“My Alphabet Of Anxieties & Desires” — Christmas book sale!

Just in time for Christmas: My Alphabet Of Anxieties & Desires depicts all twenty-six letters of the Roman alphabet in original, highly-rendered illustrations. While based on the format of a child’s alphabet book, this book is most assuredly for adults. If you prefer a book that you can actually touch, then you’ll appreciate the high-quality paper and printing. Ships directly to your doorstep, no matter where you are. Sweet.

The book is 40 full-colour pages, printed on a premium matte paper with a perfect-bound softcover. There’s a short preface written by myself, and a thought-provoking foreword by Judith Mintz.

Horror Films 101: The Demon Child.

Mia Farrow in a publicity shot for Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" (1968).

Mia Farrow in a publicity shot for Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968).

In anticipation of Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to write about a trope in horror fiction that is a dark meditation on maternity: the Demon Child. This trope tends to divide itself into two separate categories: firstly, the demonic unborn child or baby; and second, the older but equally demonic child. While these two subcategories are closely related, there are subtle but critical differences between them that influence our reading of these character types and the meaning behind them. This post shall focus on the unborn Demon Child, a character type that TVTropes — in their usual tongue-in-cheek manner — dub the Fetus Terrible:

…The Fetus Terrible hasn’t even been born yet, but will become The Antichrist or a demon prophesied to bring about The End of the World as We Know It once it escapes from its womb. The woman carrying this (often literally) hellborn spawn is usually an innocent, unwittingly impregnated by the Devil himself, and the other characters have to race to prevent the birth or stop the child from becoming the ultimate Enfant Terrible. Occasionally this can result of a perfectly normal pregnancy Gone Horribly Wrong pre or post conception, where the issue can be a mutantHybrid MonsterUndead Child or some other abomination. This trope can also overlap with Body Horror, especially if the mother knows what’s growing inside her — TVTropes.org

In its fetal state, the Demon Baby represents maternal anxiety over the physicality of pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy itself is an invasive process not unlike parasitism, whereby a separate and distinct life form develops and thrives within a host’s body. As suggested in the above quote from TVTropes, the Demon Baby possesses aspects of body horror — a branch of the horror universe that explores fear relating to a loss-of-control over one’s own body. Not only does the mother-to-be fear the creature that grows inside her, there is often the threat of a grisly, and deadly, childbirth that capitalizes on every woman’s fear of painful labour and maternal mortality. While Roman Polanski’s 1968 film  Rosemary’s Baby practically invented this horror trope, the scene I feel best encapsulates this element of demon baby/body horror is the birthing scene from a much lesser film, the Hammer production To the Devil a Daughter (1976) with Christopher Lee and Nastassja Kinski. When the child of Satan is ready to be born, it demands the ultimate maternal sacrifice as it literally bursts forth from the womb, tearing the hapless woman apart. Although the actual birth happens off-camera, the mere suggestion of this gruesome event was enough to make me shudder.

The unfortunate Margaret is ripped apart birthing the demon child within her in "To the Devil A Daughter" (1976).

The unfortunate Margaret is ripped apart birthing the demon child in “To the Devil A Daughter” (1976). Ew.

Creepy mutant Demon Baby-Puppet from "To the Devil a Daughter" (1976).

Creepy mutant Demon Baby-Puppet from “To the Devil a Daughter” (1976).

And then, there’s the Demon Baby — or should I say, Demon Puppet? In this late-70’s, low-budget film, the devil-spawn is a slimy, malformed little puppet that — in one nightmarish dream sequence — flops across the splayed legs of the adolescent Kinski and crawls back inside. Yeah, back up there. I know, right?

Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day REPOST: “Your mother ate my dog!”

“Definition of  Freudian slip: when you say one thing, but meant your mother.” –an old joke, as immortalized in Urban Dictionary.

Ever since the days of Sigmund Freud, mothers have endured the brunt of blame for the neuroses of their offspring. The psychologically-complex relationship between mother and child served as the dramatic foil against which the existential angst of Shakespeare’s melancholic Hamlet played out, not to mention innumerable tales of dysfunctional families in horror fiction. There are countless examples of horror movie villains, like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, who have a rather intense and, um, complicated relationship with their mother. In these films, the character of the mother is the creator — both literally and metaphorically — of the monster. Let’s honour Mother’s Day by paying homage to the most memorable mothers in cinematic horror.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie) presses her traumatized daughter against her "dirty pillows" in De Palma's "Carrie."

1. The abusive Margaret White (Piper Laurie) from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) torments her teenage daughter with her ferocious piety. Unfortunately for Mrs. White, her daughter happens to possess telekinetic powers and a strong desire to attend her high school prom. When the latter proves disastrous, and Carrie finds herself soaked in pigs blood, things go from bad to worse. Convinced that she is “possessed by Satan,” Margaret stabs her daughter in the back before being summarily dispatched by a shower of kitchen knives flung at her by Carrie’s telekinesis. The knives pin Mrs. White against the kitchen door frame in the highly appropriate cruciform stance, offering horror fans one of the most memorable and satisfying death scenes in the genre.

Vera "Mum" Cosgrove gets bitten by the nasty Sumatran Rat-Monkey in Peter Jackson's "Braindead".

