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In an earlier post covering the Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I mentioned that horror seems to be the most common film genre in which to find Girls Underground examples. These movies capture the darker side of the stories that literature tends to view through a lens of fantasy. A few are profiled briefly below.

The Woods
Heather, a teenager, is banished to an ominous boarding school by her uncaring parents, where she butts heads with the headmistress (adversary) and her subordinates. Girls are disappearing, and things clearly aren’t right at the school. She has a friend who acts as companion but does not see her through to the end. She spends time forgetting herself. Her visions and dreams are her key to unraveling the mysteries there. But she really just wants to get back home.

The Dark
A little known and disturbing gem, rich in folklore. Ada is a rare adult “girl underground” and like most of those her main objective is to rescue her child. On a visit to her ex’s house in Wales, her daughter appears to drown. Ada learns of the terrifying history of the place related to a strange cult leader and his followers, especially his daughter Ebrill who also drowned and now seems to be haunting Ada. She makes the ultimate sacrifice and delves into the Welsh underworld Annwn (not underground, per se, but under the waves), to confront the evil dead man and win back her daughter.

Poltergeist
Carol Anne is the essence of the creepy-little-girl archetype in modern horror movies, and she is also (at least to a degree) a girl underground. Her ability to hear spirits gets her sucked into the otherworld. She is held there by the “Beast,” the main adversary. She is helped by the spirit medium. However, perhaps due to her very young age, she doesn’t have much volition – she is captured and rescued by others.

Silent Hill
Like The Dark, this features an adult GU who must rescue her child, another mysterious girl who resembles the protagonist’s daughter, and a scary religious cult, as well as a disturbing ending where two worlds don’t quite match up like they should (strangely, they both also star Sean Bean as the father). After her daughter Sharon’s nightmares drive Rose to seek out a mysterious abandoned town, Sharon vanishes into the mist there. Rose wanders the monster-filled town searching for her, losing some companions to the monsters, and eventually must confront the cult leader and make a sacrifice in order to save her child.

Friday the 13th and Halloween
Like Nightmare on Elm Street, these both feature several teenagers being murdered throughout the movies, but end up focusing on one girl in particular, who faces off against the adversary. In Friday the 13th, it is Alice versus Mrs. Voorhees. In Halloween, it is Laurie versus Michael Myers.

Dolls

“What’s the matter, afraid of the dark?” “No, afraid of what’s in the dark.”


Just watched the 1987 Stuart Gordon horror movie Dolls for the first time, and it occurred to me halfway through that it was a pretty good Girls Underground example. Little girl Judy and her distant (and remarkably callous) father and stepmother end up stranded for the night at the home of a very strange elderly couple and their many, many dolls. The old man gives Judy his handmade Punch doll (get it? Punch and Judy?), which becomes her first, if silent, companion. Then another stranger comes knocking at the door, and he ends up as a sort of second companion – the only one willing to entertain Judy’s stories of murderous “little people.”

There isn’t a single, concentrated adversary, but rather a host of evil dolls (well…. are they really evil? They only kill the bad people there, after all), but Judy does end up facing off against them alone, when she confronts them and calls them “bad dolls!” and must rescue her companion in the process. The story is missing the normal level of volition from the protagonist, in that Judy is just taken along rather than making her own decision (or mistake), but it gets a bonus point from me for involving an actual descent underground initially (as they enter through the basement).

This is also an excellent example of a Girls Underground story taking place entirely within a house, which happens now and then.

As a sometimes-campy horror movie, I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially since (as I’ve said elsewhere recently) dolls are creepy.

HellraiserNightmare on Elm Street

“You solved the box, we came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures.”

“Kirsty…They didn’t tell you, did they? They’ve changed the rules of the fairy tale. Now I’m longer just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen.”

“Fred Krueger did it, Daddy. And only I can get him. It’s my nightmare he comes to.”

Both the Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street series fit the archetype in some ways. A young female heroine battles the forces of evil, specifically the adversaries Pinhead and Freddy, respectively, whose strange, dark, labyrinthine realms keep seeping into her life (through the magic box in Hellraiser, and through dreams in Nightmare). In fact, in both movies the girl returns to her own home or other “normal” setting within the Otherworld at some point. She has a number of companions, in particular another young girl who’s going through the same thing, who she helps and guides. Both also results from the mistakes of parents or other adults.

While Young Adult Fantasy is the most common genre for Girls Underground books, horror appears to be the most frequent film genre in which to find the archetype.

 

“That myths have traditionally gendered the one [role] male and the other female seems obvious. But as the film critic Carol J. Clover has shown, the distribution of these roles is not graven in stone, for mainstream horror films….position women as heroic combatants, figures who are not at all passive and who succeed in outsmarting formidable male adversaries, many of whom operate out of dark, subterranean spaces.” [Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond The Door]

Perils of Punky

Alright, this one may seem a bit silly, but it fits. In Season Two of Punky Brewster, originally aired in 1985, there was a bizarre two-part Halloween episode called “The Perils of Punky.” (You can usually find this broken up into several parts on Youtube.)

While you don’t have to be familiar with the tv show to appreciate the episode for its Girls Underground qualities, it does help to know that Punky is an orphan (like many other protagonists) and that she has three regular companions/friends, plus her dog (again, in keeping with the archetype).

In this episode, Punky and her friends go on a camping trip. Her dog Brandon chases a rabbit away and they follow, eventually getting lost and coming to a cave. As they explore the cave (underground!), her friends begin to disappear, one by one, and she must rescue them, and fight the Spirit that is her adversary (whose minions include a giant spider with glowing red eyes that gave me nightmares as a kid). She is also helped by a spirit guide who is the ghost of an Indian princess (please ignore the terrible representation of Native Americans, it was an 80’s children’s program after all), who just happens to also look exactly like Punky. In the end, she defeats the evil spirit with love and goodness – which may seem overly sappy, but actually shows up in a number of Girls Underground stories.

This episode was bizarrely disturbing and dark and stuck with me over the years, which is why I remembered it when thinking of potential Girls Underground examples. When I watched it again, the things that scared me as a child didn’t seem so bad anymore, but instead other elements became much more noticeable, like the scene where she finds her friends dismembered and embedded into the rock of the cave, all still alive. Truly horrifying in a way that only kids programs seem to accomplish.

Silence of the Lambs
“Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.”

Perhaps more of an “honorable mention” than a full-fledged Girls Underground example, The Silence of the Lambs (movie) still bears some discussion. This will be only the first of several horror movies profiled here – aside from fantasy, horror is the most common film genre in which to find the archetype, and is teeming with solid female protagonists battling evil (and often supernatural) male adversaries.

Clarice (an adult now, but orphaned at a young age, true to form) is on a mission to track down an elusive and gruesome serial killer. Aside from a friend at the FBI, her main “companion” in this venture is also in his way an adversary: Hannibal Lecter, another serial killer. He helps and guides her, trading for pieces of her, and he gives her many riddles to solve. He resides underground in a cell at the beginning, and when the final showdown with the real adversary (Buffalo Bill) happens, it also is underground, in a basement. While there is no distinct “otherworld” that Clarice goes to (unless you count the mad world inside a serial killer’s mind), she does have a lofty goal (rescuing a kidnapped girl), which is time-sensitive, as well as a terrifying adversary and strange companion.

While quite different in detail from most other Girls Underground examples, this does show how the archetype can manifest in other ways, even with adult protagonists living in the “real world.”

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

The Oracle


THE GIRLS UNDERGROUND STORY ORACLE - tapping into the Power of Story for guidance and insight. Learn more here.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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