WIHM: Allegory and the Female Experience in Horror Films

By: Carolyn Drake

 

(TW: Violence, sexual assault, forced pregnancy, abortion).

I’m not hard to please. When it comes to horror movies, I want three things: Terrifying visuals, a killer score, and a brilliant hidden meaning woven into the tapestry of the plot for me to pick apart and obsess over and debate my film-loving dad about. 

That’s it. I’m easy.

Fortunately for me, there’s a current revival of psychological horror that seeks to use allegory as a part of deeper storytelling. Even luckier, horror movies historically love to interweave female-centric metaphors into their narratives. That’s right, the genre that gave us The Final Girl and Death By Sex tropes is also the best genre for strong women conquering smoking hot revenge demons, cave-dwelling madness monsters, and facehugging symbolism aliens.

So without further ado, please enjoy some of my favorite bloody, gory, brilliant horror films that explore the female experience through allegory. 

~

Jennifer’s Body (2009) by Karyn Kusama

Look, this movie? I promise, it’s not as bad as you remember. Its biggest crime was being released in 2009.  

At its core, Jennifer’s Body is a darkly comedic slasher/creature feature. The plot revolves around the titular Jennifer who is sacrificed to Satan by a desperate indie band striving to make it big. But the ritual goes wrong due to Jennifer’s status as a non-virgin, and Jennifer winds up possessed by an evil flesh-hungry demon. Needy – Jennifer’s best gal pal – realizes that Jennifer is satisfying her new monstrous appetite by eating their male classmates and is forced to put a stop to it. 

If you’re like me, you vaguely remember that plot from when you were nineteen and went to see Jennifer’s Body to watch Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried make out, but were confused when the movie turned into a cross between Juno (2007) and Feast (2005).

Here’s what you don’t remember: Jennifer’s Body is an allegory for the devastating effects of sexual assault and the desire for vengeance.

Yup, you heard me! Jennifer’s Body is a rape-and-revenge fantasy. 

Don’t believe me? How’s that whole demonic man-eater thing start again? Oh, yeah: ‘A drunk teenage girl is shoved into a windowless van by a group of men who take advantage of her body for their own desires.’ 

Coming back to you now, right? 

Jennifer’s Body was originally marketed as a sexy succubus movie for straight teenage boys, which many point to as the reason it flopped at the box office. Watching this film post-#MeToo, however, gives the storyline new context. 

Rape-and-revenge flicks have been a thing since the 70s, but unlike I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Last House on the Left (1972), Jennifer’s Body doesn’t exploit its victim’s graphic trauma for the viewer’s eyes. While we watch the band mates mock Jennifer’s terror just before they murder her, we never see the full extent of the gore involved. Instead of focusing on the violence done to Jennifer’s body, the film chooses to focus on the violence Jennifer’s body inflicts on her victims. 

In a twist on the genre, Jennifer’s possession by a demon turns her into a sexual predator. Jennifer’s hunger for flesh leads to her seducing victims, taking them to an isolated location, and then eviscerating them. She targets men, but she never kills anyone who actually seems to deserve it (i.e., the men who sacrificed Jennifer). Her victims include a lost transfer student, a kind Goth kid, and a football captain mourning the death of his best friend. Their only offense is the fact that they’re attracted to the gorgeous Jennifer. As the audience, even though we sympathize with the trauma that caused Jennifer’s demonic transformation, we soon come to see her as a monster, and strongly pity the victims of her misdirected wrath. 

Further, Jennifer’s indifference to the murders implies that she doesn’t think what she’s doing is wrong, possibly due to her traumatic experience. In a deleted scene, Jennifer’s best friend, Needy, confronts Jennifer and says, “You are killing people,” to which Jennifer replies with chilling nonchalance: “No. I’m killing boys.” Her victims seem to be clumped together in her mind with the men who symbolically raped her, which indicates how she views the otherwise innocent men who ogle her body.

While Jennifer doesn’t avenge herself by killing the men who turned her into a monster, Needy does. The movie ends with Needy hitchhiking and telling the driver that she’s seeing a band, but tonight is their “last show.” The scene cuts to the credits, during which the band that sacrificed Jennifer is seen happily basking in their fame. Seconds later, however, bloody handprints cover the walls and a series of stills show the band murdered in their hotel room. 

While the entire soundtrack for this movie is great (and oh so nostalgic), my favorite use of the non-diegetic score occurs during this scene, when Needy kills the band. In the moments leading up to the murders, Hole’s “Violet” plays in the background; this song notably alludes to sexual violence done to the female singer, but has also been praised as a woman asserting control over her body and reclaiming it from men who seek to possess her. In the context of this film as a rape-and-revenge work, this song playing while leading up to the moment when Needy destroys the men who figuratively raped Jennifer fits perfectly. 

So in summary…give Jennifer’s Body another chance, guys. You won’t regret it. 

~

The Descent (2005) by Neil Marshall

Let’s talk about madness. 

The Descent is a gory bloodbath that expertly balances psychological-horror with monster-horror. This isn’t your average cheesy creature feature, though; the visuals are beyond incredible. Marshall transmits the claustrophobia of the underground caverns by shooting his subjects in tight shots, usually composing them so that the actors are framed by the imposing cave walls. He also makes the brilliant choice to limit set lighting to the sources the characters bring with them into the cave, such as helmet lamps, an infrared camcorder, and garish red flares. This creates a dark, realistic, and certifiably creepy ambiance that bolsters the storyline. 

The plot follows six adventurous women on a spelunking expedition, but a cave-in traps them underground…and it soon becomes clear that they aren’t alone. 

While this is a terrifying premise, the true horror of The Descent comes from the allegory that is one woman’s downward spiral into utter madness.

The woman in question is Sarah, the protagonist. Her descent into madness begins when her husband (Paul) and daughter (Jessie) perish in a violent car accident. Immediately after the accident, Sarah dreams that Jessie – who was about to have a birthday – sits before her with a birthday cake. Six birthday candles are lit, but Jessie blows them out until obscurity consumes the screen. 

This vision of Jessie sitting in darkness with a birthday cake reoccurs throughout the film, reappearing whenever Sarah’s hold on reality slips a little more.

