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Oh, The Horror: Demons and women’s sexuality

Hana Shafi

Exorcisms are a distinct, massive subgenre in horror films for good reason. There’s just something about watching a good ol’ demonic possession movie that always hits the spot for horror movie cravings, mine especially. Even though the subgenre tends to recycle the same essential plot, it somehow never fails to frighten. Besides, it’s always interesting to see how each director will portray the demonic possession: spinning heads, levitation, animal killing, vomiting toxic goo onto everyone, etc.

No matter what happens, though, one characteristic of demonic possession always stays the same: the insatiable lust of the demon, now acting through its female host—and it’s almost always a female character. Evidently, we’re more easily tainted. Or, at least, we are according to some ancient patriarchal religious idea that says women are more susceptible to being invaded by Satan. In fact, it’s such an age-old popular concept, that even if contemporary directors are not deliberately trying to propagate the masses with sexist messages, they rarely stray from this plot.

But not only does the demon possess the woman or girl in the movie, it almost always has to have some kind of utterly creepy or manipulative sexual manifestation. I’ll focus on three films in particular (analyzing all the demonic possession films with female sexuality as a key element would take a century). The most obvious example is, of course, the classic 1973 The Exorcistbasically the bread-and-butter of demonic possession films. In the movie, a demon possesses a 12-year-old girl named Regan. Aside from the green vomit, backwards crawling, and head spinning, the demon sexualizes Regan, making her say vulgar things to those around her. There’s the infamous “lick me” scene, in which Regan appears to be stabbing her vagina with what appears to be a crucifix, yelling “lick me”; she even pushes her mother’s face into her bloodied crotch.

Next we have 2010 Spanish horror film Exorcismus, in which 15-year-old Emma Evans is the victim of possession. In one scene she’s sitting with her friend Rose and begins to fall into a strange trance like state. She then starts to caress Roses’ hand, looking at her suggestively while twisting her head closer with her mouth open. Rose responds by leaning in for the kiss. Emma pulls away and starts shouting homophobic slurs at her, claiming that she knew her friend was gay and was attempting to trick her. Here, the demon uses sexuality to seduce and manipulate people, suggesting that the whole interaction was wrong or immoral in the first place. Emma comes out of the trance and has no idea what she’s said or what’s happened.

Then there’s The Last Exorcism (2010), in which Nell, a farmer’s teen daughter, is possessed by a demon. It’s found out later in the movie that she is pregnant, and her father insists that Nell is a virgin and that the demon has somehow made her body “impure.” The Evangelical minister in the film decides that Nell is not possessed, but distressed over the loss of her virginity, which is proven wrong later in the film. In one scene during an exorcism attempt, Nell—while under the possessive hold of the demon—asks the priest if he would like “a blowing job” (yes, she actually called it a “blowing” job).

In all three of these movies, the demons have at least one sexual manifestation. And, put bluntly, it seems to come down to this idea that demons make women horny. While possessed women in horror films do make some sexual statements that are obviously immoral (say those of a incestuous nature), these movies mostly seem to suggest women have repressed  sexuality that only demons can somehow conjure. We couldn’t possibly have a sex drive of our own accord; it’s the demons, duh! A good holy woman would never have sexual urges! (It should be noted that in the few movies that feature demonic or malevolent possession of men, most notably, The Amityville Horror, the male character rarely acts in a sexual manner as a result of the possession.)

I think these movies might be confusing demons with hormones. In fact, maybe I too was possessed when I was going through the embarrassing grips of puberty, blasting my angst-ridden punk music and attempting to understand the mechanics of a tampon. It should go without saying that female sexuality isn’t evil or demonic. Sexy dancing, moaning, and sexual statements do not mean that the demon king Pazuzu is now inside you, nor do these actions mean you’re now the forever accursed Angela from Night of the Demons. It’s high time that demonic possession movies start conjuring up other ways to make demons evil, and avoid the need to use women’s bodies and sexuality as a platform to convey this.

Next week I take a look at a disturbing 2000s horror movie trend, the rise of the torture film.

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