It’s not hard to understand how pregnancy can be a source of angst and dread. Even in wanted pregnancies, there are very real fears, from the healthy development of the fetus to the specter of maternal and/or fetal death. Women are bombarded with warnings, directions, and horror stories full of “what ifs” and “could happens.” Hormones interrupt sleep and cause emotional swings. The pregnant body becomes community property, constantly prodded and poked by health care professionals and touched and focused on by friends (sometimes tolerable) and strangers (hardly ever). Everyone watches you. Everyone tells you what to do. Nothing you do, nowhere you go, nothing you consume, is solely yours anymore – if there’s not some well-meaning busybody telling you what you should or shouldn’t be putting in your body, there’s the internal pressure of every stinking baby book consumed reminding you that anything you do could harm your child at any moment.
Not to mention, there’s something growing inside you.
You can’t really see it, and you can’t control it, but there’s another entity setting up residence in your uterus. Sometimes you can feel it – a kick to the ribs, something rumbling and rolling. Farther in pregnancy, you can almost see it, an elbow or foot drawing under your skin like a shark’s fin right before it breaks the surface. And you know, no matter how eager you are for the actual pregnancy to be over, it ends in blood.
This shit can be terrifying.
There’s a whole spectrum of films that tap into this primal terror and angst about pregnancy. Some of them focus on the unknown of what your child is going to be, some choose to focus on the body horror of pregnancy and birth. If you’re brave enough to wade into this subgenre, here’s a few films to look out for:
Rosemary’s Baby – 1968
If there’s a grand dame in the scary pregnancy category, it’s Polanski’s adaption of the Ira Levin novel Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary is a young newlywed in New York. As everyone knows, in the late ’60s, Satanists were pretty much crawling out of the woodwork, including in Rosemary’s very hoity-toity high rise. Shortly into her pregnancy, Rosemary begins to expect things aren’t quite right, even as everyone else keeps brushing off her increasingly paranoid accusations.
For people who (rightly) avoid Polanski’s oeuvre, the Levin novel is a tense and effective tale, and Zoe Saldana stared in a recent made-for-TV remake.
Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), and Prometheus (2012)
There are four more films in the Alien franchise, but for our purposes, these are the three that concern themselves with pregnancy and motherhood. Alien gets most of its initial shock by transposing its terrible pregnancy onto one of the male members of the spaceship crew, while Aliens is more concerned with motherhood, both monstrous and fierce. Prometheus has an unwanted pregnancy, a horrific tentacle monster baby, and a self-imposed C-section. None of these are for the faint of heart.
The Brood – 1979
Cronenberg specializes in body horror and his films can be skin-crawling disturbing to watch. Nola Carveth is involved in a bitter custody dispute with her ex-husband and has retreated to an experimental psychiatric instate to try and work out some lingering trauma from her childhood. The institute specializes in a technique called “psychoplasmics,” in which patients release their trauma through actual physiological changes. Nola’s memories take the form of murderous little children, “birthed” from sacs that form on the outside of her body.
Grace – 2009
After Madeline’s husband and unborn child are killed in a horrific car accident, Madeline decides to carry the pregnancy to term rather than undergo an abortion. While the child should have been stillborn, the baby, now named Grace, surprisingly begins to breathe. But her development isn’t normal, and milk doesn’t seem to satisfy her.
The Unborn – 2009
The rare religious horror film that doesn’t pull from Catholic mythology, The Unborn focuses on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk. Casey Beldon discovers that a spirit haunts her family line, and is trying to gain entrance to the world through Casey’s body.
Blessed — 2004
Young professional couple the Howards have been desperate to conceive. They turn to in vitro fertilization and soon find themselves pregnant with twins. Everything would have worked out just peachy, if the fertility clinic hadn’t been run by secret Satanists. They’re everywhere!
Inside – 2007
Pregnant Sarah is involved in (yet another) terrible car accident that leaves her husband dead, though her unborn child survives. Months afterwards, on the eve of her scheduled birth, a strange woman breaks into her home, determined to take Sarah’s baby as her own.
This French horror from 2007 is the most graphic on this list and should be avoided by those sensitive to gore.