Eventually, after being forced to descend further into the cavern to search for an exit, the women encounter the movie’s monsters: The cave-dwelling “crawlers.” These creatures appear humanoid, but are truly animals, killing and consuming whatever they can catch. 

In short, the crawlers are uncanny and represent the opposite of a logical, sane human. More on that soon. 

The crawler attack separates the group. Sarah later reunites with her closest friend, Beth, but is devastated to find her gravely injured. Beth reveals two things to Sarah that send her mental state even further south: 1. One of the other women (Juno) caused Beth’s terminal injuries (note: the audience knows this was done accidentally, but Sarah does not), and 2. Juno was having an affair with Sarah’s husband, Paul, before he died. 

As though this wasn’t enough to ruin a gal’s day, Beth then asks Sarah to kill her so the crawlers won’t eat her alive. Sarah tearfully obliges. 

After killing Beth, the emotionally wrecked Sarah attempts to find an exit from the caves, but is accosted by three crawlers. She viciously kills them all. 

The sequence in which Sarah slaughters the crawlers is when she transforms from the Old Sarah – mentally fragile, traumatized, and terrified – to the New Sarah. The New Sarah is…well, she’s a crawler. 

The film draws visual comparisons between Sarah and the crawlers by having her kill a blood-covered female crawler and then emerge from a literal pool of blood, making her almost indistinguishable from the crawler she just killed. Further, in a clever sound bridge, Sarah releases a harrowing primal howl, but when the scene cuts to Juno in a different part of the cave, she hears the screech of a crawler echoing off the cavern’s walls. 

After Sarah’s transformation scene, her fighting techniques are no longer human, either; she uses her teeth to rip the crawler’s throats out in the same manner that the monsters killed her friends, and mercilessly shoves her thumbs into the crawler’s eye sockets, grimacing with dark satisfaction as the crawler dies painfully beneath her. 

After betraying Juno and leaving her to die, Sarah runs through the dark cave but slips and falls down a shaft, tumbling even further into the abyss of the caverns until she hits absolute bottom, knocking herself out. Sarah awakens some time later and sees daylight atop an incline that leads out of the caves. The incline, however, is covered in the skeletal remains of the crawler’s victims. The scarlet blood drenching Sarah is stark against the white bones as she frantically scrambles up the slope. In one brilliantly framed long shot, the camera shows the diagonal slant of the thin beam of light cutting through the darkness, and Sarah ascending for the first time in the film. The score swells triumphantly as Sarah bursts through the mossy grass covering the cave’s opening and emerges topside, bathed in sunlight. Bloodied and wide-eyed, she at last escapes the caves and regains her sanity, running away from the darkness and madness, leaving it behind her and moving forward with her life… 

…except, she doesn’t. The camera cuts back to the dark cave, where Sarah opens her eyes for real this time. There is no beam of sunlight cutting through the darkness. Her escape was a hopeless dream. But before her, one last time, is her daughter’s birthday cake topped with flaming candles. The camera shows Jessie sitting on the other side of the cake, then pans to a smiling Sarah gazing happily at her daughter, and then finally pulls back to show that Sarah is alone on a ledge in the cave, staring into nothingness. The firelight comes from her torch, not birthday candles. Around her, the howls of crawlers echo off the cave walls. Sarah’s descent into madness is complete. She will never get out of the cave. She is trapped forever in the darkness of her mind. 

An argument can be made that The Descent’s analogy of losing one’s mind following personal tragedy is universal and not defined by gender. On a writing level, I agree; the female characters of the film are so well written that you could easily replace Sarah with a male protagonist and the story would be exactly the same. 

But where I disagree is this: If The Descent becomes an allegory for a man losing his mind and turning into a vicious feral killer, well…it’s no longer groundbreaking. 

Think of every “descent into madness” movie starring a man: Taxi Driver (1976), The Shining (1980), Joker (2019)…Guy loses his mind and kills people in a brutal manner. 

Now think of every “descent into madness” movie starring a woman:  The Others (2001), Swimfan (2002), Black Swan (2010)…Girl loses her mind and kills…herself? Yikes, that’s a depressingly common trope. But hey, sometimes she’s a murderer too! Sometimes she attempts to kill an ex-lover or the new romantic competition or her own kids, sometimes she succeeds, although she almost always dies in the end. And besides, even if she is a murderer, golly, she looks so pretty doing it! 

In reality, women can be as “crazy,” vicious, and murderous as men. But that version of a woman’s potential for spiraling savage insanity never seems to translate into the film world. We don’t get to see the ugly side of a woman’s unraveling mind. Even when a woman is beyond rational thought, her lipstick is still perfect, and should a mad woman kill herself, rest assured we’ll only ever see her gently swinging feet, never her brutalized face. 

The only “mad” woman in film who comes close to being as savage as Sarah is Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of the killer prom queen herself in Carrie. There is even a moment in The Descent that is reminiscent of Carrie: Sarah’s bulging eyes are shockingly white against her crimson-coated skin as she stands among the crawlers she’s killed, bringing to mind a pig-blood drenched Carrie surveying the carnage she’s created at prom. 

But even Carrie had telekinesis to do her dirty work. Sarah? Sarah’s got teeth. 

~

Alien (1979) by Ridley Scott, Aliens (1986) by James Cameron, and Prometheus (2012) by Ridley Scott

[Note: We’re going to pretend Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and Alien: Covenant don’t exist, cool? Cool.] 

The feminism of the Alien franchise has been discussed and dissected extensively, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a brief rundown, seeing as they are the OG horror films that interweave the female experience into the plot as allegory. 

Let’s start with the first and best film in the franchise, Alien

We all know the story: A futuristic crew of space-truckers gets a distress signal from a nearby planet and goes to check it out. One of the men is attacked, though, by an alien species. The alien forcefully impregnates the man with a, ah…phallic appendage, and then his alien baby bursts through his chest, quickly growing into a dangerous monster that hunts and kills the crew until only one woman (Ripley) remains. 

Even from that short synopsis, it’s clear what the allegory is in this film: Sexual assault and unwanted pregnancy. 

