Satanic Cannibal Witches: How The ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ creates its own brand of Satanism

Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman and Tati Gabrielle as Prudence in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Netflix.

by Elliott Ryan | October 29, 2020

Witches in media are experiencing a renaissance. As we’ve seen in TV programs like American Horror Story, The Order, and Motherland: Fort Salem, the witches on screen closely resemble the witches of old. They’re ruthless, brutal, and ingenious. They use the elements to their advantage. They kill and resurrect. They throw orgies. They eat flesh. And most importantly, they determine their own narratives.

Yes, everything old is new again, and the same can be said of Sabrina Spellman, the plucky sorceress created in 1962 by writer George Gladir and illustrator Dan DeCarlo for Archie’s Mad House. Sabrina’s debut in the comic book series was well received and she has continued to live on in print, film, and television. The most well known iteration is the quintessentially nineties sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. With its bright colors and moral compass, the show is more of an after school special than a coming of age tale about a young witch. At least, that’s how it feels watching it in 2020. It’s just not right for our current era of ambivalence, image consciousness, and brutalism. Sabrina and Archie remained culturally dormant until 2013, when writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was tasked with breathing new life into the Archie universe. First, he wrote a comic series about Archie and his pals surviving a zombie apocalypse, à la The Walking Dead. Its success led him to write another series in 2014 titled Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which was popular for its grim re-packaging of Sabrina’s magical life. 

In 2017, Aguirre-Sacasa produced Riverdale, a gritty TV reboot where Archie and his friends are sexually adventurous, full of secrets, and getting murdered left and right. In the fall of 2018, he conjured a spinoff, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (CAOS), which has become one of Netflix’s most popular teen programs. The show features witches casting spells and fighting demons while wearing vintage couture and patent leather pumps. But it also reveals teenage girls and middle aged women navigating a mortal man’s world. To survive, sacrifices must be made. This is especially apparent in season one episode seven, “Feast of Feasts”, where sacrifice is an explicit, central theme.

In this chapter, Sabrina and her family, the Spellmans, are summoned by their coven, the Church of Night, to celebrate and host one of their “holiest holidays.” Early on in the episode, Sabrina’s aunt Zelda explains that this holiday is similar to Thanksgiving, but has a gruesome and mystical history.

Centuries ago, mortals besieged and exiled witches to the wilderness. Due to man’s careless overhunting, a famine ravaged the region. The starvation was so intense that Freya, one of the youngest and strongest witches of her coven, sacrificed herself to provide for her sisters. According to this oral hagiography, the witches survived off her body throughout the winter until the spring. Ever since, the coven living in the woods outside Greendale have honored Freya by celebrating the Feast of Feasts. To perform this annual cannibalistic ritual, the Church of Night selects fourteen families by nailing lamb entrails to the front door of their homes. The families then choose one female family member to serve as a tribute to Freya. At a selection ceremony, the tributes line up together, pick a piece of parchment, and set them ablaze. Whoever’s parchment burns white is named Queen of Feasts, and whoever’s parchment burns red is made Handmaiden. For a brief period, the Handmaiden is tasked with pampering the Queen and tending to all her carnal needs. Later, at the Feast of Feasts, the Queen slits her own throat and the coven feasts upon her raw flesh.

Prudence being taken care of her maiden (Sabrina). Netflix.

At one point in the episode, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) and her frenemy Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) are discussing the ritual. Prudence has just been named Queen and believes wholeheartedly in the ceremony while Sabrina, selected to be Handmaiden, thinks the Feast is barbaric. As Sabrina fulfills her maiden duties and bathes Prudence in a warm buttermilk bath, Prudence asks Sabrina if this will be her first time “supping on witch flesh.” Acting as the avatar for us mere mortals, Sabrina disgustedly exclaims that she’s not going to eat Prudence, and then asks her why she wants to sacrifice herself. Prudence proudly explains, “I’m about to be transubstantiated. After the coven consumes my body, I will be a part of every single witch in the Church of Night, forever. And that’s not even the best part. My spirit will reside in the Dark Lord’s heart alongside the other queens, basking in the glow of his glorious fire until the trumpets of the apocalypse are sounded.” 

You see, sacrifice isn’t the only facet of the Feast of Feasts. There is also the consumption and transubstantiation of the Queen.

