It’s Women in Horror Month, so it seemed like the perfect time to explore femininity in our beloved genre, specifically, the ways menstruation is portrayed. The paradox of the vagina is that it fascinates most men (and many women), but can also be a source of immense fear and dread. Misunderstandings about the realities of menstruation paired with societal taboos and primal, visceral reactions to blood have turned a natural cycle into something terrifying.
Related Article: WiHM 2018: Hard Rockers VOICE OF BACEPROT Prove Hijab Girls Can Play with the Big Boys
Below are 10 films that all feature menstruation prominently. Look, I’m no expert in female anatomy or even film theory. I’m just a regular dude who can’t help but notice that periods are a reoccurring motif in horror, worthy of exploring (if only as a way of acknowledging this curiosity). It’s also worth noting that all of the films below were written and directed by men, proof that they ultimately reflect male attitudes and perceptions.
Have a read and let me know what you think in the Comments section!
Ghostbusters (1984, Directed by Ivan Reitman)
Official Synopsis: After the members of a team of scientists (Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray) lose their cushy positions at a university in New York City, they decide to become “ghostbusters” to wage a high-tech battle with the supernatural for money. They stumble upon a gateway to another dimension, a doorway that will release evil upon the city. The Ghostbusters must now save New York from complete destruction.
When interviewing a female librarian after a supernatural encounter, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murry) asks, “Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?” While its just one in a tidal wave of one-liners the character delivers throughout the film, it illustrates a societal belief that menstruating women aren’t thinking clearly and are prone to overreactions. It actually echoes back to Gothic fears of “hysterical” femininity.
Excision (2012, Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.)
Official Synopsis: An outcast teenager (AnnaLynne McCord) practices surgical skills and has weird, and increasingly violent, psychosexual fantasies.
A film that will absolutely cripple anyone with an irrational fear of menstruation, Excision is the first entry in Richard Bates Jr.’s loosely connected Coming of Age Trilogy (followed by Suburban Gothic and Trash Fire). It features a female protagonist who becomes sexually aroused by the sight of blood, leading to some cringingly uncomfortable moments. The film’s title is a synonym for cut, a word used as a derogatory term for vaginas. Often classified as a horror comedy, Excision goes to some seriously dark places, concluding with a gut punch that will leave you paralyzed.
Tonight She Comes (2017, Directed by Matt Stuertz)
Official Synopsis: After a girl goes missing, two of her friends and several strangers are drawn to the cabin where she disappeared. They laugh, drink and kiss before they all must die.
Perhaps the only film that pushes the boundaries farther than Excision is Tonight She Comes, a film written and directed by Matt Stuertz (and yes, the title is a double entendre!) An exercise in terror for the gynophobia set, this film is also an apt metaphor for female sexual frustration. The subtext is deep—if you can make it past the gore.
Ginger Snaps (2000, Directed by John Fawcett)
Official Synopsis: The story of two outcast sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), in the mindless suburban town of Bailey Downs. On the night of Ginger’s first period, she is savagely attacked by a wild creature. Ginger’s wounds miraculously heal but something is not quite right. Now Brigitte must save her sister and save herself.
It wasn’t until I saw Ginger Snaps that I realized how lycanthropy is the perfect metaphor for menstruation. The idea of a full moon turning someone into a raving monster correlates exactly with societal attitudes equating menstruation with erratic behaviors, as though women on their periods are possessed by evil forces. This alignment makes me wonder how men ever became werewolves in the first place.
It Stains the Sands Red (2017, Directed by Colin Minihan)
Official Synopsis: In the throes of a zombie apocalypse, a troubled woman from Las Vegas with a dark past finds herself stranded in the desert with a lone and ravenous zombie on her tail.
I groaned with sick laughter when the main character in It Stains the Sands Red used a bloody tampon to distract a zombie; but this moment, like the film itself, is deceptively funny, disguising very serious subtext. Molly (played by Brittany Allen) is fighting for survival during the early days of an apocalypse, yet even under these unique circumstances, she can’t escape the perils of her sex (specifically, menstruation and vulnerability to rape). Don’t let that bum you out, though; It Stains the Sand Red is a story of triumph and one of my favorites of 2017.
Carrie (1976, Directed by Brian De Palma)
Official Synopsis: In this chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, withdrawn and sensitive teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) faces taunting from classmates at school and abuse from her fanatically pious mother (Piper Laurie) at home. When strange occurrences start happening around Carrie, she begins to suspect that she has supernatural powers. Invited to the prom by the empathetic Tommy Ross (William Katt), Carrie tries to let her guard down, but things eventually take a dark and violent turn.