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon brilliantly creates a story and atmosphere in which the male audience is forced to empathize with their female counterparts in their fear of sexual violation and unwanted pregnancy. In the 2002 commentary on the special edition DVD, O’Bannon said that his plan for writing the script was to, “attack [the male audience] sexually,” and make them feel every bit as repulsed and terrified by the act of the alien’s violent intrusion as women would be in reality with a sexually abusive man. Naturally, that fear would extend to the potential unwanted consequence (i.e., pregnancy) of such a violation. 

While Alien is the allegory of a woman’s fear of forced reproduction, however, the second film in the franchise – Aliens – is the reversal. 

The film opens with Ripley being discovered floating through space in her escape pod, but it’s 57 years after she put herself into cryosleep following the events of the previous film. A colony has since been established on the very planet that Ripley’s crew found the alien. When the colony fails to communicate with base, Ripley is sent to discover what’s happened to them. Naturally, Ripley finds that everyone has been killed by the aliens, except for one little girl (Newt). 

Newt is central to the allegory of Aliens, which is about motherhood. A deleted scene at the start of Aliens reveals that Ripley had a young daughter when she left Earth in the first film, but the girl died during Ripley’s 57 years in cryosleep. An emotionally devastated Ripley then finds Newt, a motherless young girl, and the two instantly connect. When Newt is stolen by the Queen Xenomorph, Ripley goes after her, gearing up in an elevator plummeting down to the Queen’s lair in one of the most badass ‘getting ready for a fight’ scenes in any movie. 

Ripley is only successful in rescuing Newt, however, because she threatens to destroy the Queen Xenomorph’s eggs if she doesn’t let Ripley and Newt leave alive. Ripley recognizes that even though the alien is a monster, she’s still a mother, just like Ripley.

When the Xenomorph once again threatens Newt’s safety, Ripley calls out one of the greatest lines of the film: “Get away from her, you bitch!” and the two wage fierce battle, mother-a-mother. The film ends with Ripley jettisoning the Queen out an airlock and escaping the planet safely with Newt, her adopted daughter.

Both of these films are powerful and raw in their exploration of the female experience of pregnancy and motherhood. In an interesting twist, the maybe prequel to AlienPrometheus – is a blend of both allegories. 

Prometheus’s plot is pretty standard: Archeologists go to a planet, find some alien eggs, yada yada yada, a bunch of people die until there’s only one “good gal” crewmember still alive (Shaw). Fast-forward to David, the male-presenting robot responsible for providing the crew with medical care, informing his female patient, Shaw, that she is “pregnant.” Shaw, however, knows this to be impossible, because even though Shaw desperately wants to be a mother, she is infertile. David then implies that Shaw is infected with one of the alien invaders. Shaw, now terrified of the thing in her womb, insists that David “get it out” of her, but he refuses. He tries to force his patient to remain “pregnant” in the interest of preserving the alien life inside of Shaw, knowing it will most likely kill her while being “birthed.” 

I know, I know, there’s a lot to be said here about the horror of a man trying to strip a woman of her bodily autonomy…but I digress. 

Shaw fights and escapes David, and then manages to get into a surgical pod. 

Here’s where some interesting controversy kicks in: Instead of programming the pod for an ‘abortion,’ Shaw tries to program it for a ‘caesarean.’ Further, this action of removing the alien invader from Shaw’s body is never referenced by other characters as anything but a ‘procedure.’ True, the alien is still very much alive when it is removed from Shaw’s body, but Shaw quickly kills it once it’s outside of her uterus. 

So is this an abortion scene, or a C-section scene? Is Shaw a mother, a victim, or both? Was Ripley not the baddest mother ever when she kicked the Queen’s whole-ass out that airlock? 

The Internet argues to this day. 

~

That about sums up my thoughts on the subject! Well, for now. There are many, many, many amazing horror films that explore the female experience through allegory – Teeth (2007) = The Purity Myth; The Babadook (2014) = Grief and Motherhood; The Witch (2015) = Society’s Fear of Female Sexuality, etc. – but smoking hot revenge demons, cave-dwelling madness monsters, and facehugging symbolism aliens will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Happy Women in Horror Month! 

Carolyn A. Drake

Carolyn A. Drake

Author

Carolyn is a writer from the Jersey Shore currently living her best East-Coast-transplant life in Denver. She’s had a number of short fiction works published by small press publications and podcasts, including Mad Scientist Journal and the NoSleep Podcast. You can read/listen to some of her work online at CarolynADrake.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Carolyn_A_Drake. 

WIHM: Publishing With a Small Press vs Self-Publishing

It was 2013, and I had three unpublishable books.

 

One was a book of short stories. One was about talking rats – imagine if Watership Down had been modeled on a disaster story rather than a fantasy epic. And one was a dark portal fantasy that had been favorably compared (but never by the right people) with Clive Barker’s work.

 

I’d spent the better part of two years querying the fantasy novel, and the process was wearing on me. It wasn’t the rejection so much as the overall agent-query culture I’d found myself in. I’d joined a forum and followed a ton of agents on Twitter and engaged in the pitch parties and workshopped my query to death and memorized all the standard advice, but the fact was that the things I was writing and the market at large were not intersecting. In 2013, it seemed like everyone around me was writing YA, except for those leaning hard into the newfound erotica zeitgeist courtesy of the Fifty Shades books. Horror wasn’t even a genre listed on most agency websites.

 

So I did what I imagine a lot of us with a stack of rejection letters did in 2013 and ventured into the wild west of self-publishing. I’d been following it with interest since Hugh Howey’s Wool had come along to devastate expectations and Amanda Hocking at the time was raking in absurd piles of cash. The whole concept was thrilling. Tear down the gatekeepers! Embrace absolute creative freedom!

 

The problem, of course, is that self-publishing is expensive.

 

I’m not talking about the scam-laden vanity presses, either. I just mean in terms of production costs. In order to be competitive, you need to either master a dozen or so individual skills, or you need to pay an expert to do them for you: cover design, interior layout, copy editing. You have to buy an ISBN and pay for ads and find self-promotion opportunities open to indie writers. I did the math one day and realized that the production costs of releasing a book correctly could very easily exceed the amount of a full paycheck at my day job.

