(Belated) HALLOWEEN SPECIAL PART THREE: Carrie and the Role of Mothers in Horror – FEATURE

Carrie is an incredibly important film in the discussion of feminism in horror. Known not only for her bloody revenge on her classmates following her crowning as prom queen but also for the origin of her power at the time of her first period, Carrie’s is a story bathed in blood and linked intrinsically with the feminine. The feminine in horror is often perverted through The Male Gaze. It can be overturned or reversed in order to create the monster in films such as Teeth or Hard Candy. It is the subject of the horror itself – the very state of pregnancy in Rosemary’s Baby and even the femme fatale-like, coercive and compulsive nature of the three witches in Macbeth. The trope of the ‘final girl’ is also used widely in the horror genre, most notably in the slasher sub-genre, and is categorised by a girl who takes on classically masculine traits in order to survive. The role specifically of mothers and daughters in horror films calls upon the maternal instinct to protect and taps into that very animalistic impulse in order to create fear and suspense. What happens, then, if there is a lack of adequate maternal figure within horror? Such is the case in Carrie, which I will be examining in conjunction with (amongst others) Frankenstein – the ultimate horror story about motherhood, or lack thereof.[1]

The role which Carrie’s mother plays in her journey towards becoming the monster that she is at the film’s conclusion is unparalleled. As mentioned, Carrie’s is a story which begins and ends bathed in blood, in equally iconic scenes. The beginning of the film shows Carrie discovering her first period during gym class. Not knowing what has just happened to her, Carrie understandably thinks she is dying and has a panic attack. In the principal’s office after, the principal squirms away at the sight of menstrual blood on Miss Collins’ shorts. This is therefore a film both disgusted by and obsessed with blood and the Original Sin which leads to it – something which Margaret White makes sure Carrie knows about, despite not explaining the actual period itself. Margaret forces Carrie to repeat again and again the phrase ‘Eve was weak’, indicating her hatred for the Original Sin which led to Carrie herself being born, as well as shaming Carrie for beginning her period. So, Margaret has refrained from telling Carrie the reason behind her bleeding but condemns her for it at the same time.

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Sin is another topic utilised widely in horror films which play upon the fear of religion, such as in The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. All too often this takes the form of a reference to the Original Sin of Eve and womankind. The impact of this trope is to reinforce the idea of blame on the female characters within the film and also tap into preconceptions of feminine impact in a patriarchal world in those who watch it. In the seminal work The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar state that Victor Frankenstein is indeed the one who ‘unleashes Sin and Death upon the world’.[2] In Frankenstein, it is the lack of maternal presence and in Carrie it is the presence itself which seems to instigate the derailing of their respective children into the monstrous nature for which they are recognised. Even before Victor realises that his creature has actually murdered William, he has decided that it is so, and deems himself to be the ‘true murderer’ as he is his creator. This is one overt example of the sharing of sin between family members. In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar describe William’s death as ‘another crucial component of the Original Sin shared by prominent members of the Frankenstein family’.[3]

This use of familial ties and the idea of sin as an inherited trait is something which we can also see in the use of the topics of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood in horror. This again ties into the fear of religion, as exemplified perfectly by Margaret White in Carrie. She says, when Carrie returns from her bloodbath of a prom, that she ‘should have killed [her]self when he put it in me’. A clear reference to her and Ralph’s premarital sex, Margaret thus links Carrie’s extreme rage to the sin which Margaret feels she committed by having her. In this way, sin can be traced through the female familial ties and Margaret’s shame which she places on Carrie is both the cause and result of Carrie’s murderous rage.

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Sex is something which is also linked almost intrinsically to horror. The fear of rape is something which has been played upon in great detail particularly in French ‘rape revenge’ films such as Base Moi and Irreversible, in which it is the focus of the horror and fear itself. In British horror, namely 28 Days Later, rape is explored not as the main enemy in the film, but as a result of the virus which is. The fantastic book European Nightmares describes this phenomenon as ‘a profound personal knowledge of the horrors of unchecked machismo’, illustrating how rape and sex in horror is something which is unfortunately gendered time and again.[4] The fear of rape is complimented by the fear of sin and sex in general. Whether consensual or not, horror films which play on Catholic fears about purity can use sex in order to exacerbate this fear. The trope of the ‘final girl’ plays off this as well, in the sense that her survival is secured through her virginity in many instances. As she refrains from having sex at the beginning of the film, something which often catches out her friends, she is then able to keep a level head and survive the rest of the movie.

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Mothers and monsters are linked within horror. The mother is the author, and therefore the creator, of these monsters which end up being formed and shaped by their experiences. As a result of sex, the monster is born, but it is a result of the mother’s attitude that the monster is created. Motherhood is often seen as something inescapable and something of a forgone conclusion. The Second Sex says that the woman’s ‘organic structure is adapted for the perpetuation of the species’.[5] In the case of Carrie, Margaret White resents Carrie as she was born out of wedlock, meaning that she is made of sin. Similarly, Victor’s creation is made in unholy ways, meaning that in both instances, the child already has a predisposition to monstrosity. It is, however, the part of both Victor and Margaret which ensures that their child becomes the monster that is the remaining part of their legacy. No one remembers the eloquence and curiosity of the Creation, or the shyness and reserve of Carrie. Instead, the legacy of both is them at their most destructive, with the Creation remembered as a grotesque and murderous monster, and Carrie drenched in blood with a homicidal look in her eyes.

The mother, or creator (to use a gender-neutral term) is the trigger which enables their child to fulfil their predestined fate of becoming a monster. In both the examples of Carrie and Frankenstein, we can see how the maternal instinct can be led vastly astray into a destructive rather than nurturing relationship. The final act of destruction is, in these instances as well as others, the fault of the creator rather than of the ‘monster’ itself.

 

[1] This is actually a topic I intended to write about for my Extended Project when I was 17, something which never came to fruition as time management and mental health issues got in the way. Apologies if this post seems incredibly self-indulgent. Also, apologies for it being horrendously late. It was kind of ambitious to aim for three posts during one month, but even so, it’s almost a month late. Life happened. I’m sorry.

[2] The Madwoman in the Attic, p. 234. (I refuse to do proper referencing because it takes the joy out of writing essays, sorry not sorry) – see resources page for full details.

[3] The Madwoman in the Attic, p. 228.

[4] European Nightmares, p. 84.

[5] The Second Sex, p. 501.

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