Hello, all! Today I watched a lovely movie called The Hills Have Eyes, and while it didn’t inspire me to write an entire post about the movie, it did lead me to another subject: babies. They feature pretty heavily in horror movies and more often than not are the subject of the scares. The entire opening sequence of American Horror Story: Murder House is dead babies. Ghostly baby dolls, demon babies, eraserhead babies (they deserve a category all their own), you name it, and some baby has done it.
But babies can also play a different role in horror movies, the role of the innocent.
Babies are the golden ticket of horror movies. They don’t die. When I say babies, I mean full-ass babies. Helpless, mewling, terrible burdens in any life-or-death situation babies. I don’t mean children in general, because even though it’s rare, children do die in horror movies. There’s an entire list on Bloodydisgusting. com if you care to reminisce about the worst of their death scenes.
The Hills Have Eyes is a perfect example of the “immortal baby” trope. I began the movie trying to predict who would make it out of the inevitable gore fest alive, and while most of my predictions were wrong (I thought asshole Doug would be killed first but he actually made it to the end), I knew that the baby would live. Even when it would make infinite more sense for poor baby Catherine to have died (she’s in the hands of mutant psychos for god sakes), she managed to power through with barely a stain on her adorable purple onesie. And I realized after the movie was over that the only thing that saved asshole Doug from death was his parental status. If you are in a horror movie and you have a baby, you will survive.
Why is this? It goes against any real-life logic. Horror movies put characters in horrid situations which require all the knowledge and power they can muster. Give them a baby to hold and their chance of surviving should diminish. It’s impossible to fight off a monster with a baby in your arms, or a masked serial killer, or anything for that matter. Having a baby should be the equivalent of having Anthony Anderson in a cop show: imminent death.
Or in the words of Roger Sterling:
Irrelevant Mad Men digressions aside, babies should be a death sentence for horror movie characters, but they aren’t. We can kill off old women and teenagers and harmless middle-aged men but we cannot, under any circumstances, harm the baby. We get such a visceral reaction from even the potential harm of a baby, but have no qualms about the deaths of characters of every other age. Take The Walking Dead, for instance. There are dead children in all of the seasons, and while they were unsettling, the story would pause for a moment, reflect on the brutality of it all, and move on. But then came the end of Season 3 in which the Governor attacks the prison. The lives of numerous characters are in peril, but the shot of an empty, bloody baby car-seat was too much to handle. It was too upsetting for many viewers to imagine the death of Baby Judith, which is exactly why the show runners cut it. The original comics have Judith dying, but not so for the show.
Babies are the thick black line that must not be crossed. They are the symbols for hope, for new life, for inherent goodness. But the line grows thin the moment the babies start to age. It often makes sense. If innocence is they to survival, then why are dogs and cats, equally as innocent as any baby, sacrificed left and right in horror movies? They’re like the canary in the mine and are always the first sign of impending danger. Some people will say that they cry more when the dog dies than when a person dies, but how much more would they cry if the baby died?! We don’t often get the answer to that question and here’s why: to our society, the death of a baby is probably the most egregious thing that could ever happen. In the Hills Have Eyes, the family’s car crashes. Despite the fact that there are two other children (technically teenagers) in the car, the first thought on all of the adult’s minds is the welfare of the baby. When Lynn hears screams from the trailer and enters to see her sister being raped, she ignores her in favor of saving her baby (look at all the good that did her). I’m not saying that this is surprising (of course a mother would try to save her baby first), I’m just trying to demonstrate how our culture values the lives of babies over pretty much everyone else.
No one, no matter how hard-hearted, can remain unaffected by the death of a baby. It’s a biological reflex. We’re wired to want to protect them. Even people like me, who admittedly have shed more tears at the death of fictional cats than fictional people, can’t stand the thought of a baby’s death. And anyone who thinks they’re the exception, I dare you to watch Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father because you will cry so much you might explode and the worst part is that you feel worse the next day.
If a baby does happen to die in a horror movie, then you know that you’re watching something hella serious. Things like miscarriages or stillbirths don’t count because those are natural occurrences and are the basis of a bunch of films. The actual murder of a baby is so rare in horror movies, or any type of film, that I’m finding it difficult to think of any examples. Even after doing a google search, I find tons of examples where children die in movies, but I can only find two mentions of a baby’s death and that’s some movie called Feast 2, which from the comments, doesn’t seem to be very notable, and The Plain Truth, which is based on a Jodi Picoult book. The only one I can think of in television is in American Horror Story: Murder House. How is this possible?
It’s interesting to me because in real life, babies are killed all of the time, but it’s a cardinal sin to replicate that in a movie. Our greatest fear, the death of a baby, isn’t shown in an entire genre whose sole purpose is to scare us. Some people might say that horror movies are immoral and to that I say well at least they don’t kill babies. But they do kill dogs. A lot of them.
This is a pretty morbid post. Why did I write 1100 words about the deaths (or non-deaths) of babies? I don’t know, guys. This is what I do when I don’t have school.
Speaking of children dying, they remade that French horror film Martyrs for an American audience, but apparently they watered it down quite a bit for us. Why make it at all then? Thank god they’ve stopped talking about remaking The Orphanage. I don’t think I could handle them ruining my favorite film. Let’s hope they don’t get any other dumb ideas.