 

I did what I could afford with my self-pubbed titles, and they suffered for it. I’m still very proud of them, and I don’t regret sending them into the world, but I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the process.

 

I’d noticed something, too. Those old friends I’d made, the Twitter-pitch pals, the agent-query collective. Many of them were repped now, but most weren’t landing deals at Random House. Some were out on submission for a small eternity, nose to the grindstone writing another (more marketable) book. Quite a few others were publishing with small presses and boutique publishers.

 

It feels a lot like nobody talks about small presses. The narrative always seems to present a binary between the big-corporate mega-conglomerations on the one hand and the do-everything-yourself indies on the other, completely ignoring the existence of anything in the middle. But that’s a disingenuous view. There are plenty of competitive small presses out there. In fact, I’d argue that this is the true indie revolution to come out of the e-pub and POD era – with lower production costs and no need for warehousing and returns, a small press can afford to launch and grow and maybe even flourish in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago.

 

The idea appealed to me.

 

So I made myself a list of things that were important. I wanted high-quality editing, beautiful covers, extended distribution. I wanted the option for audiobooks. I wanted a fighting chance at getting on a shelf at a library or bookstore. I wanted, in other words, a publisher who could do the things that I could not afford to do for myself, and I was more than happy to trade in the high KDP royalty share in exchange for that kind of investment.

 

By now it was 2018 and I had spent the intervening five years building up a stack of manuscripts. I’d begun to lean more heavily into horror fiction, which had always been my first love. It was also the perfect proving ground for my small press experiment. Horror is, after all, a subversive genre, and its fanbase is small but fiercely passionate – the perfect environment to host niche publications and boutique publishers.

 

Armed with my list of priorities, I started to research the available options. I started by looking at Stoker award winners for the last several years, figuring that any book with a Stoker had to be both high-quality and reasonably well-known. I crossed off all the self-published and big-five-published titles off the list and then looked up the remaining publishers one by one, exploring their websites and browsing their catalogs and researching their authors. I ranked them in order of how much I liked their covers and how nice their book formatting was.

 

I ended up with about a dozen publishers I really liked. The one at the top of the list was Journalstone, which just so happened to be open to submissions a the time, so I bundled up my submission packet, wrote myself a reminder on my calendar to check in at a later date, and went back to writing.

 

Well, by this point you’ve probably guessed how this story ends. My book RIVER OF SOULS came out in August 2019 from Trepidatio, an imprint of Journalstone.

 

At the time of writing this, I’m almost half a year into my small-press publishing experiment, and I’m pleased with the results. There are some immediate advantages I’ve enjoyed that I did not have with my self-published titles. Some are obvious – the book is beautifully formatted and has an amazing cover, and I didn’t have to spend rent money to make that happen. Some are less obvious – I can send my ARC to reviewers who don’t read self-pubbed stuff. Some are practically ephemeral – Instead of being a solo maverick, I’ve got a whole book family of editors, cover artists and fellow authors.

 

I won’t say that the small-press experience is going to be the right choice for everyone. There are drawbacks. It’s slow. If you’re used to the breakneck pace of neo-pulp self-pubbing, you can release two or three books in the time it takes to get one through querying, acceptance, editing and release. Your earnings statements come on a routine schedule rather than on-demand, so you can’t compulsively check your sales at 2am (a blessing and a curse, surely). And, of course, the royalties are lower. Nobody can match Amazon’s 70/30% royalty split, and you’re the only person who can decide if the cost-benefit analysis math works out in your favor.

 

But it’s an option that should be on the table and one that deserves serious consideration. Take your time to find the right fit for your goals and approach publishing like the business partnership that it is. Ask: What does this publisher have to offer me that I can’t do as well or better on my own? Weed out the scams and the eager-but-inexperienced houses that bring nothing to the table, and query the rest with confidence. You might be pleasantly surprised at how well it can turn out for you.

T.L. Bodine

T.L. Bodine

Author

T.L. Bodine is the author of several dark books including, most recently, RIVER OF SOULS and INSOMNIA: STORIES TO READ WITH THE LIGHTS TURNED ON.  She’s also a Wattpad star, and her Wattpad-exclusive THE HOUND was a Watty winner in 2018. Her stories live at the crossroads of uncanny and mundane, where horror lurks in the shadows of everyday life. 

When not writing, she can usually be found watching scary movies, playing story-heavy video games, or experimenting in the kitchen. 

She lives in New Mexico with her husband, David, and two small dogs. 

=====

Social Media Links: 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/glassratmedia/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/glassratmedia 

Blog: http://tlbodine.blogspot.com/ 

Tumblr: https://tlbodine.tumblr.com/

Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/TLBodine

WIHM: Uplifting Dreams

By: Kim Plasket

Thinking about Women in Horror month made me think about how women are now starting to support each other. They are supporting each other, building each other up instead of tearing each other down.

 

Women who write horror should do the same thing. Even though women have been making a breakthrough in writing horror it is still not an easy genre.  It seems that we make a few strides forward then someone comes along and tries to tell us we should try to write something else. 

I admit I have tried to do as they wished I am after all human, I have tried to write romance and honestly I had to argue with myself not to kill off some character who was being stubborn and not doing what I wanted him to do.

 

When someone asks me what I enjoy writing, I say horror but the looks on their faces makes me wonder what is wrong with it.  I guess they figure women should prefer to write in another genre. For me horror was my first love, yes, I read those teenage angst stories along with my fair share of Nancy Drew, but my biggest influences were Steven King and Edgar Allen Poe.

 

Women need to support each other no matter what, you see women on the streets protecting other women, women on various media sites doing the same so why are women horror writers the only ones who cannot support each other.

 

I have friends who are writers, really, I think my writer friends and non-writer friends are pretty equal. I have seen male writers bashing female writers on social media. I find it distasteful because writers should support other writers.

 

I didn’t start to write in this genre for the shock value I started to write it because I wanted to write but felt uncomfortable writing other genres so since horror was the niche I found for myself I kept going.  There is something very satisfying in knowing what I write might entertain someone, help them forget their own troubles for a while.

 

I think women should support each other no matter what genre they write in or even if they write at all. It is so hard to be a woman these days with so many different opinions out there about what a woman should be. 

