Since 1973’s The Exorcist hit screens, exorcism and possession movies have always been at the fore-front of the mainstream horror genre. Widely claimed as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, The Exorcist follows the story of Regan, a teenage girl whose mother believes she is possessed and the exorcism she goes through. This classic story of teenage innocence meets chaos has been stretched and re-worked down to the core with The Last Exorcism Part II being the latest offering to hit cinemas. As a large fan of the first film and anything with Eli Roth’s name attached to it, I rushed out to see it the other day and was greeted by a totally empty cinema screen, ‘BLISS’ I thought to myself as I realised the joy of not having paranormal activity fans anywhere near me for a good 90 minutes. To my disappointment, the film did not live up to my expectations, Ashley Bell gives a phenomenal performance returning as Nell Sweetzer but the film just dragged, after half an hour I’d already started to check the time. As Nell starts to feel Abalam (the demon) taking over her again she starts to get sexual urges, there are a few scenes in which Nell is asleep and caressing herself wishing for someone to ‘take her’. A love interest, Chris, is also introduced even though it is completely irrelevant to the story. The introduction of a boyfriend into Nell’s life is the films attempt at showing ‘normalcy’ for a teenage girl because obviously that’s all teenage girls lives revolve around, right?! These instances of sexual depictions are nothing more than some form of sadomasochism for the target audience: males aged 18-30. The previously mentioned movie, The Exorcist was based off a true story, of a boy who was believed to be experiencing demonic possession but in the movie we see a girl, because obviously a boy masturbating with a crucifix just doesn’t have the same appeal…
The ratio male to female possession movies greater favours the latter with teenage girls being the main protagonists in exorcism movies. These girls are disgustingly over-sexualized and a lot of them beg and scream for sex while possessed, when beforehand, these girls were very concerned with purity, as western society is today with celibacy clubs and even ‘Purity Balls’ where girls make a virginity pledge to their fathers.
Here are some classic examples in possession movies:
The Exorcist (1973):
As previously mentioned, Regan (Linda Blair) becomes possessed and in one scene is found stabbing herself and masturbating with a crucifix, also there are various screams of ‘Let Jesus fuck you!’. The kid is 12 years old.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005):
Based on a true story of a girl named Anneliese Michel, The Exorcism of Emily Rose follows the court case after Emily’s death in 1976 and shows the stages that lead to her death in a series of flashbacks. Her family is brought up on murder charges through neglect. Some of the claims about her possession was that she had a tendency to undress, again, this is exploiting the bodies of young women in a fragile condition.
Jennifer’s Body (2009):
Megan Fox, world known sex icon plays Jennifer in this 2009 Diablo Cody flick (the same gal that brought us Juno). Jennifer becomes possessed in a satanic ritual performed by some gross band dudes, some may say that this is attempted rape and abuse. Jennifer then proceeds to use her sexuality to kill most of the guys in her town, her sexuality is further exploited in a girl-on-girl make-out scene with Jennifer’s best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried), essentially just a scene to keep the guys in the audience happy. Considering Diablo Cody considers herself a feminist, this isn’t the greatest way to go about it.
Rec 2 (2009):
As we find ourselves at the sequel to the 2007 movie, Rec, we learn that the vampiric, zombie-like creatures in the house all came from a crazy woman! Reason she’s so crazy?! She made out with another possessed lady of course. Those dang females just can’t control themselves.
The Last Exorcism (2010):
Nell Sweetzer’s father hires an exorcist to come and heal his daughter. The exorcist in question let’s his ‘last exorcism’ be filmed by a documentary crew. Nell is usually an extremely polite girl and devout Christian but as her possession starts to happen she begins undressing and offers the exorcist a ‘blowing job’. The re-occurring costuming of white nightdresses in exorcism movies re-enforces ideas of being infantile and innocent, gross.
And another thing, all but 1 of these films is directed by a guy.
So what does this tell us about how we treat our women? These movies (as entertaining as they are), re-enforce typical ideas of societal control. Deeming people ‘crazy’ or ‘possessed’ is often a way to alienate people who do not fit into societal norms In a lot of these cases, when the girls start experiencing weird visions and compulsions, their stories are de-valued and neglected. This happens in the real world too, if you’re a girl and you display some form of aggressive behaviour you must be ‘on the rag’ or ‘suffering from PMS’ and are therefore anything you say becomes invalid at that time. Women are taught to control their behaviour and emotions to fit into these social constraints so they do not become ostracized. The male ‘saviour’ figure is also an issue here; the cute, innocent teenage girls donning their floaty white nightgowns are to be ‘saved from themselves’ by the male (usually the exorcist). The infantilization of these girls with their costuming reduces them to children, pure and innocent (just as western society would want them to be, hooray!), add this to displays of uncontrollable nudity and it’s just bordering on pedophillic. These girls are subliminally used to titillate the primarily male audience and sell more tickets/DVDs, and it works! Pretty gross right?
I do not wish for the horror genre to eradicate possession movies at all, they just need a re-vamp and to realise the implications their portrayal of females is having on sexism and get some possessed guys thrown in their (hey by doing so they are pretty much doubling their target market to include females as well). What I hope to see in the future is more female directors and writers, ones who don’t play into the tropes that are laid out for us, ones who come up with new ways to tackle important subjects and do so with style, wit, humour, scares and kick a tonne of butt while doing so.
Categories: Feminist Criticism