06 February 2010


February Festivity

If I still cared about being pious in public, I'd be doing something appropriate for February, the month Catholic tradition has dedicated to the Holy Family since the sixteenth century.

At the moment, however, I'm more interested in making a last haphazard stab at Horror Blogger status. That means that what I shall be doing is something appropriate for my first "Women in Horror" Month.

I think that "Women in Horror" is a great theme . . . and yet . . . I can't resist tweaking it a little. After all, Horror is the only genre where religion is real, and I think that I, for whom the best reflection of reality is indeed religion, shouldn't be afraid to say so in a Horror-themed Top 5 List. Let the equation be:

Horror + Woman = Kick Ass Marian Figure

(Didn't I say that my reason for closing Sancta Sanctis down was a desire to stop blogging religiously? I am such a fraud. Just stop reading me. Stop now. I'm not worth it.)

My Top 5 Horror Heroines

1) Emily Rose of The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Now I'm going to be completely predictable and start the list with a young woman whose faith, hope and love proved stronger than the malice of hell.

At the heart of many Horror movies is a mystery--the question of why evil has chosen the targets it has. In one sense, this explanation does not really matter: evil has no method to its madness. The real mystery is why these horrors were allowed by a God Who is supposedly all knowing and all good. Most survivors of Horror plots have to go by faith in what they already know, but the characters in this movie get more of a revelation. That's a good thing, because there is nothing more terrifying than demonic possession.

It takes real courage and a real sense of purpose to be a Horror heroine. There are times when running into the abandoned house or descending into the basement is just dumb . . . and other times when such actions are the only thing to be done.

2) Nancy Thompson of A Nightmare on Elm Street

I admit it: I'm biased. If I were more objective, you'd have Laurie Strode of Halloween in the #2 spot; but as it stands, Laurie isn't listed at all! That's because Nancy just has to be here--and that's all there is to it. I mean, what is a Horror Heroines list without an 80s Princess? (Right?)

What Nancy and her friends don't know is that their parents once secretly killed and burned the body of a child murderer. What their parents don't want to believe is that the soul of the same child murderer has returned for revenge by taking their own children one by one. So now the young must be brave . . . and Nancy is the bravest one of all.

The utter campiness of the sequels have done the original film no favours. This is good Slasher Horror: its theme is not the portrayal of evil, but the triumph of justice. The parents' vigilantism gave even a child murderer a real grievance against them, and now it is up to their daughter to balance the scales once more.

3) Rosemary Woodhouse of Rosemary's Baby

Who doesn't feel for poor Rosemary, cursed among women, whose nightmare turns the beautiful mystery of the Virgin Birth upside down? The scene in which a pregnant Rosemary looks up from a Nativity display she is admiring and sees her gaunt reflection in the glass is expertly filmed . . . and yet the audience is not sure until the very end--probably the greatest, most emotionally harrowing climax in Horror movie history--whether it is truly the work of the devil or just creeping paranoia.

This film was set at a time when the false religion of feminism was peddling its anti-sacrament of accessible, affordable birth control to its greatest generation of converts. In that light, the nod to Pope Paul VI, author of the anti-birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae, is more than merely amusing . . . and the book Rosemary receives from a concerned friend, entitled All of Them Witches, is grimly ironic.

Remember: wherever there have been witches, women have been screwed.

4) Reiko Asakawa of Ringu

The freaky world of Asian Horror gives us the only heroine on this list who likely isn't a Christian by any stretch--and I think that her character arc is the only one even a Jesuit could not defend.

A friend of mine who loves Japanese culture has told me that Japanese myths often feature a cursed object in which a malignant spirit is trapped. The curse rubs off on anyone who comes in contact with that object. Ringu draws from both that deep well of myth and modern-day Japan's culture of gadgets and technology. It is a video tape which tries to claim Reiko, her son and her ex-husband, who then have a mere seven days in which to break its curse before it claims their lives.

The richest theology we have tells us that those who are in an evil world do not also have to be of it--even a world like that of Ringu, where evil rubs off as easily as wet paint. Yet in the end, though the story is left open the tiniest crack, we see that our heroine may have decided to save a life at the cost of a soul.

5) Mary of The Passion of the Christ

Yes, The Passion is a Horror movie--and Mary is a heroine whichever way one looks at her.

It probably would have been better to show her rather than Jesus crushing the serpent underfoot; but I guess that Mel Gibson wasn't going for that level of apocalyptic imagery just yet. On the other hand, he certainly milked Catholic art's Mater Dolorosa tradition for everything he could.

Mary is there every step of her Son's way to Calvary. She may not be directly attacked by the villain of the piece, as our other heroines are, and certainly isn't called to fight back in some hand-to-hand fashion--and yet she is the toughest of them all. It takes a special kind of strength to take seven spiritual swords to the heart.

It's also worth noting that Mary plays an equally crucial role in the first movie on our list. The best mortal response to evil is always the Marian one.

Image Sources: a) The Exorcism of Emily Rose poster, b) A Nightmare on Elm Street poster, c) Rosemary's Baby poster, c) Ringu poster, e) The Passion of the Christ poster


Paul Stilwell said...

Excellent list, and very cool theme! Yes to The Passion of the Christ.

