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Planetary Archetypes in Horror Movies

It’s now officially autumn/fall, so we’re basically in Halloween season now. One of my favorite things about the Halloween season is watching scary movies. Being an astrologer, I’ve gotten into the habit of categorizing characters or the main themes of a film in terms of astrological archetypes. And while a listicle about horror movies and astrology would likely center on the signs of the zodiac, I’m choosing to center them on the astrological archetypes of the planets instead. Not all movies only fit one archetype, but there do seem to be some general categories movies fall into. Abandon all hope ye who continue reading!

☉ Sun – Bad Dads

The solar archetype is typically associated with kings, leaders, father figures. The inversion of the solar archetype in horror can be terrifying and disturbing because we expect our fathers to be noble protectors. In horror, the Sun can be father figures gone bad. Bad Dads.

The Shining (1980)

Even the title could equally describe the Sun as much as it applies to the ability to witness supernatural phenomena. The film is ultimately about solar figures gone bad, bad father figures. Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) has the potential to be a good man, to be a good husband and father, but he is ‘eclipsed’ by his own personal demons as well as the spirits of the Overlook Hotel and tries to kill his wife and child. In the novel of the Shining, it’s made clearer that Jack’s father was also an abusive alcoholic, and he’s inherited that trauma. It’s also obvious that like his son Danny, Jack also had the Shining, but he tried to block it out with alcohol, unsuccessfully. So, yeah. Bad Dads. I guess we’ll see how Danny Torrance turned out in the upcoming 2019 sequel, Doctor Sleep.

Amityville Horror (1979)

It’s essentially the same idea as the Shining but it’s purportedly based on the real experiences of the Lutz family. A family moves into a new house which is super haunted and the Dad becomes possessed by the murderous ghosts of the house and tries to kill his family, unsuccessfully. Bad Dads.

The Stepfather (1987)

And now you’re getting the idea. In this movie, a serial murderer has killed his own family, assumed a new identity, married a woman with a teenage daughter, and she suspects he might also try to kill them as well, unsuccessfully. Bad Dads.

☽ Moon – Mama Dramas

Similar to the solar Bad Dads are the lunar Mama Dramas. The inversion of the lunar archetype can be deeply unsettling, especially because of how we expect mothers to be loving and nurturing. However this can also work in reverse, that a child’s attachment/relationship to their mother can be what is distorted or subverted.

Psycho (1960)

Sorry if this is spoiler-y but it came out in 1960 and it’s a horror classic so that’s really more of a you problem if this is a spoiler at this point but it’s pretty straightforward: Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins) killed his own mother and talks to her corpse as if she’s alive. He then dresses like his mother and kills people who come to stay at the Bates Motel. The subversion of the child-mother relationship in this movie qualifies it as a hell of a lunar Mama Drama.

Carrie (1976)

This movie is so freakin’ lunar it’s unbelievable. Again, sorry for spoilers but c’mon now. It’s from 1976. Carrie (played by Sissy Spacek) is a teenager with telekinetic powers bullied by the girls at school after she menstruates for the first time in a communal shower, not knowing what it was. (The Moon’s monthly cycle coincides with the menstrual cycle.) She didn’t know because her mother is a truly awful religious zealot who sees sexually charged sin in anything her daughter wants to do. A really bad prom night later, and her mother admits that Carrie was the product of rape, but she shamefully enjoyed it. Carrie’s mother stabs her in the back and in response, Carrie telekinetically projects all the kitchen knives into her mother and burns the house down. So, yeah. Mama Drama.

Aliens (1986)

Now this might seem like a strange one to categorize as a Mama Drama but this sequel to Alien absolutely qualifies, except in this case, it’s a battle between two ‘mothers’ of a sort: the fiercely protective ‘mother’ in Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) vs. the monstrous Alien Queen. The video above explains the Aliens-motherhood connection better than I can in a paragraph.