2. Long before he ventured into the realm of Orcs and Hobbits, New Zealand director Peter Jackson was much beloved in the horror genre for his “splatter” films. His infamous 1992 horror-comedy Braindead (released in North America as Dead Alive) still holds the title for being one of the bloodiest, goriest zombies films to date. Even highly adept and accomplished splatter-gore directors like Takashi Miike don’t quite attain Jackson’s zany, hilarious, and way over-the-top levels of gore. As if in counterbalance to the excessive gore, Jackson’s Braindead offers an equally excessive character in Vera Cosgrove. She epitomizes the thoroughly controlling, ball-busting mother who simply cannot allow potential happiness to enter the life of her beleaguered son. Once “Mum” is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and infected with the virus that transforms her into a zombie, Jackson revels in the sadistic pleasure of having various parts of her matronly body impaled, injected, dismembered, consumed, and otherwise compromised. Packed with many memorable quotes, including “I kick ass for God!” and, one of my favourites, “Your mother ate my dog!”, Braindead is a gloriously gory, campy romp. Just don’t watch it soon after eating.

Nola (Samantha Eggers) gives her newborn a clean -- with her tongue -- in Cronenberg's "The Brood."

3. Procreation doesn’t get more bestial than in David Cronenberg’s 1979 Canadian horror classic The Brood. Samantha Eggars (best known for her role as TV-mom to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays Nola Carveth, a mentally-ill patient who opts for an experimental, and highly controversial, psychotherapy treatment. This unorthodox  “psychoplasmics” treatment causes the patient’s mental illness to manifest physically on their bodies — in the case of Nola, she parthenogenetically births strange, mutated children. This film has all the themes that typify a Cronenberg film: abjection, body horror, bizarre sexuality, and an anxiety/horror over female biology and reproduction. A degree of sympathy exists for Nola, as she’s evidently the victim of childhood abuse perpetrated by her cruel and self-centred mother, although this sympathy soon diminishes once it is revealed that Nola is, herself, abusing her daughter Candice. The ‘birthing’ scene, where Nola licks her offspring clean in the manner of a mother cat, is classic Cronenberg.

“Your mother ate my dog!”: Lady Lazarus’s favourite ‘Mommies of Horror’.

“Definition of  Freudian slip: when you say one thing, but meant your mother.” –an old joke, as immortalized in Urban Dictionary.

Ever since the days of Sigmund Freud, mothers have endured the brunt of blame for the neuroses of their offspring. The psychologically-complex relationship between mother and child served as the dramatic foil against which the existential angst of Shakespeare’s melancholic Hamlet played out, not to mention innumerable tales of dysfunctional families in horror fiction. There are countless examples of horror movie villains, like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, who have a rather intense and, um, complicated relationship with their mother. In these films, the character of the mother is the creator — both literally and metaphorically — of the monster. Even though Mother’s Day is still several months away, let’s pay homage to the most memorable mothers in cinematic horror.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie) presses her traumatized daughter against her "dirty pillows" in De Palma's "Carrie."

1. The abusive Margaret White (Piper Laurie) from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) torments her teenage daughter with her ferocious piety. Unfortunately for Mrs. White, her daughter happens to possess telekinetic powers and a strong desire to attend her high school prom. When the latter proves disastrous, and Carrie finds herself soaked in pigs blood, things go from bad to worse. Convinced that she is “possessed by Satan,” Margaret stabs her daughter in the back before being summarily dispatched by a shower of kitchen knives flung at her by Carrie’s telekinesis. The knives pin Mrs. White against the kitchen door frame in the highly appropriate cruciform stance, offering horror fans one of the most memorable and satisfying death scenes in the genre.

Vera "Mum" Cosgrove gets bitten by the nasty Sumatran Rat-Monkey in Peter Jackson's "Dead/Alive".

2. Long before he ventured into the realm of Orcs and Hobbits, New Zealand director Peter Jackson was much beloved in the horror genre for his “splatter” films. His infamous 1992 horror-comedy Braindead (released in North America as Dead Alive) still holds the title for being one of the bloodiest, goriest zombies films to date. Even highly adept and accomplished splatter-gore directors like Takashi Miike don’t quite attain Jackson’s zany, hilarious, and way over-the-top levels of gore. As if in counterbalance to the excessive gore, Jackson’s Braindead offers an equally excessive character in Vera Cosgrove. She epitomizes the thoroughly controlling, ball-busting mother who simply cannot allow potential happiness to enter the life of her beleaguered son. Once “Mum” is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and infected with the virus that transforms her into a zombie, Jackson revels in the sadistic pleasure of having various parts of her matronly body impaled, injected, dismembered, consumed, and otherwise compromised. Packed with many memorable quotes, including “I kick ass for God!” and, one of my favourites, “Your mother ate my dog!”, Braindead is a gloriously gory, campy romp. Just don’t watch it soon after eating.

Nola (Samantha Eggers) gives her newborn a clean -- with her tongue -- in Cronenberg's "The Brood."

3. Procreation doesn’t get more bestial than in David Cronenberg’s 1979 Canadian horror classic The Brood. Samantha Eggars (best known for her role as TV-mom to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays Nola Carveth, a mentally-ill patient who opts for an experimental, and highly controversial, psychotherapy treatment. This unorthodox  “psychoplasmics” treatment causes the patient’s mental illness to manifest physically on their bodies — in the case of Nola, she parthenogenetically births strange, mutated children. This film has all the themes that typify a Cronenberg film: abjection, body horror, bizarre sexuality, and an anxiety/horror over female biology and reproduction. A degree of sympathy exists for Nola, as she’s evidently the victim of childhood abuse perpetrated by her cruel and self-centred mother, although this sympathy soon diminishes once it is revealed that Nola is, herself, abusing her daughter Candice. The ‘birthing’ scene, where Nola licks her offspring clean in the manner of a mother cat, is classic Cronenberg.