January 11, 2021 | by molly henery
In a genre that is normally considered “for boys”, it’s time to give a wink to the girls. uterus horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the exclusively female experience of puberty and the act of entering her sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These movies are often ignored in theaters, but quickly develop a cult following. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new movie every month and discusses how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror.
In the latest womb horror article of 2020, I discussed how lycanthropy is the perfect metaphor for the young woman in When Animals Dream. It is now 2021 and I want to start the year with something special. It’s time to talk about that. and yes, I mean all versions.
most horror fans are probably all too familiar with it, stephen king‘s best-selling novel first published in 1986. from there it was given a tv miniseries in two parts in 1990, directed by tommy lee wallace (halloween iii: the season of the witch) who also wrote the television script with lawrence d. cohen (carrie). More recently, director andy muschietti (mama) brought fans two films, that and that chapter two. . The first film was written by chase palmer, cary fukunaga (beasts of no nation), and gary dauberman ( annabelle comes home), with dauberman returning to write the second film.
Although there are variations between each version, they all have the same basic story. a group of misfit kids, six boys and one girl, calling themselves the “losers club”, get together one summer when they realize they’re all being hunted by the same evil clown. As outcasts in the small town of Derry, Maine, the group learns to be very supportive of one another. When they realize that the nightmarish creatures they’ve seen are the work of the sinister Pennywise, they risk their lives to defeat him.
The kids think they managed to successfully banish the clown, but they have to take it down again as adults when pennywise starts killing youngsters again 27 years later. each version tells a fantastic horror story about monsters and growing up. It’s generally considered a classic coming-of-age story alongside movies like stand by me and the goonies. both versions (miniseries and movie) use life-changing experiences as a metaphor for the male leads’ journey through adolescence.
But it doesn’t just belong to the guys. As a collection of films, the womb horror canon aims to level the cultural playing field for non-male horror fans, while drawing attention to horror stories that highlight unique experiences for young women. While it’s mostly about boys becoming men, there is one character that provides a female perspective: Beverly Marsh. This magnificent character has been played by great actors such as emily perkins (ginger snaps), annette o’toole (smallville >), sophia lillis (gretel & hansel), and jessica chastain (crimson beak).
In each adaptation, Pennywise attacks his victims by manifesting what they fear most. for the boys of the losers club, that fear includes werewolves, mummies, lepers, evil paintings, and even giant birds. when we finally see bev’s fear, it’s something a little simpler and a lot more rational than any of the boys. what he fears most manifests as blood.
The first time Pennywise arrives at Bev, an explosion of blood covers her entire bathroom. Despite his yelling, her dad can’t see him, leaving Bev (and the Losers Club, depending on the version of the story) to clean it all up. and so the blood becomes a representation of the fear of her imminent femininity.
To put it bluntly, the blood you see is period blood. she is afraid of going through puberty and becoming a woman. she fears this because of her abusive and misogynistic father and the fact that boys and men already sexualize her. Her father constantly asks Bev, “Are you still my girl?” there is an implication of sexual abuse, more evident in some versions than in others. her disturbing question and her treatment of bev also indicate that once she becomes a woman, she will no longer be safe around him.
“safe” is a relative term considering how he already treats the young bev, but that makes the other possible abuses she could be subjected to all the more frightening. the boys at school sexualize her. Rumors spread, and the miniseries even hinted at sexual abuse by thug Henry Bowers and his gang. She is taught very early in life that being a woman is a scary thing.
When pennywise becomes an adult, there are differences depending on what you are consuming. Bev goes to visit his childhood home and quickly learns from his elderly resident that his father had passed away years before. This is revealed to be Pennywise himself, disguised as an old woman and, in the miniseries, Bev’s father. based on his fear of his blood, it makes sense that the adult bev is now afraid of the decomposing old lady.
This is an extension of his fear of aging, which became a fear of growing old and withering. seeing his father shows that although he left home at a young age, the impact of his father’s abuse has lasted his entire life. given that he made her afraid to stop being her “girl” to her, it’s understandable that she fears him as well.
Of all the members of the losers club, bev has the most rational fear. while the boys are afraid of monsters and imaginary things, bev is afraid of her own biology. even though she is unavoidable, she is terrified of growing up. Like Carrie, she is another excellent example of a Stephen King who brings a rare degree of understanding to the concept of womb horror. Bev’s dread practicality also makes her stand out among her friends. There’s a group of kids experiencing their own individual coming-of-age stories, but Bev’s battle with the horror of the womb becomes the most memorable of the bunch.
From the 1980s to today, fans are continually drawn to Beverly Marsh. we needed her story then, and we need more stories like hers for young women who want to see themselves in the horror genre.
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