☿ Mercury – Evil Jesters

Mercury is the planet of speech, communication, flexibility, adaptability, suspense, surprise, and a lot of these themes are tied together in the Mercurial field of comedy. In modern days the Mercury archetype lives in the standup comedian, but their precursors include clowns, puppeteers, harlequins, jesters and minstrels. What they all share in common is that they had the power to be subversive to authority. Humor gave them the wiggle room to say what normally could not be said in other circumstances. Typically the point of comedy is to amuse and provoke, but in horror this can be subverted when things that are in no way funny are treated as funny, or when things that should never talk have something (usually evil) to say.

It (1990) (2017, 2019)

So yeah, clowns in horror are so terrifying we’ve practically forgotten that they’re supposed to be funny. Pennywise the Clown is an archetypally Mercurial figure in horror. He’s meant to be fun and amusing but he’s just terrifying. His jokes suck, because they usually involve severed limbs and blood, etc. He also has the ability to shapeshift in order to manipulate people, which also reminds us of Mercury’s penchant for fluidity and mimicry. Not only that, but in the novel, the way the clown can be defeated is through the “Ritual of Chud” which literally involves exchanging jokes with the clown and the first one to laugh loses. There’s actually a lot more to it than that, but yeah, whether Stephen King intended it or not, the Mercury theme is strong in It. Pennywise is an Evil Jester.

Dead Silence (2005)

Ventriloquist dummies are fucking unsettling as shit. They’re obviously Mercurial because of how they revolve around the principle of communication, since the ventriloquist throws their voice in order to make the dummy appear as if it is actually talking. Dead Silence is about a renowned ventriloquist called Mary Shaw who was accused by a young boy who said he saw her lips move in her ventriloquist performances. When that boy disappeared, his family killed her by making her scream and removed her tongue. Her last wish was to become a dummy. Her ghost now haunts her old dummies, and she kills people by removing their tongues, but only if they scream. So if dummies and puppets creep you out, avoid Dead Silence. Evil Jesters. Child’s Play (1988) and Annabelle (2014) also fall in this Mercurial category.

A Quiet Place (2018)

This film is a very different kind of Mercurial horror film. The Earth has been ravaged by blind extraterrestrial monsters with super sensitive hearing. This forces the protagonists of the film to communicate through American Sign Language (ASL), and most of the film is extremely quiet. Any verbal communication or sound could alert the monsters. The monsters are only killed by an amplified high-frequency sound emitted by a deaf character’s cochlear implant. There are no Evil Jesters per se in this film but it has a decidedly Mercurial premise.

♀︎ Venus – Sexy But Deadly

Venus is the planet of love, romance, beauty. The inversion or subversion of the Venus archetype can be really disturbing, because what is normally attractive and enticing becomes disgusting or horrifying. We see this in the myths of the incubus and the succubus, demonic figures who prey on humans through seduction and rape. The following movies are Venusian horror movies which are Sexy But Deadly.

It Follows (2015)

Basically imagine the movie “The Ring” except instead of being stalked, haunted and killed after watching a video tape, it’s after having sex. A sexually transmitted haunting, if you will. In order to shake it off, you gotta have sex with someone else. Venus is normally good, and in its most conventionally experienced context, sex is great. But it’s not so great when it leads to being followed by…it. Sexy But Deadly.

Under the Skin (2013)

Scarlett Johannsson plays an alien wearing the human body of a beautiful woman. She lures men into having sex with her, where they enter a void where they are consumed. This description hardly does the film justice because although she is putatively the villain, it’s the desires of men and the human obsession with beauty which are revealed to be the true villains of the story. Sexy But Deadly.

Fatal Attraction (1987)

This might fall more under “psychological thriller” than “horror”, but it’s still pretty scary. A married man gets way more than he bargained for after having an adulterous fling. She becomes clingy, then obsessive, harrassing, stalking, threatening suicide, boiling his pet bunny, kidnapping his daughter, trying to kill his wife, etc. Infidelity might be appealing but you also might regret it. Sexy But Deadly.

