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A Mother’s Dilemma

Evil mothers, along with their lasting influence despite their inevitable violently brought about absence, populate the horror genre substantially, and some possible reasons for this have been mentioned throughout this article. One possibility is the importance of intertextuality for the horror genre in general. Formulas that have been established, monsters that have managed to scare audiences, and characteristic or effective filming techniques are frequently reiterated, reused, and reinterpreted, and whenever those formulas are supplied with a new twist, we may just be confronted with an attempt to play with the expectations of the movie audience, which is frequently very familiar with the genre and its conventions and so requires more shocking.

Chances are that the genre’s close affiliation with psychoanalysis has led to this increased interrogation of the particular influence of the mother on a child’s psychic maturation. From the Freudian Oedipal complex to the Lacanian imaginary phallus, along with the Kristevan first pre-object of need, in psychoanalysis the mother is granted a ‘privileged’ yet problematic position with regards to psychic individuation. Her position is privileged insofar as ‘her comprehensive power requires her symbolic homicide’ as Gal Ventura pointed out (2015, 28), yet this eradication of her is ‘required’ due to ‘the contemporary inclination toward independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy’, whereas ‘an aspiration towards communality and interdependence’ (Ventura 2015, 27) seems to be a goal worth striving for. it would certainly allow for a greater nearness, possibly making the struggle for individuation less violent.

Psychoanalytic theory has frequently and rightfully been criticized for being reductionist, which does not mean that it has failed to deliver any important insights or further academic discourse. Its often seemingly easily comprehensible theories, especially those put forward by Freud, which have had a great impact on manifold cultural imaginations, are gladly drawn upon by many a movie director. In the case of the horror film, they have led to a formulaic pattern used to explain abnormal psychic individuation, by focusing on sexual deviance and the mother as the parent held responsible for her children’s mental development. This evil mother—according to horror film’s logic—has to be violently erased from the screen but this attempt to forcefully abject the first abject will make itself felt as a psychopathological effect in the child. The evil mother therefore poses a threat to society at large, for her eradication is the beginning of her son's killing-spree. If a daughter takes such actions against her oppressive mother, it will lead to the daughter’s immediate demise, at least according to the little filmic evidence we have.

Bloch’s outrageous ‘analysis’ of Ed Gein and Hitchcock’s filmic version of the novel defined a new kind of psychokiller, an individual both sexually and morally deviant partially due to the influence of his overbearing mother. This simplistic yet easily comprehensible reasoning reduces the mother’s role to the upbringing of her child. The forcefully felt presence of the violently made absent mothers in horror movies grants them a powerful yet undesirable position. The mother receives agency almost exclusively through the actions of her ill-bred child and those actions speak for themselves. That the evil and eventually absent mother as a scapegoat for the killer functions with multiple points of origin is, I hope, what has been shown in this article. Western culture’s still very prevalent gender roles become particularly clear when the depiction of ‘misguided’ mothers is juxtaposed and the sex of the child is considered.

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