Hell is a Teenage Girl: The Teenage Girl Killer's Place in Horror Cinema

Last year, I started a graphic and fanmix series on my tumblr titled The Teenage Gaze Series, with a horror themed one for Halloween called Hell Is a Teenage Girl. They were extremely well-received so I thought I would finally get around to writing a piece on it this Halloween as part of my female-driven horror cinema series. 


"A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door." - Ginger Snaps

Teenage girlhood is almost like a cult. Only the ones who have been through it understand how hellish it can be. It is a world on its own that is so vastly complex and different from the male experience, and frankly, make for more compelling stories. 

Cinema has long tried to explore these secret, dark parts of teenage girlhood. Astute directors and writers have realized that it is a breeding ground for horror stories. The teenage girl sees everything and feels everything with such intensity. Everything burns.So turning these experiences into a fantastical, heightened story is only natural. 

Teenage girls are also particularly misunderstood and marginalized group.The media treats her with disdain. Her interests are frivolous and unimportant. She is sexualized and fetishized for her innocence and budding sexuality. Her moodiness and angst is a way of attention seeking. Meanwhile, schools all over the world still continue to study Holden Caulfield's dribble and see his white upper middle class angst as "complex". 

Teenage girls in horror movies are often victims. But when someone is able to see beyond a female's perpetual victimhood (as you know, an actual human being), the girl can be a monster, or both victim and monster. They can range between cruelty (Lola in The Loved Ones), seductiveness (Jennifer in Jennifer's Body), naivety (Dawn in Teeth), awkwardness (Carrie White in Carrie), hormonal angst (Ginger in Ginger Snaps), madness (Pauline in Excision), and simmering aggression (India in Stoker). Some of them, like Eli and Abby in Let the Right One In and Let Me In, are a combination of all these traits.

Stephen King's creation in Carrie White, memorably portrayed by Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma's horror classic Carrie, is the perfect combination of both victim and monster, created by the kind of bullying and cruelty specific to a teenage girl that turns her into a monster. 

These girls could be a representation of the patriarchal fears of one of the most vulnerable groups of society, they could be a subversion of the age old tropes of teenage girls being the damsels in distress, the victims, the sexually objectified playthings for the male characters onscreen. They could be simply a representation of the metaphorical hell that teenage girls go through from bullying to puberty and menstrual cycles (Carrie, Ginger Snaps), toxic friendships, sexual frustration and angst (The Craft, Jennifer's Body).

And most horrifyingly, they could be a way of taking revenge for the way teenage girls' sexuality are turned against them in the way that Hard Candy, Teeth and All Cheerleaders Die explore the rape and revenge trope in different ways.

In Hard Candy, Ellen Page's character Hayley Stark is a teenage girl who takes matters in her own hands and actively seeks out a predator. With her red hoodie, she is clearly inspired by Red Riding Hood and turns the classic tale on its head, as she follows the wolf of the story into his own lair, and proceeds to trap and torture him in his own home. 

Teeth shows a more complex arc where Dawn starts out naive and unsure, before learning the hard way about rape culture. Her vagina, however, has teeth, and is weaponized to attack any signs of intrusion. Teeth is the blackest of comedies and the darkest of coming of age stories as Dawn learns what it means to be a young woman in a society that breeds rape culture. 

If hell is a teenage girl, then society as a whole has made her that way. The media has instilled images and ideas in its youth of how to look, how to behave, and now with social media, youths have allowed themselves to become more savage behind the anonymity of a computer or phone screen.

Patriarchal values and rape culture have breed the real monsters in our society--- and yet people continue to close their eyes and hand wave rape culture. Rape, and in particularly the rape in young, teenaged girls is normalized in shows like Game of Thrones. Where the rape of a young girl is used as a way of inciting an emotional reaction out of a male character. Where her trauma is not even properly recognized or dealt with. It is all about the male character. It is that kind of story that Game of Thrones is telling that I am glad for the Teenage Girl Psycho Killer in horror cinema.

Kicking and screaming and dripping in blood, the teenage girls in these stories have to in turn, become monsters to defend themselves against the real monster that is society. 

The Hell is a Teenage Girl playlist on 8tracks
The Hell is a Teenage Girl list of films on letterboxd
The Hell is a Teenage Girl post on tumblr