Terror Cult: The Pains of Being a Gal, Flowering

Devon Ashby's latest installment examines all the horror movies about young girls coming of age.

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby

Dismissing modern horror movies as an empty distraction for bored adolescents has become a cultural cliché. To be fair, it’s true that the 18 – 25 demographic makes up a rather dominant percentage of the genre’s audience, and both corporate and low-budget filmmakers are aware of, and cater to, that reality. Hence the vast and sprawling wealth of overbudgeted slasher flicks and shoestring torture porn produced each year for, and about, teenagers.

Because the market for most horror movies is young adults, it’s not surprising that a lot of genre films with teen casts deal directly or indirectly with themes related to adolescent coming-of-age. The Nightmare on Elm Street series, for example, is all about teenagers being ignored and marginalized by their parents and abused by institutional officials, with inevitably bloody results. Later, the Scream franchise satirically dissected the hidden psychological implications of ‘80s slasher movies and their obsession with punishing teens for expressing their sexuality.

One teen horror microsubgenre that rarely gets enough play are horror movies about coming of age for adolescent girls. In a more literal sense than for boys, female coming-of-age involves gross physical and psychological transformation. It’s a jarring and inevitable transition that, more often than not, is acutely embarrassing, painful, and – because of the social and sexual double standards that characterize it – almost always dangerous. Not surprisingly, these themes are fertile ground for films about demons, monsters, mutants, and the occult, and several filmmakers have interpreted female puberty and sexual initiation through the lens of supernatural carnage. The scariest thing about these movies, however – despite copious quantities of gore and shock – is the stark emotional reality they present. They’re films that deal with loss of control, loss of personal identity, and the disintegration of personal relationships that often uniquely define young female experience.

Carrie (1976)

Ostracized by her peers at school and abused by her religious mother at home, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is shocked to discover, after a humiliating incident involving her first period, that she suddenly has the ability to move objects with her mind. Carrie is the quintessential adolescent female horror movie, based on Stephen King’s first published novel. The film was directed by cult darling Brian DePalma and is one of the director’s most beloved entries, infused with misty waves of kitsch angst offsetting its sequences of genuine terror.

The Craft (1996)

After relocating with her family to a small town and getting roundly snubbed by most of the classmates at her new school, Sarah falls in with a group of Gothy outcasts (including Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk) who have devoted their high school careers to studying witchcraft. Harnessing Sarah’s untrained natural abilities, the foursome quickly becomes unstoppably powerful, effortlessly realizing their dearest dreams of money and popularity and wreaking petty havoc on their enemies. When internal rifts and infighting divide the group, however, Sarah finds herself fighting for her life against her power-mad covenmates, with only her own magic to protect her.

Like most movies on this list, The Craft is a cult classic, this time about thorny adolescent peer relationships and the backstabbing and mind games that characterize them. It also pretty much singlehandedly established Fairuza Balk as an undying cult sex object of the 1990s, with her crystal blue, mascara-caked eyes, scarlet lipstick, spiky jet-black hair, and murderous sharp-toothed grin.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Produced in Canada, Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie about two inseparable weirdo sisters whose relationship is threatened when the older of the two, Ginger, is bitten by a werewolf on the same day she belatedly starts menstruating. The ensuing physical and psychological transformation shocks her sister, Bridgette, whose terror only escalates when she discovers Ginger’s moodiness, excessive bleeding, and weird physical mutations are signs she’s turning into a werewolf. More directly than any other example on this list, Ginger Snaps deals head-on with the stark terror associated with sexual coming-of-age. Ginger’s thirst for blood rises in direct parallel with her equally horrifying and inexplicable thirst for sex, drugs, and cheap thrill-seeking, and Bridgitte’s painful attempts to first assist her sister, and then slowly, to subdue and defeat her, are at the core of the narrative. Ginger Snaps 2: Ginger Snaps Back is, incidentally, a way stronger than average horror sequel, and deals with similar themes.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Scripted by Diablo Cody, of Juno fame, Jennifer’s Body is in some ways a rehash of Ginger Snaps but with a more self-consciously pronounced satirical streak, and a pointedly reduced focus on character ambiguity. Best friends since they were in diapers, popular cheerleader Jennifer and nerdy social outcast Anita (nicknamed “Needy”) experience a shift in their dynamic after Jennifer disappears in a mysterious van one night with a group of suspicious indie band members. Jennifer returns unscathed, but Needy soon discovers her friend is now imbued with supernatural powers, plus a need to routinely consume the flesh of the living.

Like Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body is simultaneously about the dangers of sexuality and of corrosive personal relationships, but its one-dimensional demonizing of its lead villainess makes it less emotionally rich than its predecessor, and a lot of the third-act plot twists are disappointingly obvious and predictable. On the upside, the movie features both Jennifer Fox and an uncharacteristically nerdified Amanda Seyfried, and there’s a scene where they totally make out with each other.

Teeth (2007)

Another tongue-in-cheek horror comedy, Teeth tells the story of Dawn, a prim professional virgin whose anti-sex attitudes are severely undermined when, after a botched sexual encounter with her boyfriend, she discovers her vagina is lined with razor sharp dentata. More than just addressing sexual insecurity, Teeth finds subtle ways to address the danger and callousness of adolescent sexual shaming, and the acts of violence and aggression – against women, not men – that are often the result.

Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

The first Prom Night was a pretty straightforward cookie-cutter slasher, but by the time Prom Night II was getting a release in the late ‘80s, it had become fashionable to mix up expectations and throw curveballs with established slasher titles. Unlike its predecessor, Prom Night II is a supernatural horror movie about Mary Lou Maloney, a beautiful, venomous 1950s prom queen killed accidentally on Prom Night, whose soul is accidentally resurrected by Vicki, a modern-day mousy virgin vying for the tiara. Vicki soon becomes plagued by mood swings and horrifying visions of gore and desecration, realizing with dawning dread that she has become possessed by Mary Lou’s vindictive spirit Once again, Hello, Mary Lou is a movie about the terrors of sexuality and the personal volatility and social confusion that are earmarks of high school.

Come back next week for an introduction to a new horror microsubgenre with CraveOnline's Terror Cult!

Devon Ashby is a featured contributor on CraveOnline and writer of the weekly series Terror Cult. Follow her on Twitter at @DevAshby.