Women’s reproductive abilities have always been front and center in the horror genre. Think about it: whether it’s taking center stage in things like Rosemary’s Baby to It’s Alive to modern classic Grace, films about reproduction- whether it’s the act of giving birth, the effect of pregnancy, or the way parenthood affects us- is a big part of the genre. But why is horror so interested in reproduction?
I think the first and most obvious answer to this is that pregnancy and birth are both processes that can easily be adapted into horrifying ones. Whether it’s Jennifer Tilly in Seed of Chucky swelling up overnight, or the ridiculously cringe-worthy sequence at the start of The Orphan, or that nightmare in The Fly, these usually pretty happy natural processes seem tailor-made for the nasty eye of horror filmmakers. If their job is to turn the natural into the supernatural, flipping the creation of life on it’s head is a powerful way to get your scares. Take John Hurt’s chestburster as a perfect example of the inversion of pregnancy- a dude is impregnated after an alien squirts it’s gunk down into him, and then suffers an agonizing “birth” as the baby literally rips it’s way out of his body. The way they’ve twisted the trope is what makes that scene such an iconic one (that, and the looks on his unaware coworker’s faces, of course).
But there must be more to it than that. And I think there is. In fact, I think the constant re-iteration of the pregnancy/birth/motherhood trope is another string to the bow of the horror genre being home to some of the most powerful female characters in fiction.
After all, there’s something innately powerful about the creation of life. Whether it’s Samantha Eggar and her external womb creating children to avenge her in The Brood or Carrie and her developing puberty acting as a metaphor for her destructive psychic powers. There’s always this sense in horror that you don’t mess with the mothers. The mothers in these cases are, more often than not, the most powerful characters in the film-using their innate reproductive abilities to dominate and avenge those who have wronged them, indirectly or directly. While motherhood and pregnancy (or the idea of both) are used to torment some of these characters, they’re also used to underline the fact that, in body horror movies, women have an immense power- that they can use for good or for bad.