The writers of CAOS have appropriated very specific ideas from different faith traditions and woven them together to create their own theology of Satanic witchcraft. For example, the concept of transubstantiation is rooted within the Catholic tradition. It originally describes the metaphysical transformation of the Eucharist, the bread and wine that becomes Jesus’s flesh and blood through the consecration of a priest and the consumption by a congregation. These sacraments represent the corporeal sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all Catholics, and are partially why early Catholics were considered by some Roman pagans to be cannibals. Of course, in the world of CAOS, cannibalism is a very real component of their religion, albeit confined to certain ceremonies. 

Since Chilling Adventures also draws heavy inspiration from Satanism, we have to see how closely it aligns with the tenets of the most widely recognized Satanic sect, the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey. This group is distinguished from the other well known Satanic faction, The Satanic Temple, which was in the news a few years ago for suing Netflix over their appropriation of the Temple’s custom statue of Baphomet. According to LaVey’s seminal text, The Satanic Bible, sacrifice isn’t inherently necessary, primarily because witches should be able to derive power from their own selves instead of needing some external force to help them. 

This idea directly contradicts the practices in CAOS, as the witches literally make a deal with the devil to enhance their magical powers. This plot is an important point of contention throughout the first season of Chilling Adventures, as it highlights Sabrina’s autonomy and decision of whether or not to sign her name in the Book of the Beast and submit herself to the Dark Lord. 

Mildred slitting her throat. Netflix.

Back to the Feast! In what turns out to be a twisted knot of a plot, it is revealed at the Queen’s last supper that Prudence was made Queen of Feasts not by the Dark Lord, but by Constance Blackwood, wife of Faustus Blackwood, High Priest of the Church of Night. After unwittingly eating a truth serum cake made at the behest of a suspicious Sabrina, Constance explains that she wanted to kill Prudence because she is the bastard daughter of Faustus. Constance worried that Prudence would pose a threat to her gestating twins and lay claim to the Church, so she hatched a plot to ensure her demise. Because the Dark Lord did not choose Prudence, Father Blackwood decides that she will not be sacrificed, but will still serve as Queen of Feasts and sit on the Throne of Skulls. 

When Father Blackwood informs the coven that there will be no sacrifice, the witches cry out from their black pews, shouting that they’re ravenous from fasting. But then Mildred, a witch who desperately wanted to be Queen, stands up. She praises Freya and Satan, and then slits her own throat, continuing the cycle of consensual sacrifice. There is a moment of hushed confusion until the coven honors Mildred. They pull out their knives and begin hacking away at her corpse, devouring chunks of her flesh. Sabrina watches in horror as her coven submits to their most base animal instincts.

The Church of Night getting ready to eat Mildred.

In the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the Queen of the Feast is the sacrament. Theologically speaking, this is a heretical idea within Catholic canon because it equates the feminine body with the body of Jesus. Both sacrifice themselves so that their community can live on. But in true Satanist form, the ritual is inverted. The depiction of death in CAOS isn’t humble or sorrowful like Jesus’. It’s violent and visceral. And it’s not some edible metaphor that comes in prepackaged boxes, like Eucharist wafers do now. It is a literal human body that is torn apart and consumed by other people. The writers of CAOS have utilized standard religious themes such as holy days, sacrifice, and hagiography to create their own subversive Satanic theology. And they’ve managed to do it while producing an enthralling program that simultaneously feels modern and ancient. There’s no other TV show I know where Satanic witches cast spells in dead languages and complain about dating in the same breath. Who knew Satanism and teen angst would pair so well.

Elliott Ryan is a Queer non-binary academic who writes about new religious movements and depictions of religion in media. They are currently working on their Senior Thesis at The New School about The X-Files’ portrayal of the Satanic panics that swept throughout the United States in the 80s & 90s. They can be found on Instagram @eewryan.

“The Calls Are Coming From The House!”: A ‘Black Christmas Retrospective’

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Olivia Hussey as Jess in Black Christmas (1974) dir. Bob Clark. Warner Brothers.

by Jamie Tram | October 29, 2020

Having been subject to decades of moralistic panic — some of it justified, much of it veiled snobbery — it can be easy to forget that the teen slasher began as an abortion drama.

