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Film & Menstruation: Why are Periods Depicted as Monstrous?

Menstruation has been a recurring theme in horror films, often used to evoke feelings of shame and fear. In this comparative analysis, we will delve into the original movie Carrie (1976) and Ginger Snaps (2000) to explore how these films treat menstruation and its transformational aspects. Should horror movies centered on first periods perpetuate shame and fear, or can they take a fiercely feminist approach instead?

In this article /

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    The original movie, Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma, written by Stephen King, and starring Sissy Spacek, follows the story of Carrie, a shy outcast sheltered by her overbearing mother. Her first period at school becomes a turning point as her classmates mock her, and her telekinetic powers are unlocked. The film culminates with a bucket of pig blood being dumped on Carrie’s head, just as she wins (a rigged) prom queen crown, and the height of Carrie’s powers are set off. Destruction ensues.  

    Ginger Snaps, a movie directed by John Fawcett in 2000, follows outcasts Ginger and Brigitte, who navigate high school while dealing with a neighborhood werewolf. Ginger's first period coincides with her being attacked by a werewolf, leading to her transformation into one herself. Around the same time, she begins hooking up with a high school boy—plus growing hair, a tail, and self-healing her scratch wounds. Her sister, Brigitte tries to save her from full transformation, but this metaphor for puberty is her ultimate demise.

    ginger snaps cast Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins in Ginger Snaps (2000), directed by John Fawcett.

    “I’ve got hormones,” Ginger says to Brigitte, “and they may make me butt-ugly, but they don’t make me a monster.” Both films depict menarche as a monstrous turning point with horrifying consequences.

    Mother's Views of Menstruation

    In Carrie, the mother character is devoutly religious, viewing her daughter's period and sexual awakening as sinful. She has kept Carrie in the dark about her changing body, and the film frames menstruation as a thing of self-inflicted sexuality, not a natural part of puberty.

    Conversely, in Ginger Snaps, Ginger's mother celebrates her daughter's first period, seeing it as a special and normal moment in her development. This film takes a more feminist perspective, celebrating womanhood and poking fun at society's reluctance to discuss menstruation.  
    Both approaches create uneasy feelings for the protagonists, albeit for different reasons. Ginger views menstruation as a curse, a way of conforming to the mainstream, while Carrie desperately seeks acceptance but is further ostracized due to her naivety.

    Sexuality and Menstruation

    Both films emphasize sexuality, sexual awakening, and heterosexual gender dynamics.  
    In Ginger Snaps, Ginger is labeled a "cherry hound" and a "tease" by her male peers due to her bold actions. As she transforms into a werewolf, her desires turn bloodthirsty, and she reflects on her newfound urges, “I get this ache... And I, I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to fucking pieces.”

    Carrie's mother warns her about boys when she's invited to prom, emphasizing the abandonment she experienced from Carrie's father and his one-track mind.  
    Ginger Snaps features women in Ginger's life who offer feminist perspectives on male-female dynamics. Ginger's mother stands by her even after discovering her involvement in a murder, suggesting they can leave Ginger's father, if needed. However, she acknowledges the blame placed on women in society.

    Menstruation as Monstrous

    In both films, menarche is depicted as the catalyst for monstrous transformations. After getting her period, Carrie's telekinetic powers are unlocked, leading to a vengeful rampage. Similarly, Ginger's menstruation coincides with her transformation into a werewolf, which prompts her to rebel against societal constraints.

    The key difference is in their responses to these transformations: Carrie is portrayed as more passive and reactionary, while Ginger actively fights against the restrictions imposed on her.  

    The Implications of Periods in Horror Films

    Horror films amplify elements to terrifying proportions. By placing menarche as the catalyst for both stories, the films reflect societal messages of female shame, stigma, and inequality.

    In Carrie, the protagonist becomes a victim of her body, wreaking havoc on everyone at prom. This has been seen as the "defeat of the monstrous feminine”, possibly a response to patriarchal fears during the rise of Second Wave Feminism in the 1970s.

    In Ginger Snaps, the two sisters continually attempt to take control of their narrative and resist societal constraints associated with womanhood. Here, making menstruation monstrous adds a feminist twist to the horror genre, offering a refreshing alternative to the typical portrayal of menstruation in horror films.

    carrie 1976 cast
    Final scenes of Carrie (1976), directed by Brian De Palma.

    In conclusion, Carrie and Ginger Snaps explore menstruation in the context of horror, each with their own unique approach. While both films depict menarche as a monstrous turning point, they offer different perspectives on how their protagonists deal with the consequences.  
    Carrie emphasizes victimization and revenge, reflecting patriarchal fears, while Ginger Snaps presents a feminist take on the horror genre, where the protagonists actively resist the constraints associated with becoming women in society. These films raise important questions about how menstruation is portrayed in horror and its implications for female empowerment and societal norms.


    • “A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part 5: The Blood of “Carrie” - Ms. Magazine.”,
    • Barker, Martin. “Menstrual Monsters: The Reception of the Ginger Snaps Cult Horror Franchise.” Film International, vol. 4, no. 21, 1 July 2006, pp. 68–77, Accessed 24 Oct. 2023.
    • “Ginger Snaps & Its Lasting Effect on Feminist Horror.” Morbidly Beautiful, 28 Feb. 2020, Accessed 24 Oct. 2023.
    • “Katharine Isabelle on How Ginger Snaps Explored the Horror of Womanhood.” Den of Geek, 1 Oct. 2020,
    • Lindsey, Shelley Stamp. “HORROR, FEMININITY, and CARRIE’S MONSTROUS PUBERTY.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 43, no. 4, 1991, pp. 33–44,