The Monstrous Mystique of Femmes in Horror Films

The scent of sage lingers heavily in the air as female oddities of every form gather in darkness to smudge away the inevitable ennui of kinky kittens and sartorially safe succubi… Feminine monstrosity as a fashion sense- the trashy transcendency, the burning of boundaries and the perverting of perspectives, is hella la mode but never more so than in this, the season of the witch. For all those whom perennially relish their belladonna eyedrops and poison-pen love-letters, here are six dirges to essential Samhain style icons.

Firstly, the female changeling. Whilst ungodly little boys were lovingly snapped from their baby mamas by a proud Satan (The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby) demonic little girls have long been pop-culture pariahs, abandoned in a sticky purgatorial amber of arrested development, their misunderstood mood swings and lullaby lilts often overshadowing their unique talents and resourcefulness. Sadako Yamamura in Ring, as well as boasting a ravishing raven mane and the pearlescent complexion of a phantom princess, embodies an astonishing array of nensha superpowers; her psychic prodigiousness and gothic hacker-chic putting slick Silicon Valley wizards to shame. Wednesday Addams, another bleached-out beauty with ebony braids and elegant widows peak, is a woke advocate for the indigenous American people, initiating righteous revolution in her sinisterly saccharine summer camp whilst the precocious Merricat, amiable antagonist of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in The Castle wreaks havoc of a subtler culinary kind. Accompanied by her ever-present familiar Jonas, Merricat is at the vanguard of unhealthy sororal devotion, her skills in sympathetic magic providing the necessary antidote both to familial overcrowding and small-town mob mentality. A literary heroine for any formative freak-fairy tale or cuckoo chafing in the nest.

A literary heroine for any formative freak-fairy tale or cuckoo chafing in the nest.

Puberty provides a punishing rite of passage for teenage girls whose blossoming adherence to a capricious moon threatens to cramp any style. No small wonder that the horoscopic compass points permanently to hormonal as motives as mercurial as the swirls on their mood-rings begin to emerge. Lydia, the gentle glam-goth in Beetlejuice is the epitome of a grunge crush; her wan wardrobe of fifty vintage shades of black completed with a heady sanguine wedding gown is a timeless inspiration for the aspiring apathetic adolescent. In contrast, the acid-crush, bubblegum-blush palettes of the Jawbreaker uniforms perfectly complement the concept of the Kool-Aid cultish devotion to high school sugary pay-offs. A warning; not easily digested by all.

Next is the Mad Queen, a sovereign ostensibly drunk on misdirected male power but is in essence the reckless revolutionary, the most effective and feared piece on the board. The voguish vamp Akasha in Queen of the Damned, channels Cleopatra vibes in more ways than one with a midriff-flashing tiara-twinkling bling-set. Whilst the erstwhile Egyptian pharaoh infamously enjoyed an essential daily dose of a certain antic fertility super-juice, this queen bee also adheres to the antioxidant powers of blood elixir, her prescient emphasis on the preservative powers of self-care ensuring her particular brand of royal jelly was always ahead of its time.

The fourth ode is to the covetable clan always looking to complete the circle. Whether it is the witch ballerinas in Suspiria, a devilish flight of black swans in gossamer gowns with bound and blistered naughty toes, or the angsty onyx-tinged Wiccan war-paint that singles out the cursed collective in The Craft; the coven can manifest a compelling lesson in the aesthetics of in-house hexery. The salty shade-throwing and strong fashion statements between the Salem witches and the coterie led by voodoo coiffeuse Marie Laveau (an ageless Angela Bassett) in American Horror Story: Coven is catnip to any discerning necromancer neophyte.

 

Full fathom five, and with a plethora of errant fathers in the underworld, the mother often takes centre-stage but what of the other woman who eschews traditional fertility rites to focus on the formation of the found family? Be it the evil stepmother of lore or the rearer of wolves and dragons; these models of modern maternity endorse the idea that the carnage of childbirth does not necessarily a mother make and (taking inspiration from the Amazons of old) they know that breasts aren’t just for nursing babies, baby. Part martial warrior, part tit-flailing harpy, their passions and desires are often derided as grotesquerie. Fashion faves include Marianne the muse of La Marseillaise, nursing the guillotine guile of the Gallic republic, the aptly titled Juana La Loca in Mad Love attempting to passionately suckle her horrified husband with breastmilk and the maudlin Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy in Blue Velvet, wandering nude through suburbia after nourishing the wet dreams of her high school sweetheart.

the maudlin Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy in Blue Velvet, wandering nude through suburbia after nourishing the wet dreams of her high school sweetheart.

Lastly, The Spinster. A primordial target for the collective projections of societal fears, the lone she-wolf is perhaps the greatest threat to the tedium of conformity. Madame de Pompadour can keep her champagne coupes as miniatures were invented especially for this most of luscious of distinguished figures. Financially independent, quixotically queer, my goblet runneth over with unsung heroines that represent the blissful cornucopia of feminine vice and role models for alternate ways of living. The diligent Cut-Wife from Penny Dreadful with shaggy grey pixie crop, granny magic and pragmatism in a world where Planned Parenthood is becoming a sullied term again. Ursula, the sybaritic sea witch, still yet to be cajoled into allowing the rights for her revisionist moment a la Maleficent and Wicked, is resplendent with snow-white quiff, romantic red lips and bounteous curves and of course Medusa, the Gorgon glory, a veritable jolie-laide whose serpentine splendor became the exuberant mythic guild of the house of Versace.

All these women proffer forth alternate modes of fierce femininity, tripping a fine line between sulky and sultry, this lusciously lethal combo is anathema to the nausea of nostalgia, hell-bent on carving their alluringly idiosyncratic path.

Words: Joanna Drot – Troha
Illustration: Charlotte Tymm

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