WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ABOUT THE FILMS DISCUSSED.
The mother monster of “Alien,” Satan-possessed girl of “The Exorcist,” female vampires of “The Hunger,” witch of “Carrie,” and monster-producing womb of “The Brood.” In 1993, Barbara Creed, Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne, discussed the power of these and other female film monsters in “The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis.” Click here to read the book’s introduction.
Since then, the world has launched into a new millennium, but, for reasons identified by Creed, fear of female monsters (femonsters) remains eternal. William Congreve’s 1697 play "The Mourning Bride," has been slightly paraphrased into the still-popular expression, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” See below for a list of the top 15 “femonsters” of this new millennium, which give The Alien, Regan, Miriam and Sarah, Carrie, and Nola a run for their money. In many cases, some sympathy lies with the femonsters, since often their mistreatment by others brings about their destructive behavior.
Father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud postulated that men fear women because the woman is castrated (lacks a phallus). Creed puts forth an alternate idea, that women evoke fear instead because they are castrators. According to Wikipedia, the myth of the vagina dentata (toothed female genitalia) first appeared as folk stories to discourage sex and rape. In a figurative rather than literal sense, the “femonster” terrifies because it subverts the traditional patriarchal order. A powerful female necessarily negates male dominance.
Creed discusses the Freudian concept of the “uncanny,” where something feels familiar yet alien, which, according to Wikipedia, results in a simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Often, horror films exploit the uncanny, which creates in viewers the impulse to look away but the inability to do so. The familiar woman/mother, classically viewed as nurturer, in a femonster horror film, instead becomes devourer (alien). She embodies the essence of evil, subscribed to Woman in the Biblical book of Genesis, when Eve gives in to the serpent and bites the forbidden apple, bringing about original sin and humanity’s banishment from paradise. A femonster horror film discomfits because it overturns Woman as comforter and instead brings out Woman as wicked temptress or crone.
TOP 15 FEMONSTERS OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM:
15. Jennet in 'The Woman in Black.'
15. Jennet (Liz White) in “The Woman in Black” (2012) as vengeful spirit/mother monster. Jennet Humfrye’s sister adopted her son Nathaniel, claiming Jennet was insane and unfit to care for the boy. Nathaniel subsequently drowned in the marsh while in the sister’s care. Jennet’s ghost becomes vengeful because her son was left there instead of buried properly, and her ghost somehow induces the town’s children to take their own lives. So the protective mother, having been wronged, becomes instead devourer of children.
14. Uxia in 'Dagon.'
Uxia (Macarena Gómez) in "Dagon" (2001) as destroyer priestess. Paul (Ezra Godden) loves his girlfriend Barbara but nonetheless dreams of a beautiful mermaid. When stranded offshore, he heads into the coastal Imboca to investigate -- where he finds very strange things indeed, including Uxia, who looks exactly like the mermaid from his dreams. But her dark plans include sacrificing Barbara to the monstrous sea god Dagon before Paul and Uxia, revealed to be half-siblings, become lovers and join Dagon in the sea forever. Uxia's fanged mouth quintessentially represents the vagina dentata. Think the makers of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" watched this?
13. Dark Alessa in 'Silent Hill.'
Alessa (Jodelle Ferland) in “Silent Hill” (2006) as vengeful girl spirit. A young girl named Alessa is condemned by the reigning religious cult of her small town Silent Hill because she was born out of wedlock. The cult, led by Christabella, ritualistically burns Alessa, causing her dark spirit to manifest out of her anger and suffering. She, in turn, sends barbed wire snakes to rip Christabella apart from the inside and massacres all the townspeople responsible, saying, “Now is the end of days, and I am the reaper.” Alessa subverts both the nurturing female ideal and the ideal of the innocent child.
12. Bathsheba in 'The Conjuring.'
Bathsheba (Joseph Bishara) in “The Conjuring” (2013) as witch. In 1863, a Satan-worshipping witch named Bathsheba cursed all who attempt to inhabit land she once owned, and, in subsequent years, many mysterious deaths occurred there. The Perron family experience strange psychic occurrences after moving into a house on these lands with their five daughters. The mother becomes possessed by Bathsheba’s spirit and attempts to kill her children, hence the witch causes nurturing mother (Mrs. Perron) to become destroyer.
11. The Other Mother in 'Coraline.'
11. The Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) in “Coraline” (2009) as witch/evil “mother”. In an alternate plane exists The Other Mother, unknown to young Coraline’s real mother. Initially, The Other Mother provides Coraline with things she wants, things her real mother does not – good food, entertaining shows, an amazing garden. But later The Other Mother reveals she wants to replace Coraline’s eyes with buttons. When Coraline refuses, The Other Mother morphs into a witch and later a spider. In this children’s animated stop-action picture, a child’s worst fears are realized, as the figure of mother, meant to protect, turns monstrous and instead seeks to annihilate.
10. Molly in 'Lovely Molly.'
Molly (Gretchen Lodge) in “Lovely Molly” (2012) as possessed woman. After Molly and her new husband Tim move into the home where she was raised, Molly begins behaving erratically. At first it seems she’s in danger as victim of some unseen force. But then she becomes the dangerous one. Her ineffectual husband can’t help her. After secretly videotaping a woman and her young daughter who live nearby, she (as temptress) seduces and later kills a pastor, before killing both her husband and the little girl (destroyer). She’s shown with an entity comprised of a horse head and man’s body, similar to the demon Orobas, suggesting she’s possessed.