If I stop and take the time to support other women, either in person or on social media I tell myself “If I made her feel good then she will go on and support someone else who might be needing it.”  I guess I feel as if I help someone else the way I have been helped then maybe each person will give someone else a hand up instead of knocking them down.

 

There is so much wrong with this world today that we need to stick together. Our creativity and dreams will help to guide those who come after us. After all the reason we started is we had stories to tell. If you don’t write what’s in your heart then your story doesn’t get told, who better to tell your story than you.

Kim Plasket

Kim Plasket

Author

Kim Plasket is a Jersey girl at heart relocated to sunny Florida. She enjoys writing mainly horror and paranormal stories and lives with her husband and 2 kids. When she is not slaving away at her day job, she can be found drinking coffee with fellow author Valerie Willis and planning the demise of some poor character. 

She has had several stories in various anthologies such as :

 

YEAR ONE (Dark Moments)

Demonic Carnival: First Ticket’s Free: A Dark Humor Short Story Collection (Demonic Anthology Collection)

Demonic Household: See Owner’s Manual: A Dark Humor Short Story (Demonic Anthology Collection

Demonic Wildlife: A Fantastical Funny Adventure (Demonic Anthology Collection)

Demonic Anthology Series (2 Book Series)

Fireflies & Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology

Forgotten Ones: Drabbles of Myth and Legend

The Hunted: A Thrill of the Hunt Anthology (Volume 3)

Scary Snippets: Christmas Edition

Scary Snippets: A Halloween Microfiction Anthology

Seasons: Work of Hearts Magazine

Shades of Santa: Tales from the Bloody North Pole

Thrill of the Hunt: Buried Alive

Thrill of the Hunt: Urban Legends Re-Imagined

Trembling With Fear: More Tales From The Tree

 

With more to come in the next few years….

 

She also has several short stories and a post for Women in Horror Month on the website The Horror Tree. 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B074YCLRCF

WIHM: The New Horror

By: Lachelle Redd

 

From black and white to color, ghost stories, monsters, slashers and everything in between, horror has evolved to mean different things to different people. Some like a good old fashioned monster film, while others prefer more paranormal or supernatural characters. In the early days, onscreen terror was way more subtle, but little did they know, their characters would later become legends. With beings plucked from the local literature or folklore, vampires, zombies, serial killers, and other mythical creatures soon became the star of many Friday night movies.

 

Over the years, some stories would be told time and time again for the newer generations. Vampires evolved from monstrous, half dead creatures that slept in coffins to beautiful, college attending, eternal bad asses. Even Frankenstien garnered a newer approach as the years marched along. Always an experiment of sorts, the creature evolved to be more than just a mindless animated corpse. Werewolves soon followed and the traditional shape shifting beasts got a backend story that consisted of servitude to the vampire race or a family curse, depending on who told the tale.

 

Truth is, horror must evolve to meet the ever changing tastes of the newer generations. Stories that once pleased the more seasoned movie goer required an upgrade to meet the body count and/or blood lust of the new audience. Or as in the case with Twilight, teen angst in its rawest form. This set the stage for sparkling vampires which erupted much criticism between the old and new. Movies like the Lost Boys, near Dark, Dracula and Fright Night, remained true to the theme of Vampires being blood-thirsty, night-time killers. But this new set were “vegan” and kind hearted and wanted nothing but peace with their human and werewolf counterparts.

 

The series The Vampire Diaries also brought a new twist on the tale. In this popular show, the vampires had an extensive back story that was more like a soap opera. With new twists and turns each week, audiences were enthralled with Damon and Stefan Salvatore. With two dashing lead characters, the series boasted a long run and made household names of its stars. But vampires weren’t the only ones to see a rewrite.

 

The Underworld series gave werewolves and vampires a place on the screen together and soon we learned that a treaty existed between the two. But as usual, greed and power overcome one of the clans and the war is on again. Betrayal and lies bring about a new breed and new stories to tell.

 

In addition to wars and full moons, Ginger Snaps taught us that blood was truly thicker than water. Sisters, trapped by a blood curse when one of them is bitten, teach us the real meaning of sibling love and sacrifice. Not just bound by the moon, the curse was eternal and only removed in death.

 

The Slasher genre got an upgrade with movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th and the audience was on board in a big way. With sequels that would last well into the next decades, writers scrambled to find new ways to keep the slashers relevant and even scarier for the newer crowds. Everyone’s favorite slasher, Freddy Krueger, also saw a reboot that was met with mixed emotions.

 

In the end, everything must evolve, even our favorite characters and storylines. That’s what keeps the genre alive and new. There will always be arguments about who was the better Freddy, Jason or Michael. Not to mention, if vampires should exist in the sun or remain in the dark as a night crawler. Should Frankenstein’s monster have a stronger purpose or is he just his master’s experiment? With so many tales to tell, the genre will remain alive and kicking.

Lachelle Redd

Lachelle Redd

Author

Lachelle Redd is an Indie author from Florida. Her works include fantasy, horror and science fiction. Not only does she produce her own material but she also enjoys working with fellow authors providing assistance as a ghost writer and consultant.

Redd currently has several novellas on Amazon for purchase. The majority of her work is novella length but make no mistake she packs a wallop of a story into a condensed format.

Redd’s current project will be a blog to help promote other artists and further her own platform in social media. After taking a break and taking care of family and self issues, it’s time to get back to work.

She can be found at the following:

Blood Reign Lit Magazine on FB

Lachelle Redd on Amazon.com

 

WIHM: Replenishing The Inkwell

By Sonora Taylor

 

This post originated from an apology. When I contacted The Horror Tree about writing a post for Women in Horror Month, Stuart Conover asked me what my pitch was. I waited for inspiration to strike. I waited for a long time.

 

Three weeks later, I emailed Stuart back and apologized for letting my reply slip by the wayside, since I’d had such a busy month. My busy month included surgery to remove my gallbladder, and the ducks I was getting in a row were the ones I’d let swim while I was in recovery.

 

Stuart, of course, said no apology was needed and it was understandable I needed that time to recover. Still, my guilt over letting a reply slip was a manifestation of guilt I’d been feeling throughout 2019, thanks to my writing slowing down.

