Innocence and Fear: Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors

Ashley Szanter

In Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors, editors Markus P.J. Bohlmann and Sean Moreland compile a series of essays grappling with the evolution of the child, or childish figure, in cinema. Opting for the term “holy terrors,” Bohlmann and Moreland believe the phrase “powerfully evokes the conflation of innocence and fear that defines our cultural conception of childhood. Over the course of modernity, the child has served as both repository and emblem of our aspirations and our fears, our dreams and our nightmares” (11).  This compilation of essays centers on the child or child-like characters at the heart of multigeneric films, but the great bulk of chapters focus on horror cinema, with essays examining Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, and The Turn of the Screw. Though broad in its scope, the text fulfills its goal of providing a comprehensive examination of how the child figure evolved to represent collective societal anxieties about childhood and, to an extent, the horror of parenting.

Bohlmann and Moreland organize the text thematically with five central areas outside the two forewords and introduction: Part I: Look Who’s Stalking; Part II: Frankenstein’s Kindergarten; Part III: The Adoption Papers; Part IV: Troubled Teens and In-Betweens; and Part V: Peek-A-Boo: Future Monstrosities and Beyond. These sections, with two to four essays in each, walk readers through the myriad steps of childhood and adolescent development. Perhaps the most interesting and relevant are sections I and IV which include essays like Brooke W. Edge’s “‘She needs more”: The Villainization of Interfile Women in Horror” and Debbie Olson’s “Monstrous Mammies in Lee Daniels’s Precious.” The breadth of films and scholarly lenses contained within speak to text’s overall strength and contribution to both horror and child studies.

While, as mentioned, the volume is cohesive as a whole, there are particular essays which present new and innovative angles on existing scholarship. John Edgar Browning’s “Disability and Slasher Cinema’s Unsung ‘Children’” reimagines the slasher villain as an “Adult Child”—a phrase coined by Browning in this chapter as “the disabled, child-minded (i.e., mentally underdeveloped) killer,” such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees of Halloween and Friday the 13th respectively (178). His essay provides an interesting perspective by positing that these “Adult Child” slasher villains operate on their own spectrum which tends to “vacillate across vengeance and order” (186).

Kristine Larsen’s “When Procreation Becomes Perversion: Zombie Babies” proves a welcome addition to the existing landscape of zombie scholarship. With the zombie genre as a burgeoning area of academic interest, Larsen provides clear foundations for further examinations of the zombie child in cinema and television. Though, as is stipulated by the text’s scope, Larsen’s analysis centers on zombie children in cinema, which plays off Barbara Almond’s assertion that “the ‘horrifying idea of giving birth to a monster seems to be ubiquitous’” (qtd. in Larsen 74). Ultimately, her argument brings in considerations that zombie babies, and the zombified pregnancies which can sometimes accompany them, play into cultural concerns of infertility, social instability, and uncertainties surrounding the futures of our progeny.

As academic interest in “sexy” topics like horror cinema and monster studies continues to expand, I believe texts like Bohlmann’s and Moreland’s will continue to provide excellent groundwork for future scholars. After reading this series of essays, readers will be convinced of its authority and inclusion within the current landscape of cinema studies. Though public interest in the horror genre often remove the critical elements texts like this aim to unpack, there is no room to deny that the cultural anxieties examined in this volume continue to plague the collective consciousness. For researchers and laymen alike who share an interest in horror, child, monster, or media studies, Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors will be a must read because of its breadth, scholarly approaches, and accessible language.

 

Bohlmann, Markus P.J., and Sean Moreland, editors. Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2015.
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