Typically billed as a Christmas-time slasher, the original Black Christmas (1974) follows a group of sorority sisters who receive unnerving phone calls which precipitate their own deaths. Much of the film’s tension, however, is amplified by the rift between lead character Jess (Olivia Hussey) and her musician boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] fame), when Jess finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Jess immediately has no qualms about terminating her pregnancy and is firm in her decision. Peter, on the other hand, is obsessed with keeping it and starting a family with her; when she rebuffs him, he descends into a volatile spiral.

The film comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade and reflects that hard-won freedom, while also identifying a persistent, systemic rot. Monsters, real and fictional, often function to absolve terrible real-world violence by representing it as an entirely external force — but director Bob Clark cleverly obfuscates the boundaries between Jess’ harassment at the hands of both Peter and the murderer in order to locate the latter’s transgressions in everyday, patriarchal violence. This is, after all, the film which first coined the iconic line: “the calls are coming from the house!”

Black Christmas doesn’t quite enjoy the widespread recognition that Halloween (1978) or Friday the 13th (1980) enjoys, but it’s arguably the first film to establish the conventions of the teen slasher. By 1974, early slashers in the form of foreign imports and splatter flicks had already taken hold of grindhouse audiences, but Black Christmas carved out its own niche by grounding the subgenre in the lives of young women beset by emerging adulthood. As Richard Nowell points out, its producers hoped to capture the recently-discovered youth audience who flocked to see The Graduate (1967) and American Graffiti (1972), while also appealing to the politically engaged women who had popularised films like Love Story (1970) and The Way We Were (1973).

The attempt at appealing to these specific demographics ultimately failed. Black Christmas was a non-starter at the North American box office, but it paved the way for Halloween to catapult the teen slasher into the mainstream four years later by similarly focusing on younger characters and audiences.

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Black Christmas (2006) dir. Glen Morgan. MGM.

In the years to come, the teen slasher would be steamrolled within an inch of its life, defibrillated, then driven off a cliff — yet, in 2006, Black Christmas returned.

The central problem with Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas reimagining (or spiritual sequel, depending on who you ask) is that it’s considerably more interested in its murderer, rather than its protagonists. One of the core strengths of the original was its distinct cast of characters, where an actor like Margot Kidder (most famously known as Lois Lane in the early Superman films) could eat up the part of a sassy, but self-pitying drunkard. The characters in the 2006 remake, however, are entirely too expendable, deflated by dialogue which replicates the rhythms of snappy teenage repartee but none of the wit.

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Robert Mann as Billy Lenz in Black Christmas (2006).

In the original, the killer (identified as Billy Lenz) was presented as nothing but a spectre of unbridled id, his physical body almost entirely shrouded in darkness. Here, he’s equipped with a backstory, a retelling of real life serial killer Edmund Kemper’s upbringing conveyed in the style of a Jeunet-esque fairytale. The shock factor on display occasionally breathes life into the picture, particularly when we see a younger Billy make Christmas cookies out of his parents. I almost want to recommend the film to fans of Ryan Murphy’s work, but its excesses are rarely inspired, and its provocations (such as an incest plotline) prove tiresome.

In the film’s best moments, the spirit of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava creeps into the picture; certain scenes are soaked in a decadent cascade of Christmas lights, making for some beautifully nonsensical images. It’s a fitting tribute, intended or not, considering a segment (titled ‘The Telephone’) from Bava’s anthology Black Sabbath (1963) shares a similar conceit with the original Black Christmas.

The latest iteration of Black Christmas (2019), directed by Sophia Takal, more radically departed from the source material while attempting to hold onto certain key strengths — namely its memorable female characters, and a defiantly feminist subtext. Which meant, of course, it became a target of our dipshit culture wars online.

This time round, Takal’s film redirects the original’s preoccupation with female autonomy and male rage into an examination of rape culture itself, with mixed results. Neither the choice of target nor its blunt political messaging is the problem here — in the words of co-writer April Wolfe, “fuck subtlety.” Unfortunately, the observation that college fraternities resemble cults isn’t remotely incendiary in 2019. More crucially, however, the film fails to provide insight into how rape culture is perpetuated, or how some men compromise themselves in order to belong to malignant male communities. Rather, we discover that the frat boys killing off all the sorority sisters are merely under the influence of mind-controlling goo. As a visual metaphor for the all-consuming opioid of ideology, you could do worse — but it’s a stunning cop-out.

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Black Christmas (2019) dir. Sophia Takal. Universal Pictures.