♂︎ Mars – Gory Slashers

If I had to pick a planet to represent the horror genre over all, I’d pick Mars. Mars is a nocturnal malefic, a planet of violence, the representative of all the dangers and predators of the night. There’s a reason why werewolves only transform at the full moon and vampires are allergic to sunlight. The night is scarier! Not only that, but the Sun is in Scorpio during Halloween/Samhain/Dias de los Muertos/All Soul’s Day, and Scorpio is the nocturnal domain of Mars. This reflects the seasonal associations of death, ghosts and other creepy celebrations at this time of the year. Mars is associated with weaponry, and one of the most popular and common horror film genres is the slasher, the purest expression of what horror films typically are.

Halloween (1978)

Hardly needs an explanation. Archetypal evil madman with a knife escapes a sanitarium and goes on a murderous rampage on Halloween night. Classic slasher.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Leatherface is essentially a human butcher with no care or regard for life. He doesn’t just chase you with a knife, but a mechanized rotating knife. Funnily enough, in one of the beginning scenes one of the victims mentions that Saturn has gone retrograde. This is supposed to foreshadow the unfortunate events of the film. Obviously the writers didn’t know much about astrology because Saturn goes retrograde every year. It might have been more appropriate and significant if the character mentioned Mars had just gone retrograde, which is comparatively rarer and more directly relevant to violence, but okay. Still. A classic Gory Slasher.

Scream (1996)

Scream is a classic mid-90’s slasher movie which openly deconstructs and subverts common horror tropes, which rejuvenated the genre and delivered the scares. Classic Gory Slasher.

♃ Jupiter – Benevolent Malevolence

Jupiter is a planet associated with goodness, faith, optimism, trust, religion, generosity, friendship, wisdom, counsel, opulence, etc. Like the other benefic planet Venus, it is the subversion and inversion of what is typically good that can make Jupiterian themes in horror so disturbing. What appears good and benevolent is actually not. Evil can be masked in worldliness, sagacity and splendor, in broad daylight, with bright colors and a smile. Hope, faith and religion are not enough to stand against evil. One is abandoned by God. Benevolent Malevolence.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Think of this as the original Midsommar. A Christian cop goes to a mysterious island to investigate the disappearance of a girl. Everyone is very hospitable on this island, giving the outward appearance of goodness and innocence. However there is also a strange culture on the island, reflected in their observance of the Celtic religion, unconventional social mores and obsession with creepy animal masks. His investigation ultimately leads him to become ritualistically sacrificed in a ceremony, by burning alive inside an effigy of a wicker man as he prays to a God who will not save him. Benevolent Malevolence. Also, avoid the Nicholas Cage remake of this movie. Bees. Enough said.

Get Out (2017)

This movie is kind of like Stepford Wives but reoriented around race instead of sex. An African-American man goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family. While appearing racially progressive and friendly, they doth protest too much hethinks. In their earnestness to appear to be against racism, they reveal other racial biases and blindspots. He discovers their plot to replace his brain with a white person’s brain, trapping his consciousness in the Sunken Place forever. It’s a horror film which also works as a pointed critique of white ignorance, hubris, arrogance and complacency around racial issues. Except, his critique is not pointed at white conservatives who are more known for their problems with race, but well-meaning white liberals, almost as if to say, ‘even your allies might not have your best interests in mind’. In this movie, Rose and the other wealthy liberal white people may initially appear benevolent toward black people, but are actually malevolent, a clear inversion of the Jupiter archetype. Benevolent Malevolence.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster) is an FBI cop going after a serial killer, Buffalo Bill. The only way she is able to solve the case is by seeking the counsel of the supremely intelligent Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins). He is courteous, pleasant, worldly, intelligent, cultured, sophisticated, so very Jupiterian in many ways. He is also sadistic, cruel, insulting, calculating, violent and effing creepy. Oh and he eats people. So there’s that. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is Jupiterian figure turned on its head, someone who uses their sagacity and intellect for horrific purposes. Benevolent Malevolence.

