The year’s series of Women in Horror Month articles focuses on horror icons – both real and fictional. Now we head to the fictional side, with my three articles this week centering on a recurring role many females in horror films play: mothers. As I see it, there are three “staple character” mothers: the timid nurturer, the evil mother, and the conqueror. Today, we finally have a hero – the conquering mother! Thankfully, there are just as many characters that will fight for their children as there are that will harm their children. So I’ve picked some notable examples to highlight.
I think that for most women, they begin to feel like a mother the moment they find out they are pregnant. And as the pregnancy progresses that feeling of love, responsibility, and commitment only grows. The biggest example of this, in horror, is the horror Sarah will endure to try and protect her unborn baby in the brutal French film “À l’intérieur” (“Inside,” 2007). Bloodied and terrorized by a woman who wants to murder her, deliver her baby, and take it as her own, Sarah never backs down. She fights until the bitter end.
Once the baby is born, mothers are even more protective. This has never been clearer than in one of my favorite films, “Grace” (2009). Our mother, Madeline, loses her unborn child after a car accident, but insists on carrying the baby to term. Following the delivery, the child miraculously returns to life – because of the strength of Madeline’s love for her. But soon after, some strange occurrences start to indicate that not everything may be as well with little Grace as they seem. Once Madeline realizes the truth about Grace (in short: she needs to eat human blood, not milk), she still loves her daughter for who – and what – she is. She will go to any lengths necessary to provide for her child – even if, as we see in the final scene – that may be painful (teething is always awful).
Not going to lie – if my baby needed blood, I’d make sure she got it.
But biological mothers aren’t the only ones who will go to any lengths to protect their children. One of my favorite films of last ten years, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2010), features a stepmother who is the only person who believes there are sentient creatures terrorizing her stepdaughter. This is awesome not only because Katie Holmes is amazing as Kim, but because they film is very much like a flipped fairy tale, and as such, the stepmother is not evil. Of course, if you’re not an evil stepmother in a horror film, chances are you’ll end up paying the ultimate price.
In the 1970’s – and beyond – Stephen King made a habit of writing some of the most dynamic female characters in horror literature, and then movies, as they were adapted. While Wendy in “The Shining” is most certainly a timid nurturer, he flipped that characterization on its head when he wrote Donna Trenton and made her the hero of “Cujo” (novel – 1981, film – 1983). Played by horror icon Dee Wallace and trapped in a small car with her son, Tad, and terrorized by a rabid St. Bernard, Donna uses all her wits to save her son. In the film, Donna heroically fights off the rabid beast to save her severely dehydrated child. Luckily, she is able to revive him and put the sick animal down.
Thankfully, Stephen King isn’t the only person who writes strong, championing mothers – and that tradition continues to this day. The acclaimed film “The Babadook” (2014), another of my favorites, is the most recent example of the conqueror. In this film, Amelia, a single mother that is plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house. But she soon discovers a sinister presence is indeed all around her, and must choose whether to let it devour her and her family. This movie is great because not only is it creepy, but you completely identify with Amelia – and, as a mother, I can vouch for the total exhaustion she feels. That’s what makes it so empowering. As an audience, we are just as drained as she is, and yet we fight alongside her, and are vindicated when the Babadook is defeated (or caged, if you will). This movie is also remarkable because of its portrayal of mental illness in a mother, and how it can be overcome – something most horror films tend to leave out. Amelia is, indeed, a warrior.