Why Did Satan Start Possessing Girls In Movies In the 70s?


Satan experienced a surge in popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the time, religion was becoming less popular (as was attending church) due to the sexual and countercultural revolutions. Lucifer moved out of confession boxes and joined Hollywood, starring in films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

“Rosemary’s Baby,” which starred Mia Farrow, started the trend of supernatural horrors taking over big screens. It depicted the devil showing himself by possessing children. In 1973, he possessed the body of actress Linda Blair, who played a 12-year-old victim of possession named Regan in “The Exorcist.” Yet again, in 1976’s “The Omen” by Richard Donner, the Antichrist infiltrated the household of the American ambassador to Britain.

But how come this genre became so wildly popular? It was the perfect blend of Cold War paranoia, feminist discourse, and ongoing conversations about marriage, motherhood, and the various hardships that women faced. Contemporary politics showcase a divided public with polarizing politics, brutal war, and terrorism, giving an apocalyptic energy to the air, as some people with dark humor like to joke.

But this concern that we’re nearing the end of the world is nothing new. History repeats itself, and the belief that we live in times of doom has been shared for centuries. In the 16th century, German Anabaptists believed that in their lifetime, they would witness the end of the world. This belief can be seen in Victorian literature as well, with Stoker’s “Dracula” and “The Turn Of The Screw” being prime examples. Just like the rise of Satanic Hollywood flicks in the 60s and 70s, these works expressed concern about the future of society through demonic children characters.

It’s not a shocker that when the Cold War was at its peak and we seemed to be constantly on the edge of a nuclear apocalypse, the devil would move on from literature and start popping up in the cinema. A central theme in fears of the apocalypse is the changing roles of women, as many feminists have observed. Movies like “Carrie” and TV series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” showcase the idea of female empowerment influencing the world’s destiny. This can also be seen in films like “Rosemary’s Baby,” where Mia Farrow’s character shows the start of a new social and sexual movement at the beginning of the 1960s.

Rosemary was newly wed to a struggling actor, taking on the role of a housewife at a time when women were getting greater autonomy over their bodies and had access to birth control. At the start of the movie, she mentions that she “plans” to have kids, and simply the suggestion of family planning was an indicator that the sexual landscape was shifting. 

The horrors in the film weren’t just supernatural; they were psychological. In a harrowing scene, Rosemary eats a suspicious chocolate mousse that ends up being drugged. As a result, she passes out and is sexually assaulted by Satan. This gives viewers the insight that demons of the underworld aren’t the only thing a woman has to be scared of; involuntary pregnancy and marital violence are equally horrifying, and they can happen to anyone.

As Rosemary progresses in her pregnancy, she frequently feels pain and sickness until she’s convinced that her body no longer belongs to her. At the time, the world was still five years away from Roe v. Wade being passed by the American Supreme Court. The decision would allow American women to abort their unwanted pregnancies. When Mia Farrow played a character whose identity as a woman was defined by the domestic horrors of being a mother, it reflected much of the discussion surrounding feminism and women’s rights at the time. 

In “The Exorcist,” there’s an apparent link between a growing girl reaching adolescence at the same time that a demon possesses her. But what’s equally interesting is how the situation affects her single mother. Linda Blair’s character is 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of Chris MacNeil. Chris is a successful actress and, hence, is financially independent. Chris’s name alone shows some gender ambiguity, symbolizing a new kind of family that doesn’t require a patriarch.

However, when Chris is out at her job and leaves her daughter unsupervised, Regan starts playing with the Ouija board that causes her possession, presenting the idea that career women (and single moms) can’t have it all. 

When Rosemary and Chris both become mothers to demon children, they’re yielding themselves to the inevitability of the patriarchy. When “Rosemary’s Baby” finally comes to a finish after the protagonist spends the entire film trying to discover what’s happening to her baby, the truth doesn’t come with a sense of victory. Instead, the discovery forces Rosemary to embrace it as an unavoidable reality. She must spend the rest of her life submitting as a wife and a mother to a life she did not agree to, raising the child of Satan, who will one day destroy the world. 

In “The Exorcist,” various religious patriarchal characters, such as the priests, deny the existence of a fatherless family by intervening to save Christ and her daughter. Although Chris is an atheist without religious relief, she must submit to this authority because she was a negligent mother who left her daughter unsupervised.

Although Regan is saved by her demon being banished (unlike Rosemary), her mother is destined to give up her showbiz career and be imprisoned in the domestic realm. Like Rosemary, her entire identity revolves around motherhood. Both films show that, whether it’s due to Christianity or Satanism, religion is at the epicenter of both women losing autonomy over their lives.

This movie genre doesn’t explore society’s existential fears through the war or imperialism that is responsible for these worries. It uses the bodies of women. Since our future is children, the cultural concept of motherhood has always been used to enforce how social values are maintained. When people ask whether societal evil is due to nature or nurture, mothers and women can always be blamed. Their continuously evolving roles in culture (primarily through the lens of reproduction) can be perceived simultaneously as a sign of social progress and a desire to regress to outdated social values.