance of childhood, Regan has now been thrust into womanhood, and she never had a say in the matter.
Much like us all.