Fundamentally, the film feels conflicted about being a teen slasher, and whether you can create a feminist film reliant on images of terrorised and/or brutalised women. Takal demonstrates a command over negative space and pacing when staging earlier kills, even throwing in a cheeky quotation of The Exorcist III (1990) (itself a cheeky quotation of Psycho [1960]). But after only a handful of these traditional slasher kills, the focus shifts onto a cat-and-mouse game at the midpoint, before transitioning into a slow-mo action climax.

Turning the film into a rape-revenge tale of sorts is a genuinely inspired idea, but its execution is kneecapped by the fact that it is, at the end of the day, a Black Christmas movie — and therefore a film built on a foundation of compelling, flawed, but ultimately dead girls. The ending angles for a cathartic fight scene between sorority sisters and cultists — but it tries to do so after killing off nearly every named female character in the film.

I’ve always found it odd how horror remakes are so often treated with contempt, considering they’ve existed for about as long as horror movies have been around. Most of them are outright bad, yes, but there’s still something worthwhile about watching ideas get translated across different cultures and time periods (however lazily). Sadly, neither of the Black Christmas remakes challenge the trend, as close as last year’s update gets — but I still think these movies reveal a lot about the evolution of the genre, and are worth watching on that basis. 

While they may not be outright remakes, we’ve seen countless films from Scream (1996) to Better Watch Out (2016) reinterpret Black Christmas (1974) in fresh and exciting ways, and Bob Clark’s original film will doubtlessly continue to inspire generations of horror directors by being the first, and one of the best, teen slashers ever made.

Jamie Tram is a Melbourne-based critic and screenwriter. His interests include Katharine Hepburn, desktop horror, and UFO sightings in Jia Zhangke’s filmography. Follow him on Twitter @sameytram.

The School of ‘Rocky Horror’

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Danna Paola as Lu and Omar Ayuso as Omar in Elite. Netflix.

by Alexander Gonzalez | October 29, 2020

Anything goes over at the Frankenstein place.

Inside this spooky manor, reality fades. A cosmic fever dream implodes. Our monstrous ids awaken. A rock ‘n’ roll medley casts a demonic spell. The urges –– sexual, destructive, liberated –– finally come out to play.

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Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry – center) striking a pose. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) dir. Jim Sharman. 20th Century Fox.

This makes “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” the perfect Halloween musical. It celebrates chaos — a you-can-be-anything-you-want attitude. The 1975 cult movie musical follows Brad and Janet — two unsuspecting surrogates of boring, repressed America — into a haunted house full of eccentric denizens. They’re caught in an experiment led by Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He creates his own Adonis, a blonde named Rocky Horror. The story is so queer, punk and weird, it’d be a disservice to virgins to give it away entirely.

Despite its bizarre plot, the film has been referenced and adapted a lot recently. In 2010, Ryan Murphy’s “Glee” paid homage to the campy flick. Six years later, Fox did a remake, starring Laverne Cox in the eponymous role. The film has found new audiences on television beyond the diehards who never miss an October midnight screening at local cinemas. Revisiting Rocky Horror has especially drawn in newer generations that are drawn to stories about empowered outcasts and stigma erasure. 

Lately, the best depiction comes from Spain. The Halloween episode in season two of the Netflix teen drama Elite depicts adolescent angst in the spirit of Rocky Horror. The allusion to the film fuels a raucous Halloween party. The students remove their uniforms, put on sexy costumes and freely navigate romantic ambitions. Playing make-believe evolves into something more sinister: the specter of emerging adulthood.

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Fox’s Rocky reboot featuring Dr. Frank N Furter (Laverne Cox), Brad (Ryan McCarten), and Janet (Victoria Justice). Fox.

At the show’s fictional school, Las Encinas, students major in fluidity. Scholarship kids fall in love with the rich kids. Hard work trumps privilege. Threesomes reward bisexuality. Sex happens in locker rooms, pools and nightclubs. And as if adolescence isn’t messy enough, the students deal with a murder case. This amazing juxtaposition between high-stakes crime and aspirational adolescence jives with Rocky Horror, which challenges social conventions.