 

In writing my apology, I got an idea for what to write about: the necessity of writers to take time off from writing when they need to. The credo we hear — and one I admit to promoting in the past — is to write every day. Writers write! You aren’t a writer if you don’t write.

 

I’d been hearing that credo in my brain through a good chunk of 2019, because it was the first year since I got back into writing seriously that I felt my writing was beginning to run dry.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I wrote. I wrote flash pieces for Spreading the Writer’s Word’s monthly flash picture prompt challenge, I completed stories for my most recent short story collection, Little Paranoias; and I started and finished my third book, a novella called Seeing Things. The completion of these things, though, took longer than I thought they should. I thought for sure I’d finish Seeing Things in three months, given the length I had in mind. It took me closer to six.

 

When I sat down to write, I felt like I’d run dry. I had ideas, so many ideas. They swam in my head and I could just see them completed, see the characters doing what they needed to do to get their story told. But I, the author, couldn’t do what I needed to do to tell that story.

 

2019 was hard. My husband had his second surgery in as many years, my father-in-law died, and we became homeowners. Buying our first home was much happier stress than grieving and recovery, but it was still stress. I actually broke out in hives shortly after the closing date, the first time that’s ever happened to me. These three things were on top of the day-to-day of working full-time, visits, travel, and general drama that would pop up here and there.

 

And still, when I’d sit down to write, I’d wonder why I felt all dried up.

 

I spent a lot of 2019 frustrated that I couldn’t sit down and write for long stretches of time. Seeing Things was written in bursts. Sometimes I’d crank out over 1000 words, but many days, I’d only produce a few hundred. If you’re reading and thinking, geez Sonora, that’s still a lot, I was coming from my first two novels being written in bursts of 1000-2000 words a day. I wrote the hell out of those books. Seeing Things took a lot longer, and a lot more will on my part to sit down and write it.

 

Seeing Things is with my editor, and I normally use this time to work on a short story. I’ve started one I’ve been brewing an idea for for months, currently called Algorithms Always Remember Your Birthday. I spent one evening working on it and haven’t picked it back up yet.

 

I miss the feeling of just having to work on something, but I’ve also, finally, reached a place of being somewhat at peace with slowing down. I used the holidays and my break from Seeing Things to reflect on how I felt when I couldn’t write: dry. I felt like an inkwell in need of replenishing. And I’ve realized now that sometimes to replenish the inkwell, I need to step back and not force myself to write. Has a dry inkwell or pen ever improved by continued writing? Of course not. When we scribble a pen run dry to try and get more ink, we usually just end up with no ink and a lot of frustration. That’s how we writers can end up if we don’t take the time to replenish the well.

 

I’m in an ebb. I’ll get back into a flow again. I tell myself this so I don’t sit and worry when I should be resting. And I do find moments to write and take time here and there to tell a story. At the end of the day, the story will be told. Seeing Things may have taken longer, but it still got done. It will get done. The story will get done — and it will get done when it’s supposed to do.

 

You are a writer if you write. But that doesn’t mean you have to write at your expense. Take your time, and the time you desire; and the story will present itself.

Sonora Taylor

Sonora Taylor

Author

Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Taylor’s short stories frequently appear in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine. Her work has also appeared in Frozen Wavelets, a speculative flash fiction and poetry journal; Mercurial Stories, a weekly flash fiction literary journal; Tales to Terrify, a weekly horror podcast; and the Ladies of Horror fiction podcast. Her third short story collection, Little Paranoias, is now available on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

WIHM: An Exploration of Menstruation in Horror and Dark Fiction

By Tabatha Wood

 

“Shark Week.”

“Aunt Flo’s here.”

“Riding the Crimson Wave.”

There are over 5,000 different slang terms and euphemisms for menstruation, according to an international survey conducted by the people behind period-tracking app, Clue. With over 90,000 people across 190 countries adding to the list, the type of phrases range from the obvious to the ridiculous. And yet, it begs the question: what is it about menstruation that makes some people feel like even the word itself is dirty? That many women feel unable or ashamed to say, “I’m on my period.”

It stands to reason that there will be a woman — or someone of another gender — reading this piece right now who “has the painters in.” The onset of puberty heralds “Mother Nature’s” arrival, and barring illness, pregnancy, some medication or use of certain contraceptives, this monthly visitor brings her scarlet luggage with her up until the time of menopause. The loss of blood is considered emblematic of a young girl’s entry into womanhood. No longer a child, immune from the Male Gaze, but a fertile vessel, sexual, and capable of bringing forth new life. It is a normal and expected part of most cis women’s lives. Except it is rarely talked about unless in hushed tones, and hardly ever in places where men might overhear. It is only very recently, for example, that televised adverts for menstrual products have replaced the colour of the liquid symbolising blood loss from unnatural blue to a more accurate red.

Does horror fiction perpetuate this shame and discomfort, or can writers seek to remove any stigma by normalising menstruation in text and film? You might think that in a genre which delights in exploring themes of the bloody and disturbing, there may be more than a handful of examples that also include menstrual blood. But it appears that the “monthly curse” is often too terrifying a concept, even for horror writers to exploit.

 Probably the most famous example of menstruation in a dark fiction novel is in “Carrie” (1974) the debut novel of horror heavyweight Stephen King. A motion picture based on the book was released in 1976, directed by Brian De Palma, and was the first time menstrual blood was depicted on screen.

The eponymous Carrie is a teenaged girl with a background of sustained abuse, both from her peers and her zealot mother. She gets her first period in her high-school shower room, and with it comes a dangerous ability.

“Plug it up!” her classmates yell, as they pelt her merciless with sanitary products. Cowering in fear on the bathroom floor, Carrie’s humiliation and confusion (her mother has never explained menstruation to her) help form the catalyst allowing her to unleash her devastating telekinetic powers. King links the onset of menstruation with Carrie’s outpouring of pent-up rage. Drenched in pig’s blood on her prom night when her classmates attempt to embarrass and belittle her, Carrie’s traumatic passage into womanhood allows her the opportunity to find and unleash her true potential — to destroy all those who would seek to destroy her. No longer a child, nor an impotent victim, she uses her new-found fertile femininity as a deadly weapon of revenge.

