In the spirit of the Halloween Season, Amy’s October recommendations highlight films that portray women who undergo great transformations while facing all kinds of monsters and terrifying circumstances and, in a similar vein, Devi’s also highlight women undergoing transformations, specifically by becoming mothers and thus also contending with monsters and terrifying situations as to which any real life mother may attest.
HALLOWEEN (1978 iTunes, Shudder and Vudu): One of the most influential slasher films ever made, in part because the brilliant performance of Jamie Lee Curtis introduced the masses to the concept of the “Final Girl” (a term coined by film scholar Carol Clover). Her empathetic portrayal of a reserved teenager still resonates because she demonstrates both courage and smarts, forced to defend herself after the killer has gruesomely disposed of her friends. She will always be the ultimate Final Girl and this classic remains one of the most terrifying films ever set on Halloween night.
CAT PEOPLE (1942, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Vudu): I refer to the 1942 scary version and not the underwhelming 1982 remake. The film tells the story of young woman who has recently immigrated to the United States. She’s afraid of physical intimacy with her love interest as she fears a curse could transform her into a jaguar upon doing the deed. The film is a study of how women’s fears are an integral part of their desire as it will result in a loss of control that will unleash violence and bring death to anyone in its path.
CARRIE (1976, Prime and Vudu): The classic film based on a Stephen King novel may perhaps be best remembered for the notorious shower scene that continues to shock audiences for its graphic depiction of the taboo subject of menstruation. It’s also remembered for the terrifying-and heartbreaking-performance of Sissy Spacek as the lonely and misunderstood protagonist who unleashes terror on the classmates and a mother that abused her.
SERVANT (2019, series, AppleTV): I’m not quite through Season 1 yet, so I can’t speak to where it goes, but the ride so far has been wonderfully creepy and highly intriguing. The story begins with the aftermath of a couple losing their 13-week-year old child and a highly unusual therapy method that yields even more unusual results. Most notable perhaps is the oddly touching (so far) relationship that grows between the grieving mother, a TV reporter, and her child’s post-mortem live-in nanny (yes, you read that right). However, it’s obvious nothing’s quite as it seems, and the road to find out what’s really going on promises to be a twisty-turny doozy. Excellent performances by Lauren Ambrose and Nell Tiger Free.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011, Hulu): Brilliantly directed by Lynne Ramsey, KEVIN offers a terrifying look at motherhood as experienced by Eva, a reluctant mother (played to excruciating perfection by Tilda Swinton), who gives birth to a genuine psychopath. Watching Kevin’s sadistic tendencies evolve through childhood is chilling enough, but simultaneously seeing how Eva’s husband, Franklin, fails her at every turn, offers an equally disturbing portrayal of the dangers of patriarchy in the home.
IT’S ALIVE! (1974, Prime): Films by director Larry Cohen are not for everyone. Campy, gory and rough around the edges, they tend to please B-movie horror fans in particular, but despite their “low art” trappings, they also boast thoughtful social commentary that will appeal to the open-minded intellectual. IT’S ALIVE is no exception. When I teach my horror film class, I always show an extended clip of the birth scene that wonderfully juxtaposes shots of the cigar-smoking fathers-to-be living it up in the waiting room while their pregnant wives’ concerns are dismissed by condescending male doctors (who I’m happy to say — spoiler alert — pay dearly for their negligence.)
Have a safe, fun and feminist Halloween!
Devi & Amy
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