At the party, gay couple Omar (Omar Ayuso) and Ander (Arón Piper), dress as Frank-N-Furter and Rocky, respectively. Through the costumes, they confront the difficulties of accepting who they are as individuals and as a relationship. At this point in the show, Omar leaves his devout Muslim family to live with Ander (yeah, and his parents. It’s Spain!). The costume choice eventually disrupts their domestic bliss. Omar, who has recently come out, chooses Frank-N-Furter to make a bold statement about his first Halloween celebration: “I’ve had to spend most of my life wearing a costume.” In response, Ander, who’s only heard of “Rocky V,” covers up his golden boxer briefs, Rocky Horror’s only clothing, at the party. He tells his bro: “This is an Omar thing. Now he has feathers and thinks he’s a drag queen.” Shame overshadows burgeoning love.

This dynamic shapes another break-up. Lucrecia (who goes by Lu and is portrayed by Danna Paola) and Guzman (Miguel Bernardeau) have been on and off. She’s committed to making it work, helping him process the death of his sister. But Lu’s half-brother Valerio (Jorge López) returns to Spain, reigniting her feelings for him. Things get complicated.

Lu and Omar’s paths cross during the Halloween party. They take stock in each other’s relationships. Lu, dressed as Frida Kahlo, convinces him to stay at the party after he overheard Ander’s comments. She quotes Oscar Wilde: “Never love someone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” This line is a version of the Rocky Horror lyric “Don’t dream it. Be it.” Inspired by Omar, she accepts her honest yet societally inappropriate feelings for Valerio.

Anything goes over at the Spanish Frankenstein place.

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Omar as Dr. Frank-n-Furter. Netflix.

During the Halloween revelverie, Lu, Omar and the rest of the ensemble undergo a more poignant transformation. They’re not just wearing costumes. They’re dressed as purer versions of themselves. For a moment, they become the people they really want to be –– and in turn, uncover the monstrous side of desire.

The intimate discoveries backfire. In the Rocky Horror universe, Frank-N-Furter and his motley crew leave earth. Reality crushes their maniacal worldview of free love. In Elite, Omar realizes that living with Ander is as much a fantasy. He advocates for himself, embarking on a path of self-sufficiency. He’s not one of the rich kids, after all.

Meanwhile, Lu braces for the consequences of forbidden love –– a precarious path that sets up the rest of the show. Falling in love and making mistakes are part of teenage dogma. In Elite vis-a-vis Rocky Horror, it’s better to live your truth –– at least for one night.

It’s easy to brand most shows about teens as coming-of-age cautionary tales. Most of them probably are. But the Halloween episode of Elite presents a more complicated argument. The horror isn’t just about lost innocence or failed liaisons. Rather, it’s the acceptance of the people we could become. Perhaps even more deliciously frightening, the people we were always meant to be.

Alexander Gonzalez is a radio journalist in Miami, Florida. He draws inspiration from film and television to report on the real world. He enjoys international shows, especially from France and Spain. You can follow him on Twitter @alexgonz10.

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Plug It Up: Menstruation As A Teen Horror Movie Monster

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Justine (Garance Marillier) in the French cannibal horror film, Raw (2016) dir. Julia Ducournau. Focus World.

by Eliza Janssen | October 29, 2020

‘Never piss off a woman; they know how to get blood stains out of everything’. – A Proverb

These days we’re lucky enough to enjoy a growing canon of feminist horror movies, with ass-kicking final girls, and monsters that are believably complex and systemic. But what about when the final girl and the monster are one and the same?

In Julia Ducournau’s 2016 horror film Raw, animal loving med student Justine learns that one of the side effects of her coming of age is an insatiable hunger for flesh. There’s also De Palma’s blood-drenched classic Carrie (1976); Ginger Snaps (2002), the still-rad story of gothic werewolf sisterhood; and all those scenes in It (2017) and It: Chapter 2 (2019) where the sole female member of the Losers Club cowers in a women’s bathroom cubicle. There’s something so distinctly gynaecological about the body horror of these movies; maybe even gynophobic, if you’re feeling particularly unforgiving. At the very least, though, most of the films in the unofficial canon of Menstrual Horror seem to take adolescence and coming of age seriously, more seriously than the horror genre’s tendency to see teens as disposable, undeveloped adults.

And at best? These films seem to have an empowering angle, turning gendered stigma into its own grand gothic force. I forget who said it, but one nice oversimplification is that the Gothic genre occurs whenever a woman is trapped inside a house; these bloody teenage horror films merely replace that haunted domestic space with the equally repressive confines of a changing body. It’s worth noting that each of the entries to my little canon are focused on cis womanhood, but the ghoulish policing of gender, and the body horror opportunities of adolescence, unfortunately extend to every gender identity and expression. In her essay “Sweet Sick Teens: Gothic narratives of American adolescent sexuality,” Kara Koehler singles out “uncontrollable transformation” and “sexual maturation” of any kind as hallmarks of the Gothic genre, making room for anyone victimized by the systemic stigmatization of puberty’s physical symptoms. 