Similar stakes are at play in the 2000’s Canadian werewolf horror movie “Ginger Snaps” directed by John Fawcett. Ginger Fitzgerald, a self-styled gothic outsider fascinated with suicide and death, is attacked by a lycanthrope monster, the “Beast of Bailey Downs,” almost at the exact same moment that she experiences menarche. Thus, menstruation and her “monthly change” are unavoidably linked. Ginger grows hair in awkward places, and even starts manifesting a tail. Her behaviour grows inevitably more monstrous and violent, which her sister, Brigitte, points out with alarm. Ginger denies such changes, attributing any differences in her behaviour to normal hormonal reactions.

I’ve got hormones,” she says to Brigitte when confronted. “And they may make me butt-ugly, but they don’t make me a monster.”

Previously uninterested in any of the males at her school, post-bite Ginger is suddenly sexually insatiable, going so far as to engage in risky, unprotected sexual intercourse and infecting her clueless partner. It is implied that although he instigates their initial sexual contact, ultimately she rapes him as she asserts her sexual dominance.

“I get this ache,” Ginger tells her sister later. “I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces!”

While we might assume that these urges are the result of being bitten, they are also tied to her new-found awareness of her physical body and her burgeoning womanhood. Femininity as a weapon once again. 

Typically, as is often the fate of female characters in horror, both Carrie and Ginger meet untimely ends. Their powers are so immense that they become unstable, driven by revenge or desire. It’s a narrative we are told repeatedly in fiction and real life: “That time of the month makes women go crazy.” They are irrational, dangerous, and unhinged. Just like a beast or monster, you cannot reason with them.

King would later revisit the idea of menstruation heralding Very Bad Things in his subsequent novels, “IT” (1986) and “The Tommyknockers” (1987). In “IT” Beverley’s fear is that of transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and the arrival of her period punctuates this. With her mother deceased, and no female figure of authority in her life, she is clueless about her changing body. Similarly, her physically abusive father now sees her maturing form as an invitation to sexually molest her.

In “Tommyknockers,” Bobbi Gardener begins menstruating so heavily, her repulsed lover wonders if she will need a transfusion to replace the loss. This overly heavy flow is in response to her digging out an alien spaceship, buried for aeons in rural Maine. Her hair and teeth start falling out, and she turns translucent, finally undergoing a metamorphosis where she resembles the blob-like aliens themselves. Is this perhaps some clumsy metaphor showing how menstruation equals youthfulness and fertility, and when it halts, menopause will (allegedly) steal a woman’s youth and beauty? Sadly, King’s writing at this time was much too sloppy for us to be sure.

In many societies, menstruating women are shunned or vilified for being unclean or even sinful. Bleeding women may be banned from places of worship, or excused from performing prayers. Certain religions may prohibit the woman from preparing food for others, or engaging in intercourse.

Conversely, in some historic cultures, menstruating women were seen as powerful and sacred beings; formidable warriors much stronger than men. In pre-colonial Māori communities, for example, menstruation was seen as an honour that represented a oneness with life-flow. A young girl’s menarche was celebrated with rituals and seen as a rite of passage.

Anne Rice uses the notion that menstrual blood might bring strength when she offers it up as an unusual meal for the vampire Lestat, in the fifth book of her Vampire Chronicles series, “Memnoch the Devil” (2000). In an act which some readers thought controversial, and others considered utterly abhorrent, Lestat drinks the menstrual blood of the devoutly Christian Dora so that he may gain necessary sustenance from her blood without hurting the woman. The scene is sometimes referred to, tongue-in-cheek, as “a vampire period drama.” Whatever Rice’s reasons for including this act it does, albeit briefly, suggest the idea that rather than being a dirty, waste product, menstrual discharge could be both nutritious and revitalising. That women could both derive and share power from their bleed.

Not a horror text, but a fantasy series, Alison Croggon’s “Pellinor” books also equate menstruation with power. In “The Gift” (2003) every significant event occurs when the central character Maerad experiences her period. She realises the connection between blood and strength and discovers how powerful she is. This heralds Maerad’s awakening, and understanding of what it means to be a woman. Menstruation signifies a sense of becoming, of maturing and finding strength in herself.

Menstrual blood might indeed be powerful, and life-giving, but in horror, there is very often a dark twist. “The Murders of Molly Southbourne” (2017) is horror novella by Tade Thompson which focuses on the life of the titular character. Molly suffers from an unusual condition; every time she bleeds, a doppelgänger grows from her blood. Within three days, the doppelgänger “goes bad” and attempts to kill her. In order to survive, she is forced to kill “herself.” Her situation is somewhat complicated by the onset of puberty and subsequent menstruation, with doppelgängers arriving with every cycle. Thompson’s story is an intriguing, and often violent, allegorical look at what it means to grow up female, and offers an interesting connection between puberty and mental illness — a time when many sufferers may first see their symptoms manifest. Molly’s blood brings life, of a fashion, but it is not good life.

That blood is life is both a philosophical and biological notion: to lose blood from a wound or other orifice usually indicates trauma and possible death. Blood loss from an area which is seen as inherently sexual, and is not in response to trauma or harm, suggests a transcendence from usual biological rules. These bodies are so powerful they can slew the lining of their wombs each month, and be ready to nurture new life inside them a mere two weeks later. A cycle of death and life with each new moon.

Menstruation in horror fiction is frequently used to signify that terrible “Otherness” which the genre seeks to invoke. Either by amplifying the belief that it is sinful or unclean, or as a harbinger of immeasurable and uncontrollable feminine power. As a great deal of horror fiction is often skewed towards men, both as creators and consumers of, what could be more Other than this unrepentant cycle, one over which they have no control? Representation differs between the genders, with female writers offering an (unsurprisingly) more realistic and pragmatic view of “lady time,” while men frequently equate being “on the rag” as an indicator of unexpected violent outbursts or uncontrollable sexual energy — sometimes even both.