It was Carrie’s first period that caused her telekinetic powers to emerge, a correlation that exemplifies our simultaneous fear of and fascination with menstruation in horror movies. When Carrie’s mom reacts with angry disgust, we feel ashamed for our tortured antihero, uncertain how to regard her transition into womanhood. Her powers intensify at the film’s climax, an event also triggered by a mighty gush of blood; this once again presents menstruation as an embarrassing yet powerful occurrence.
IT (2017, Directed by Andres Muschietti)
Official Synopsis: In the summer of 1989, a group of bullied kids band together to destroy a shapeshifting monster, which disguises itself as a clown and preys on the children of Derry, their small Maine town.
Pennywise terrorizes his victims by subjecting them to their worst fears. For Bev Marsh (played by Sophia Lillis) it manifests as menstrual blood—a lot of it! But it isn’t the blood or the process she fears, rather what it represents: Her undeniable transition into womanhood. What she truly fears are the advances of her father, who finds himself succumbing to base desires as Beverly begins to look more and more like her deceased mother. Menstruation signals the inevitability of sex with all of its darkest consequences.
The Reaping (2007, Directed by Stephen Hopkins)
Official Synopsis: Katherine Morrissey (Hilary Swank), a former Christian missionary, lost her faith after the tragic deaths of her family. Now she applies her expertise to debunking religious phenomena. When a series of biblical plagues overrun a small town, Katherine arrives to prove that a supernatural force is not behind the occurrences, but soon finds that science cannot explain what is happening. Instead, she must regain her faith to combat the evil that waits in a Louisiana swamp.
There’s more than just a little blood in the water; an entire river runs red in The Reaping. A paranormal debunker traces the source of a town’s religious paranoia to a young woman, one they fear will unleash a litany of biblical plagues upon them. It can hardly be considered a coincidence that the river of blood coincides with the young woman’s first period. The film illustrates how much of today’s engrained aversions to menstruation come from misinterpretations from the Bible (specifically those that equate the cycle with sin and/or a curse).
Tale of Two Sisters (2004, Directed by Kim Jee-woon)
Official Synopsis: After being institutionalized in a mental hospital, Korean teen Su-mi (Yeom Jeong-ah) reunites with her beloved sister, Su-yeon (Su-jeong Lim), and they return to live at their country home. The girls’ widower father (Mun Geun-yeong) has remarried, and the siblings are immediately resentful of his new wife, Eun-joo (Kap-su Kim). As Su-mi and Su-yeon try to resume their regular lives, strange events plague the house, leading to surprising revelations and a shocking conclusion.
A Tale of Two Sisters focuses on the relationship between siblings and their stepmother. While the three characters are all very different, they all get their periods on the same day. Though not a reoccurring motif, writer/director Kim Jee-woon wants us to notice, as this sameness becomes integral to the film’s central themes. When stripped of societal expectations and external differentiations, we’re all people—and most of us are plagued by guilt and regret.
Alien Tampon (2015, Directed by Max Lais, Hanno von Contzen, and Jan Zenkner)
Official Synopsis: A UFO breaks through the earth’s atmosphere and falls to the ground. A huge number of police officers and military units are actuated for eliminating the alien threat. A fierce battle against a superior power starts, through forests and cities. Aliens are shot, blood flows, people die. Away from this global problem Jessica, Nicole, Marie and Denise together with Carmen attend college. The girls have been arguing repeatedly, which culminates in a broil. Carmen drops her handbag in the turmoil, the contents of which are scattered over the stained asphalt. A tampon lands in a puddle of alien blood. Carmen, humiliated once again, starts crying heavily and inserts the tampon, not noticing the green shimmer. The alien blood is contagious: she mutates and becomes a monster immediately, developing a vicious hunger for rioting, throwing plasma lightning and killing.
If you’re wondering why you never heard of this movie, it’s because the trailer is the movie. Or rather, there is no movie, only a faux trailer for an imaginary movie called Alien Tampon. If you’re thinking it could be a movie, you’re not alone, as the folks at Chinzilla Films made it as proof-of-concept for a potential feature film. Obviously, one has yet to manifest, perhaps proving that while most men (and many women) remain fascinated by vaginas, just putting something into one can’t necessarily be stretched into a movie plot—no mater how creative (and/or funny) the idea seems.