Beverly in the bathroom in It Chapter 2.
Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) featured in It (2017) Andrés Muschietti. Warner Bros Pictures.

In mining such biological processes for gendered terror, these bloody movies about cis teen girlhood often take place in locations that could be considered strictly gendered, such as public showers and locker rooms, high school parties and teen bedrooms. In each film, public humiliation on the basis of one’s gender and lack of control over the pubescent body is treated as a serious and even mortal threat — Carrie’s infamous climax sees the titular character drenched in pig’s blood by her classmates, who earlier had mocked her for her ignorance and fear of her own menstruation. In Raw, first-year students are hazed by being drenched in animal blood as a rite of passage; after this scene, Justine’s personality is noticeably less demure and reserved, as if the blood has had a baptismal, deflowering quality.

Susan Sontag reckons that the illnesses we are most terrified of are “the de-humanizing ones, which act immediately and disfigure,” and so it shouldn’t go unmentioned that the teen girls that terrorise in Ginger Snaps, Carrie, and Raw are the same teen bodies that get objectified, glamorised, and ripped apart in countless other horror movies. Ducournau seems to make a point of this in Raw, resorting to explicit, close-up visuals of Justine’s latest scabs and wounds instead of any tactful suspense; here, every shot is a gory money shot. The intimacy and frankness in Ducournau’s imagery rejects what audiences hope to see in a film about nubile partying teens and instead shows only the most repulsive aspects of their typically attractive bodies; In her book, Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection, Elena del Río calls this: “an actively dislocating or deforming force.”

None of this is done with much subtlety in Raw, and Ginger Snaps peddles some of those same visual and narrative ideas with a near comedic quality, playfully depicting the symptoms of puberty and of becoming a werewolf in parallel (new hungers, transformation according to a monthly calendar, uncontrollable growth of hair). But both films show an unmistakable empathy for misunderstood teenage bodies. Fortunately for the protagonists of Ginger Snaps and Raw, both films also depict complicated yet strong relationships between two young sisters. That bond is presented as a blessing and a curse, with Alexia and Ginger both serving as sources of sisterly guidance and seductive bad influences. While Alexia does goad her younger sister into indulging her supernatural hunger, the pair are also shown to basically be each other’s sole support systems, and their primal, loving relationship is best depicted in the film’s third-act shower scene. There, the girls affectionately wash the blood off one another after a violent scuffle, suggesting a ritual, familial protectiveness that mirrors the real habits of people who menstruate; the managing of menstruation as a learned, inherited practice. Ever asked if anyone has a spare tampon in a crowded nightclub bathroom? There ya go. Same thing. 

But in other places, Raw elicits a nasty sense of dread by drawing on societal fear of toxic sisterhoods, and the mysterious goings-on of women in intimate groups. It’s exemplified in Justine’s father warning her against having daughters when she is older; “Honey, it’s too hard.” Or, when a fellow student sees Justine vomiting an impossible amount of blood and hair, and benignly says, “It’ll come up faster if you use two fingers.” These secondary characters’ normalisation of “female troubles” like symptoms of puberty or eating disorders (be they supernatural or garden variety) suggests a depressing and ironic conclusion: A teenager’s “transformation” is unnatural and monstrous, but the pain and anxiety that come with it are totally expected and acceptable. 

Carrie (Sissy Spacek) on the street, covered in blood.
Carrie (Sissy Spacek) featured in Carrie (1976) dir. Brian De Palma. United Artists.

So despite all of Raw’s explicit gore imagery, its greatest moment of horror comes in the concluding reveal that Justine and Alexia’s mother has the same cannibal urges as they do. Their father unbuttons his shirt to reveal a torso scarred with decades of bite marks, nonchalantly promising Justine; “I’m sure you’ll find a solution, honey.” The terrifying realisation that these urges are not part of an adolescent phase, but may go on to characterise her sexuality and gender identity for her whole adult life, makes Justine gasp. We see finally that when innate human desires are repressed, they do not disappear; they merely fester and cause long-term damage. That blend of a looming patriarchal threat and its depressing permanence is experienced by Beverly Marsh in It, played first by Sophia Lillis as a teen haunted by her abusive, hair-sniffing father. Policing her growth into a woman, he makes her promise to “stay his little girl forever;” a promise fulfilled in It: Chapter 2, where Jessica Chastain’s grown version of the same character must face off against Pennywise’s ghoulish facsimile of her father, while also struggling to stay afloat in that aforementioned blood flood (cool). 