9. Mary in 'American Mary.'
Mary (Katharine Isabelle) in “American Mary” (2012) as vengeful woman. Ambitious medical student Mary turns to performing illegal body modification operations to address her financial problems. After being violated by an instructor, she uses her dark skills to get revenge. Here, hell certainly has no fury like this woman scorned.
8. Edith/Mama in 'Mama.'
Edith/Mama (Javier Botet) in “Mama” (2013) as controlling and possessive maternal spirit. After two very young girls are left in a remote cabin to fend for themselves, the ghost of an insane woman they call “Mama” helps them survive. When the girls are discovered and removed by their uncle five years later, Mama wants them back.
7. Kayako in 'The Grudge.'
Kayako (Takako Fuji) in “The Grudge” (2004) as vengeful spirit. Kayako is an onryō, which, according to Wikipedia, is a Japanese "mythological spirit ... able to return to the physical world in order to seek vengeance." Upon discovering Kayako’s love for another man when reading her diary, her husband killed her and her son in a fit of jealous rage. If her misshapen body wasn’t enough, the unnerving and unnatural noises she makes definitely enhance her overall creep-factor as she curses all future inhabitants of her house.
6. Lola in 'The Loved Ones.'
Lola (Robin McLeavy) in “The Loved Ones” (2009) as psychopath. Brent, still reeling from having caused his father’s death in a car crash, finds himself kidnapped by his classmate Lola. During his captivity, Lola subjects Brent to horrors and intends to lobotomize him. He learns that, with the complicity of her equally deranged father, she has captured and lobotomized other boys, keeping them in the cellar. A sadistic woman without conscience, she’s a match for such characters in other films, who are almost always male (i.e., “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Hostel,” “Wolf Creek,” “Maniac,” “The Collector,” “Severance,” “Opera,” etc.)
5. The Woman in 'The Woman.'
The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) in “The Woman” (2011) as vengeful beast. Chris Cleek, possibly the most vile character ever brought to screen, sets the worst possible example for his son, who’s become a sadistic misogynist like dear old dad. Mom, clearly a victim, doesn’t gain much audience sympathy once known that she’s allowed Chris to treat their deformed child like a dog and likely repeatedly rape his own daughter. After The Woman, who has lived in the deep woods on her own like an animal, is captured and tortured by this most dysfunctional of families, her animalistic vengeance is not only well-deserved but incredibly sweet.
4. Ganush in 'Drag Me to Hell.'
Ganush (Lorna Raver) in “Drag Me to Hell” (2009) as the crone. Ganush, an old gypsy witch, prostrates herself to Christine, who has the power to prevent her losing her home. When Christine refuses, the terrifying Ganush curses Christine with three days of evil before she’s dragged to hell for eternity. Christine's boyfriend’s attempts to help are ineffectual. In some incredibly disgusting scenes, Christine and Ganush fight violently. The rotting hag tries to bite Christine, loses her false teeth and tries to gum her, rips her hair, chokes her, vomits maggots on her, and etc. One participant a hag with putrid teeth, this is definitely not the typical cat fight but instead a real stomach-churner.
3. Dren in 'Splice.'
Dren (Delphine Chanéac) in “Splice” (2009). In this mad scientist movie, Elsa splices her own DNA with that of various animals to create Dren. Neither human nor animal, Dren matures quickly and seduces Elsa’s main squeeze, fellow scientist Clive. Then, in the ultimate example of the Woman taking the male role, certain DNA in Dren cause her to spontaneously morph into a male, after which she (he? it?) kills Clive and rapes and impregnates Elsa. Resulting in Elsa’s monster-producing womb – the offspring will not only be another strange/violent mix of human and animal, but also, since Elsa’s DNA was used in creating Dren, a product of incest (which, according to Wikipedia, Freud identified as a universal taboo).
2. May in 'May.'
May (Angela Bettis) in “May” (2002) as psychopath. Timid May, whose only friend is a creepy doll in a glass box, finds love with mechanic Adam. But a nagging undercurrent, which begins with her fetishistic fixation on Adam’s hands, divulges something seriously wrong with May. Adam says he likes weird, but when May finds his cannibalistic film sexually exciting, he ends the relationship. She, however, isn’t willing to let go. After a couple of other failed attempts to bond with others, May decides, in gender reversal from the classic “Frankenstein” story, to craft her perfect companion.
1. Samara in 'The Ring.'
Samara (Daveigh Chase) in “The Ring” (2002) as evil child spirit. When Rachel works to uncover the mystery surrounding a videotape that inexplicably causes death. she learns the ghost of Samara, who died at the hands of her troubled mother, burned the images on the tape. After suffocating her, her mother pushed her down a well, not realizing Samara was still alive in the well for 7 days. Rachel releases Samara’s spirit from the well, believing this will end the deaths, only to find Samara’s mother was justified in killing the child. Samara didn’t just vengefully kill after her tortuous death, but instead was born evil and incited terror during her short lifetime. And now Rachel has liberated the very evil she attempted to quell. As in “The Exorcist” and “Silent Hill,” Samara subverts both the patriarchal standard of male malevolence as well as the concept of child as innocent.
(Note: Interesting that two of the femonsters (in "Mama" and "The Conjuring") are actually played by male actors. What does this say about filmmakers? Even when portraying a femonster, the typically dominant/violent male is more threatening?)