♄ Saturn – Grimful Dread

Saturn is already a malefic planet, so its appearance in horror is usually closer to a straightforward embodiment of its archetype rather than the subversion of its archetype. Saturn is the planet of time, old age, austerity, seriousness, tragedy, grief, finality, severity, death, consequences.

The Babadook (2014)

Long before the Babadook inexplicably became a gay icon, he was a supernatural force in the terrifying movie The Babadook. A mother and her son are tormented by a supernatural force, the Babadook, but the real monster of the film is grief, which is absolutely Saturnian. The Babadook is essentially a personification of grief, particularly the mother’s grief over her husband’s death, which nearly leads her to killing her son as her mental state degrades (which somewhat mixes in a Mama Drama). The ending of the movie underlines this point about the Babadook, since the entity is never quite defeated but kept at bay, trapped in the basement and fed like a caged animal, suggesting that grief can never quite be defeated, but it can be maintained. Grimful Dread.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

In a similar vein is the extremely creepy and unexpectedly dramatic Netflix series adaptation of “The Haunting of Hill House”. It follows the five siblings of the Crain family, alternating between the traumatic events of their childhoods in an extremely haunted house and their adulthoods where they continue to struggle and move on from the ghosts that haunt them. What makes this show so particularly Saturnian is its focus on the passage of time and the grief of losing a parent and the inevitability of tragic endings. In fact, each of the 5 siblings represent each of the 5 stages of grief, and their storylines revolve around the step they’re associated with: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Final Destination (2000)

Even the title is Saturnian. The villain is literally Death, and it can’t be escaped. A group of teens narrowly avoid being killed on a plane crash when one of them had a vision which stops them them from boarding the plane. They find out from a creepy mortician that they were supposed to die on the plane, and Death will come to each of them in the order of Death’s List. The teens begin to be killed in ever more implausible and gross ways. None survive. Grimful Dread.

♅ Uranus – Science Run Amok

Uranus is the planet of newness, of technological revolutions, scientific disruptions and transcendence of human limits. Sci-fi is essentially the genre of Uranus, which imagines the future and new possibilities. We tend to naturally consider these things to be positives, but it really depends. In the context of horror, the inversion of the Uranus archetype presents scenarios where technological revolutions turn against us, scientific disruptions are grotesque, and the transcendence of human limits never ends well. Man attempts to make something new and succeeds – and it blows up in his face. Science Run Amok.

Frankenstein (1931)

The original sci-fi horror story. Interestingly, Mary Shelley’s alternate title to the book was “The Modern Prometheus”, and Prometheus is a god which most closely matches the astrological character of Uranus. She deliberately wrote Frankenstein as a kind of unholy perverse retelling of the Genesis story about the creation of man. It’s often considered the first true sci-fi story, but I’d say it also qualifies as the first true Uranian horror story. I wouldn’t actually watch it to get scared but it is a classic.

Splice

This movie is basically Frankenstein + Jurassic Park + Island of Dr. Moreau. A couple of scientists splice animal genes together to create new animal hybrids. What could possibly go wrong! 😐 So they get an even worse idea of combining animal and human genes, and they end up creating a human Mewtwo type creature. At first they treat their creation like a new child but as it quickly grows beyond their control, by the end it’s raping and killing people. A disturbing movie about the ugly and dangerous side of genetic manipulation.

Terminator (1984)

Humanity creates Skynet which becomes self-aware and tries to wipe out the human race through time travel shenanigans. I also see a lot of Saturn-Pluto themes in Terminator, but ultimately the premise of man’s creation crossing the line and turning against us lends itself to the category of sci-fi horror: Science Run Amok.