Maybe it means something that this moment in particular, glibly described as Carrie on steroids’ by Chastain, was chosen to be the bloodiest scene in cinema history. As in Carrie, some large part of the sequence’s horror comes from Beverley’s humiliation, the impossible sense that her adolescence and its resulting “impurity” have caused this comical rain of 4,500 gallons of fake blood. In terrifying teen movies that capitalise on both the systemic shaming of menstruation and menstruation’s gloriously gory opportunities for body horror, it is the former that should really make viewer’s blood run cold — because that monster is undeniably real. Period.

Eliza Janssen loves and writes horror movies, as well as screenplays and criticism about other stuff. She is a co-host of the movie podcast Twin Picks and a founding editor at Rough Cut. Come say hi at or @eliza_janssen on Twitter.

Editors’ Letter: The Horror Years

Debbie Reynolds in Halloweentown (1998) dir. Duwayne Dunham. Disney Channel.

by Claire White and Odalis Garcia Gorra | October 29, 2020

2020 has been the most terrifying year to date (in our personal lifetimes). From the bushfires in Australia to the earthquakes that rocked Puerto Rico, and then the larger impact of a global pandemic. This year, we have also confronted the harsh realities of a changing climate, the ever present rise of far right politics, and the much-needed mainstream recognition of global racial injustice. We have been living in horror and it’s been scary to be alive. Somehow, we have all made it to October. And though it is always a joy to be in the “spooky” season, this year Halloween has kind of lost its edge. How do we find the thrill of being scared out of our minds when the other months of the year have already done that, twofold?

One thing that this pandemic has taught us is the need to indulge in what brings us deep pleasure. When it comes to the month of October that means movies like Hocus Pocus and Halloweentown and eating all the pumpkin-shaped chocolate we can find. And although Halloween may be “cancelled” (we implore you to stay home and stay safe!) there is still some delight in dressing up for your own self. 

Films and TV shows are a reflection of our society — at Grow Up we understand that better than anyone else — they pre-package difficult lessons that we take with us to understand what we are living through. Movies and TV shows that deal in horror show us a darker edge to our mortal conflicts. This past year we have understood that the boogeyman doesn’t just live in our nightmares and that sociopathic killers don’t have to wear a ghostface or hockey mask. Instead, they are real and tangible beings, that dampen our spirits, will to live, and just overall self. And so how do we come out on top? What tools do we have at our disposal to dismantle the systems that continue to haunt us?

We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have a Halloween issue. There is nothing more terrifying than being a teenager or young adult. And if scary movies have taught us anything is that the things that go bump in the night, love to horrify us to death (Final Girls, excluded). Thus The Horror Years was born. When we read through the pieces that you’ll read, we didn’t realize (yet) what it was that brought all of them together. What does menstruation in film (Plug It Up: Menstruation As A Teen Horror Movie Monster by Eliza Janssen) have to do with Satanism in a beloved Netflix series (Satanic Cannibal Witches: How the ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Creates Its Own Brand of Satanism by Elliott Ryan)? How does Rocky Horror’s influence on Netflix’s Elite (The School of ‘Rocky Horror’ by Alexander Gonzalez) connect to Black Christmas’ creation of the teen slasher genre (“The Calls Are Coming From The House!” A ‘Black Christmas’ Retrospective by Jamie Tram)? What we found in each piece is that at every turn, these films or TV shows subvert and mould stereotypes to their own will.

Ultimately, we are all living in a Horror Year. Although escapism (and escape) feels out of reach for so many of us, there is hope that through the terror we can find a way to fight. To unsettle and overthrow the systemic oppression many of us live under. From patriarchy to racism to colonialism. Movies and shows that deal with darkness are proof, and a reminder, that neither a monster, a slasher, or the Devil himself, can keep us from surviving.


C + O 

Claire & Odalis

Grow Up Co-Founders