Article: The Babadook, Sexuality, and Horror Movies

Through sheer coincidence I found myself watching The Babadook the other day.

The Babadook is a horror movie I’ve adored since its UK release and its mature approach to tackling grief, maternal burden, and the seemingly inescapable horrors of depression is something to be admired. The leading lady, Amelia, may not seem like the natural embodiment of a ‘strong female characters’ but there are few moments in horror that embody female empowerment as much as Amelia’s impassioned roar when confronting her own demons.

But, by sheer Netflix happenstance, it seems that Amelia is not the only roaring character in the Babadook now. Once a raspy presence knocking on the door of indie horror fans, the Babadook has now become a roaring example of queer representation and I am laughing my ass off along with the rest of the internet.

A Pop-Out Coming Out

How did this all happen? From what reports suggest, by sheer accident.

When being placed for viewing on Netflix the Babadook somehow found itself in the LGBTQ section and…well, it didn’t take long until the internet worked its magic.

As a horror buff, I wasn’t too sure what to make of the Babadook’s sudden friendly neighborhood queer persona. I remember approaching this movie with extreme immersion and really feeling the anguish that the main character encountered as she grappled with her son and the mysterious forces of the Babadook.

But what is the point of media if we can’t have a little fun with it every now and then? The original Ju-On movies may have scared the shit out of young Emmeline but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to laugh myself all the way through Sadako vs. Kayako, and the first two Scary Movies really did have a 90’s charm back in the day.

Plus it’s just so fascinating to think of the various elements of sex, sexuality, and gender that horror movies allow us to explore.

Sometimes serious (and very much intended) subtext, sometimes a wonderful bit of good ol’ fashioned ‘reading too much in to it’, you can get quite a lot from horror movies when you turn an adult eye to them.

So, in honor of our new queer icon, the Babadook, I thought I’d highlight some other horror antagonists that love to bring sex, sexuality, and gender to the forefront.

#1 Dracula from various Dracula Movies

One of the greats, Dracula (and vampires in general) is teeming with sexual connotations.

The entire notion of penetrating a person’s body in order to seek their fluids is already incredibly sexual, but Dracula takes things to the next level—coming at night, enchanting people with his gaze, and taking seemingly ‘innocent’ young maidens and corrupting them to share in his desires.

I remember attending a fascinating conference in which the story of Dracula was explore in terms of the repression and regulation of female desire too. Attempts to physically and emotionally control the way women manage their bodies is rife in this vampiric tale, and the speaker even tied the story of Dracula to enforced female genital experimentation and attempts to repress female masturbation.

Yeah, not pleasant.

As always, reality often provides more horrors than fantasy, but despite its grim undertones many people still lust after the innate sexual allure of this creature of the night.

#2 It from It Follows

Tim Curry is a sexual force all his own (clown costume or not) but in this case, we’re looking at the supernatural force from the movie It Follows.

Passed on from one victim to another after intercourse, the monster from It Follows has mysterious origins and a harrowing approach to approaching its victims.

Once you’ve had sex with someone who was being followed by it, it will instead follow you; never running, never ever sprinting, just walking slowly and methodically. It can look like anyone—any individual that it thinks will allow it to get close to you—and can sometimes take on a horrifying visage.

When it catches you its way of killing you is…ahem…intrusive to say the least.

From that brief description, you can probably already see the parallels between it and sexually transmitted infections. But, beyond this, the monster from It Follows reflects every person’s individual confrontation with their own mortality, the loss of childhood innocence, and the creeping fear of death.

They say there are two driving forces in life—Eros and Thantos—and it embodies them both perfectly.

#3 The Xenomorphs from the Alien Franchise

Xenomorphs walk the line between gender intersections in the most fabulous and unnerving ways possible.

On the one hand, they are the very embodiment of the phallus. Their head looks downright shaft-like, their second mouth thrusts violently out at their victims, and the original Alien movie is teeming with symbolism of the matriarchal Ripley confronting antagonistic masculine forces.

But the xenomorph also has an incredibly slender, almost feminine, physique. They are led by a (bad ass) queen, and some have proposed that one of their most unnerving features is that they present men with the idea of forced pregnancy and penetration (as the most horrific birthing scenes have typically involved men).

Overall the xenomorph manages to expertly walk the lines between the masculine and the feminine, as well as exploring notions of androgyny. I mean, outside of the queen, can we really give a sex or gender to the other xenomorphs? Do we think they’d even give a damn about human notions of gender identity? Probably not. They’re too busy being some of the most iconic horror/sci-fi antagonists out there, and that’s why we love them.

#4 The Victim from Exte

I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of this one.

Exte is a movie about killer hair extension and I promise it’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.

Essentially when inspecting a shipping container of hair extensions some cops find a body. They take it to the morgue where the coroner, who happens to be a tricophile with a habit of breaking out it to song, steals the body when he decides the corpse’s hair is perfect.

Noticing that the corpse’s hair grows and grows after death he begins using her body to sell hair extensions which then kill anyone who dares to wear them.

Oh, and there’s also elements of child abuse, unhealthy relationships, rape, and the adult slave trade industry.

Yeah, heavy shit.

Given these aspects of bodily and sexual exploitation, you can see why Exte is one to watch for sexual undertones and, although the hair-growing corpse is a mostly passive figure out first, you can bet your shiny new extensions that she regains her agency come the end of the film.

If you can handle heavy content (with jarring goofy interludes) then this is certainly one to watch. (Don’t judge me).

#5 Jamie from Heartless

An obscure British horror, Heartless follows the life of Jamie Morgan, who is treated as a social pariah due to an unusual heart-shaped birth mark on his face.

Desperate to overcome his own insecurities and find love, Jamie makes a deal with the devil in order to gain the ability to live his life without his crippling self-doubt and lack of body confidence.

No sugar coating here—Jamie becomes a murderer, and one of his first victims is a male sex worker and involves a lot of cling film—but the character is ultimately depicted as conflicted and tragic.

The ultimate themes of this movie, as explored by Jamie, speak of beauty, love, and one’s approach to body acceptance in the face of societal adversity, something I think many can relate to.

I may cry when I watch this movie. No judgement.

Final Thoughts

Well, well, well. Now that I’ve run through the roster of some of my favourite sex & sexuality-driven horror antagonists I’ve realized that the Babadook is actually the tamest of the bunch.

Minor spoilers ahead: He’s actually the monster with the smallest known body count (with only a dog that he can take credit for) and he actually ends up helping our protagonist confront her own emotions.

So maybe there is good reason to hold good old Babby up as our gay horror icon of 2017. You go Babadook!