♆ Neptune – Nightmare Worlds

Neptune is the planet of illusions, mystery, fantasy, unreality, misleading visions, dreams, surrealism, etc. At its best, Neptune provides transcendent otherworldly experiences through immersion in virtual reality or altered states of consciousness resulting in dreams and good trips. In the context of horror, Neptune is about nightmares or bad trips: the terror of nightmares coming to life, of getting lost in dream worlds or having those dream worlds follow you into the real world.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

So this movie is a pretty spot on horror version of Neptune. He’s the ghost of a serial killer who only kills teens when they fall asleep, and he kills them in ever more surreal ways in their dreams that bleed over into the real world. Literally. It’s even in the title: A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Insidious (2010)

Seems like a pretty straight forward demonic haunting story but with a cool Neptunian twist. A son goes into an apparent coma which doctors can’t explain, and the family begins to notice creepy supernatural happenings in their house. A psychic explains that their son’s soul is trapped in the astral plane by a demon, in a place called the Further. To save his son, the father has to be hypnotized to sleep in order to astrally project himself into the Further, a creepy AF spirit realm parallel to the real world. But not everything in the Further wants to stay there…

Stranger Things (2017)

This series has Neptune written all over it, from its parallel dimension concept of the Upside Down to its nostalgia for 1980’s horror/sci-fi tropes. Scientists experiment with a psychically gifted child named Eleven to spy on the Russian government by submerging her in water and putting her in an altered state of consciousness. She ends up running across an interdimensional monster and their contact tears open a hole between our reality and theirs. Kids start disappearing, etc. Great fun.

♇ Pluto – Apocalypse Horror

Pluto is the planet of extremes and titanic powers, destruction and transformation, death and resurrection, apocalypse and to some extent, radioactivity. It makes big things small and small things big. Pluto was discovered as humanity was discovering the monumentally destructive power contained within a single atom. With the advent of the nuclear bomb, a true apocalypse became possible for the first time. In horror this is manifested in narratives surrounding global threats and worldwide devastation by a horror that goes far beyond haunted houses and things that go bump in the night.

Godzilla (1954)

Japan is the only country in the world to be deliberately attacked with nuclear weapons. It’s in this literal post-apocalyptic context of Japan that Godzilla emerged in 1954 as an extended metaphor of the terror of nuclear weapons and nature’s revenge against man. Godzilla is a massive ancient prehistoric monster that was awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. And he can destroy everything with an atomic heat blast from his mouth. He is a nuclear weapon. Godzilla is a properly Plutonian monster.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The first zombie movies came from the 1930’s, but George A. Romero’s incarnation really took the concept to the next level. In the movie, the dead are reanimated by radiation from a space probe returning from Venus which exploded in the atmosphere. The dead rise and start feasting on the flesh of the living, and all the protagonists in the film die, and the film hints that the zombie invasion continues to spread. So we can see how this contains a number of Plutonian themes. Other notable films and series in this genre include 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil (only the first one) and the Walking Dead series.

As much as zombies reflect an apocalyptic Plutonian threat, George A. Romero envisioned them as representations of conformity and mindless consumerism, with the survivors representing counterculturalists, anticapitalists and those working for civil rights, social justice and freedom. Mass conformity and mindlessness would perhaps be better represented by Neptune, but Pluto’s path intersects with Neptune’s, so perhaps the concepts of Neptune and Pluto can sometimes be subtly linked.

War of the Worlds (2005)

(I know it’s not strictly a horror film but get over yourself). Similar to how Godzilla and zombies surfaced in response to the threat of nuclear annihilation, Steven Spielberg’s contemporary take on H.G. Well’s victorian novel clearly takes its inspiration from the panic and trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, right down to the images of destroyed airplanes and buildings, and people running away covered in ash. The day is saved (perhaps implausibly) by micro-organisms which the alien invaders are allergic to, which is also a Plutonian reflection of the extreme powers at microscopic scales.

So when you’re watching some scary movies this Halloween, try ruminating on what planetary archetypes are in play, in the narrative or in the characters. It can help you get better at deciphering the planetary archetypes at work in daily life and in the broad sweep of history, and it’s pretty fun. Happy Halloween!

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