The horror genre is one that I actually haven't given a whole lot of thought to.

I'm thinking there just might be a forthcoming post on Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) in "Aliens"? (from back when Cameron made good movies)

She totally proved up to snuff in the combat department, yet showed motherly tenderness throughout.

Noxxtis said...

I remember when I was watching the Emily Rose movie and there were the scenes in which the priest who exorcised her was on trial. I pretended to be his lawyer and belted out his defenses XD

The movie was based on a true story, right? Do you think she really was possessed or was she just batshit insane like they made her out to be?

P.S: Just saw the second comment you left over at DM. 8'D Thanks for the plugging!

P.P.S: Exorcism of Emily Rose=A Rose for Emily?

Enbrethiliel said...


Paul: I've written about Aliens before:


I also considered Ripley for this list . . . for about two seconds . . . and then I remembered that in the original script of Alien (which is the only straight Horror movie in the franchise), Ripley was a male character; and that even after the change was made, Sigourney Weaver went the feminist both-sexes-are-interchangeable route in interpreting the character. That she was a woman didn't matter until Cameron took his turn writing the character in Aliens . . . and then Weaver did a complete reversal in Alien3.

Though I'm not a fan of Weaver, I do love Aliens. If I ever find enough "Action Movie Moms" to bulk out a Top 5 List, Ripley will be on it!

Noxxtis: That's something I noted the first time you showed me Faulkner's story, but I didn't know if whether it was just a coincidence or something the screenwriters intended. There is an element of the demonic in the short story, and the community is not free of it until Miss Emily dies . . . but I wouldn't push a connection further without confirmation from the movie's writers.

Yes, the film was based on a true story, albeit one that was heavily adapted. The real-life "Emily" was on medication (I think) until her death and her parents and the priest were both tried and found guilty for manslaughter.

So . . . you're making your own "Women in Horror" Top 5 list, right?

Enbrethiliel said...


PS -- I don't know about the real-life case, but I do think that Emily's possession was real.

pennyyak said...

Rosemary always seemed too wimpy - out-of-the-loop in the way of horror movies (and novels) - she just doesn't get it until it's way too late (as far as I can remember).

However, it's a little difficult for me to see Mia Farrow as Wonder Woman, so that may be my problem.

Great movie. Limp woman.

Enbrethiliel said...


More bias: I think it was the line, "I won't have an abortion" that squeezed Rosemary into this list. =P

Have you read Eve Tushnet's article Grotesquerie and Grief: Abortion in Horror Media?

Then there's the fact that having Nancy Thompson and Laurie Strode here together would have thrown the list off balance.

You're right, though, that any other woman would have figured it out long before Rosemary--or at least put her foot down harder when it came to the nosy neighbours. I was completely frustrated that she didn't consult her old friends again after she felt the baby kick . . . but that was a necessary plot point to keep the action rising, I suppose.

pennyyak said...

Interesting link - I read a lot of horror. Making my way through King's It for the last few days - have never read it because of the title - I've never liked it. Strange but true.

King, like many authors I read, also mixes up his Prot. and Cath. In It, a Methodist Sunday School teacher tells her charge about misusing the bread, and it turning to flesh or blood. And in another recent novel, the full gospel preacher has a crucifix, not a cross, etc.

Probably more than anything, those things make me wonder - does the author not know this? Not care? Catholic custom and imagery easier to distort into horrific shapes?

Anyway, yes, if the characters effectively protect themselves too soon (say, move to another continent!), then the plot would disintegrate. Putting the pieces together without quite seeing the whole - you see that in many sorts of novels (and movies).

Enbrethiliel said...


I was thinking of your assessment of Rosemary's character today and realised that "limp woman" reminds me very much of Wendy Torrance of The Shining. I wonder whether that was the Horror Heroine trend of the 70s--which would explain why Ripley was able to take Horror by storm.

As for Steven King, I remember that tensions between Catholics and Protestants in a small town were a huge part of his novel Needful Things. When the Baptist schoolteacher suspects that her boyfriend is cheating on her with a Catholic woman, she imagines that the latter seduced him with Catholic language such as "Take this and eat."

On the other hand, the relationship between Catholic imagery and the Horror genre is very strong. It could be that King knew a plain cross wouldn't work so well. (Along those lines, isn't it interesting that Orthodox imagery is so rarely tapped in Horror?)

pennyyak said...

Wendy also has the "advantage" of putting up with a madman/abuser/drunk, and so I think fits more comfortably in a role where she is going to ignore everything until the volcano blows. I expect her to be passive - King does the abused woman over and over in his novels too.

Oh I loved Needful Things (with The Stand, my two favorites of his). Yes, the bread and butter of Catholicism so useful in horror.

You are right, no Orthodox stuff - and if Catholic, then Latin Rite, and not another. Familiarity?

Enbrethiliel said...


I was taking a taxi home from work this evening, Pennyyak, when it dawned on me that you are right! Rosemary is far too passive to be a heroine, and her choice not to have an abortion doesn't carry the weight it would have had she also known, at that moment, whose child she is really carrying.

If I could do the list over, I'd put Ellen Hutter of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens in Rosemary's place.

(As for Latin-rite Catholic symbols being the most familiar, I'd take that as a great sign that Catholics are indeed being leaven for the culture!)