In addition to books and film, some examples of menstruation can also be found in horror video game narratives. However, with such games being marketed primarily at male players, menstruation, yet again, most often signifies the monstrous Other. In “Bioshock Infinite”, it is Elizabeth’s menarche at age 13 which incites a spike in power readings on the massive machine, The Siphon. To reach her full potential, however, requires blood, and it is blood which Elizabeth says highlights the difference between a girl and a woman.

In Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead” even a zombie outbreak can’t stop the onset of puberty, with the motherless Clementine experiencing her first bleed and feeling bewilderment and fear at having no idea what it means. It is up to group leader Javier to do his best to explain it to her; a duty which many men, mostly due to societal conditioning, might indeed find “horrific”.

Menstruation might well be the Last Taboo, and its inclusion in horror fiction is often  problematic or dangerously destructive, but unlike in horror, science fiction and fantasy writers do not seem as squeamish about adding menstruation into the mix. Corrine Willis’ short story “Even The Queen” (1992) explores how women who no longer need to endure a monthly bleed due to scientific and medical breakthroughs, opt to experience it by choice, even going so far as to call themselves “Cyclists”. It has been described as a sly and subversive jab at feminism, but also imagines a future where women might have more autonomy over their bodily functions. It notes very clearly the negative aspects of an unwanted bleed, and how much freedom can be regained when it’s no longer necessary. While the young daughter praises the supposed miracle of womanhood, her mother knows much better — that menstruation also brings with it pain, mood changes and a literal bloody mess.

End-of-the-world novels very rarely feature a female protagonist. Stories by Octavia Butler, P.D. James, and Margaret Atwood are some of the few who buck the trend. Add to this list Meg Elison’s “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” (2014), a post-apocalyptic exploration of how men and women’s experiences of a broken world can differ greatly, especially in times of societal crisis. The book is written primarily in journal format, and follows a female medical worker struggling to help and provide medical care to the women she meets on her journey to find civilisation. Women are scarce in this future, with large numbers killed off by an unknown plague which also makes childbirth deadly. Added to that, most women are raped and enslaved by the remaining men — the protagonist even poses as male to evade capture. Menstruation, pregnancy and sexual assault are all examined in honest detail. This is a violent and harrowing tale which never shies away from the more visceral, bloody parts of being a fertile woman, but also examines their strength and resilience.

Fiction has no shortage of female characters adopting a masculine appearance as a form of defensive camouflage, but David Twohy’s horror sci-fi movie “Pitch Black” (2000) adds menstruation and gender-stereotyping to the mix. While the crew members assume Jack is a boy due to her choice of clothing and hairstyle, she is outed — without her consent — as female by the prisoner Riddick.

“I thought it’d be better if people took me for a guy,” she says. “I thought they might leave me alone instead of always messing with me.”

It’s a powerful statement which offers a scathing commentary of a patriarchal world where girls who have entered puberty may suddenly be seen as sexual objects of desire. An understanding that menarche opens a door not only to womanhood, but also to danger.

Ultimately, despite the suggestion that her monthly bleed may put a kink in the crew’s plan to avoid the deadly creatures that are hunting them, and escape the alien planet, Jack proves to be a strong and capable survivor. Dealing with menstruation while running for your life may be an inconvenience, but it certainly does not indicate weakness.

To conclude, I want to mention the more upbeat (but still deliciously dark) short story “Logistics” (2018) by A.J. Fitzwater. Another post-apocalyptic speculative-fiction tale, this is a first-person account of Enfys and their search for sanitary products at the end of the world. It is as much an exploration of gender as it is the issues and physical trials of menstruation, but acts as a thoughtful reminder that biology does not equate to gender, and the two are sometimes in conflict. Likewise, simply being in possession of a working uterus — whether you want one or not — brings its own unique challenges. “The monthlies” don’t just stop because civilisation is in pieces.

Examples of menstruation in darker genres clearly emphasise the shame, myths and frequent inconveniences that surround it, but they also illuminate, in ways that are often uncommon in fiction, the conflicting emotions felt by menstruating women about their bodies, and of those around them. As well as exploring the societal fear that the menstruating woman is a threat, these stories also show her powerful side, her resilience and sexual strength. The menstruating woman celebrated as a warrior and survivor, not as a monster to be feared.

 

 

 

 

 

Other examples of menstruation in horror & dark fiction:

 

“Wolf-Alice,” short story from The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter (1979)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Margaret Atwood (1985)

“The Crossing” Mandy Hagar (2009)

“Shiftless” Aimee Easterling (2014)

“Man-Eaters” (graphic novel) Chelsey Cain (2018)

 

The Witch, dir. Robert Eggars (2015)

Jennifer’s Body, dir. Karyn Kusama (2009)

It Stains the Sands Red, dir. Colin Minihan (2016)

A Tale of Two Sisters, dir. Jee-woon Kim (2003)

Excision, dir. Richard Bates, Jr (2012)

Teeth, dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein (2007)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui (1992)

 

Non-fiction:

 

“Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film: Gynaehorror” Erin Harrington (2018)

“The Vagina as a Bleeding Wound: Monstrous Puberty in Carrie, The Exorcist and Ginger Snaps” Kate Maher

“Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice” Linda Badley (1996)

“Misfit Sisters: Screen Horror as Female Rites of Passage” Williams, Christy, Marvels & Tales (2006)

 

Read online:

 

“Even The Queen” Corrine Willis

http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/71143/Willis_-_Even_the_Queen.html

“Logistics” A.J. Fitzwater

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fitzwater_04_18/

Tabatha Wood

Tabatha Wood

Author

Tabatha Wood lives in Wellington, New Zealand and writes weird, dark fiction and uplifting poetry. A former English teacher and library manager, Tabatha’s first published books were non-fiction guides aimed at people working in education. She now teaches from home while writing in her spare time.

She released her debut collection, “Dark Winds Over Wellington: Chilling Tales of the Weird & the Strange” in March 2019. Since then, she has been published in two “Things In The Well” anthologies, plus Midnight Echo and Breach magazines.

Tabatha is currently working as the lead editor for upcoming charity anthology, “Black Dogs, Black Tales,” which aims to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

You can read stories and articles on her blog at https://tabathawood.com and keep up to date with her upcoming projects via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tlwood.wordweaver/

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