The Original Dangerous Women and the concept of evil women in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness
Blog post : Jessica
The supernatural elements in the horror genre are often associated with the concept of moral evil. Elements of the supernatural manifest as a dark force that acts as an agent of Satan or Satan himself coming to possess the living to make them perform acts of immoral evil or bring “him” or his forces into the world. The themes of evil and it spreading into the world are heavy in both John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. While both films are known for having a more cosmic and other worldly element of horror, it is evident that an evil force is trying to take over and cause the end of the world. Something I find interesting about both films, particularly in Price of Darkness, is the role of women bringing about the apocalypse. All four women in Prince of Darkness - Susan, Lisa, Kelly and Danforth - play integral parts in the film to move along the plot and sadly none of them survive in the end. Now, why is that?
One of the many concepts in which feminists have challenged over the years is the assumption within organized fundamentalist religions that women are to be blamed for all the evil in the world. This belief was propagated by patriarchal elements in religion that felt that religion and spirituality was the dominion of man.This was due to women’s relation to flesh, matter and the world which is counter to man’s spiritual and godliness. It was Eve who tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit which then led to mankind’s expulsion from Paradise. Thus, women are easily susceptible to evil, temptation, and sin which has led to atrocities to be enacted against women throughout the ages such as the witch hunts across Europe and the US. A woman birthed evil into the world and it was only through forcing women to accept their gender roles that it would be corrected.
This idea is also enhanced by the concept of Lilith vs. Eve. In Jewish lore, Lilith was Adam’s first wife who was created from the Earth such as Adam was; whereas Eve, his second wife, was created directly from Adam’s rib. Lilith viewed herself as Adam’s equal and not subordinate to him. This is seen in the act of refusing to lie under him during intercourse. She rebelled against him and abandoned Adam and Paradise to be on her own. Lilith is also known to be the bringer of evil into the world. This was due to the fact that she birthed and mothered 100 children fathered by Satan and unleashed them into the world to prey on the children of Adam. Both Lilith and Eve are depicted as having allowed their female sexuality to go unchecked and thus become destructive by literally leading men to their doom.
Lilith and Eve’s story have been constructed in a way that lay the blame for all evil in the world on the actions of a woman. So when I watch Prince of Darkness, I can’t help but be interested in the characters of Susan, Lisa, Kelly and Danforth, the female researchers who are brought on to investigate the liquid evil found inside the Church.
When the movie starts we are introduced to a Priest seeking out the assistance of a Physicist to study the unknown green liquid that seeps evil. Dr. Birack brings along his own students, as well as students and colleagues from other departments to study it and the accompanying scripture. On this team we are introduced to Susan, a radiologist, Lisa a theologian specialized in ancient languages and Kelly and Danforth, Ph.D. students in Physics. All four are intelligent, strong and capable women. They are serious about their work there and not as visibly phased by the evil revelations, unlike their male counterparts. They are also the first to become possessed by this evil in the church and begin killing members of the group and transferring the evil into them. Susan and Lisa work to bring about the incarnation of Satan by transforming Kelly,, who had been chosen due to the marking on her arm. As she ingests the liquid evil, her body transforms. At first it looks like she becomes pregnant and will give birth to something terrible like the story of Lilith. But the liquid takes over her whole body and physical transforms her into something monstrous. I can’t help but ask, why was Kelly chosen? Out of the whole group, she was the most demure and nonthreatening. Was it this apparent weakness that made her the right vessel for evil? Or is it because women are in general weak in will and spirit and thus make us easy prey to evil forces.
We see some interesting parallels to the Adam/Lilith/Eve story, with the men seen eating apples throughout the film (the forbidden fruit) or whenever one of the four women leave the group as if attracted to the evil they become possessed. In contrast, the men are seen either freaking out, having a crisis of faith, wanting to abandon the project, or hiding away. I can’t help but question why these four female researchers, who are perfect candidates for being heroines, must be the ones possessed. Is it because they were more scientific and lacked faith? Is it because they are intelligent and independent and thus break against social norms? Are they seen as inherently evil because they do not exemplify what the ideal woman ‘should’ be? How about when the vial of evil liquid is poured into Kelly and she becomes Satan incarnate. She literally brings the evil into this world through her body. Is that just another jab at the idea that women have the potential for evil and thus have the ability to bring it forth into the world and threaten all of mankind?
What really gets me in this film is the ending, when the possessed Kelly is reaching into the mirror to pull the Father/Anti-God into the world. The entire time, Father Loomis holds the axe and bible close to him but cowers away from her in fear. He is literally paralyzed in fear and does nothing to stop the events from occurring. That in the end, it takes Danforth (the only unpossessed woman left in the group) to make the ultimate sacrifice by running into Kelly and pulling her into the mirror. Then the priest smashes the mirror (his only real action the entire film) causing it so that Danforth can’t make it back through (as we see in the clip of her reaching back from the other side). It took the strength and ultimate courage of a woman to stop the Anti-Father from coming and bringing the end of the world, while the spiritual warrior could do nothing but stare in horror. In the end, Dr. Birack states that both of them were meant to die, it was how it had to be. But why? We then see another scene with the lead having a dream of Danforth’s return indicating she is now possessed by the evil entity. Even the woman who saves the day is demonized.
I don’t know, maybe I am picking at something that doesn’t really exist. But when I watch this film, I can't help but see an issue women have been fighting against for centuries; this concept propagated by religion that women are inherently evil or can be used as vessels to bring evil into the world. That because of the actions of a woman in an attempt to be independent in a paradise, Eden, she is forever seen as a temptress who led humanity astray and thus allowed for evil to come into the world.