I said it once and I’ll say it again, horror is the first genre to take a look at society and recognize problems that need to be addressed. With respect to disability representation in horror, the call may be coming from inside the house. Making sure everyone has a place here isn’t a luxury but a necessity. Vilifying our own continuously is dangerous and perpetuates actual real-life consequences.
But, what about when it’s done right? Unfortunately, this isn’t there aren’t a full ten on this recommendation list that I can in good nature give because disability viability is a relatively new construct.
So I’ve split the list into two categories. Movies I think did right by their disability representation in horror, and movies who’s disability representation in horror had the right spirit, but should have done a bit more research.
Disability Representation Done Right
1. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Growing up in the most notoriously haunted house in the country has its ups and downs. Okay, mostly downs. For five siblings battling the memories of ghosts proves to be harder than anticipated. Some more than others.
In my unprofessional opinion, this is one of the best representations of PTSD and OCD I’ve seen in a horror film. Despite the trauma being caused by literal ghosts, the after-effects are very realistic to what people can experience through the healing process of grief, horror, and emotional depletion.
2. A Quiet Place l / ll (2018 / 2020)
Amid the apocalypse, creatures that hunt by sound plunge the world into silence. But staying silent is much harder than it seems.
You knew it was coming. One very glaring problem within the representation within this genre is the fact that it’s rare for an actual disabled character to play the roles made for them. Millicent Simmonds was asked to play the character of Regan specifically because she is deaf. Despite the movie capitalizing on the idea of silence, Regan’s disability wasn’t a commodity but rather an unfortunate circumstance of the reality she belongs to.
3. Bird Box (2018)
You see it, you die. When a creature just beyond your line of vision forces half the population to commit suicide taking away one of your most dependent senses might be the only way to make it out alive.
This one’s place on this list could be debated but let me make my case then you decide. First, a spoiler warning, if you haven’t seen it yet. The entire movie hinders upon someone’s ability to acclimate to the loss of a sense. This isn’t a new plot, but what this movie did differently is it made sure to drive home the idea that disability isn’t a hindrance. Horror has a bad habit of capitalizing off the idea that, if the disability isn’t marketable, then leave them for dead. This movie doesn’t do that.
4. The Woman in the Window (2012)
Confined to her home by her mind, Dr. Anna Fox has had a hard time making connections. But like any introvert, she’s taken under the loving companionship of an extroverted woman across the street. Unfortunately, it all turns sour when Anna witnesses something through the window that may force her out of her bubble whether she is prepared or not.
There are very few movies that encapsulate the isolation of agoraphobia. Over the pandemic, it felt like the world got a micro-dose of that fear, but this movie depicts horrifyingly well what happens when your disability is used against you in dangerous situations.
5. Black Swan (2010)
The world of dance is a dark and competitive place. Asking dancers to sacrifice their time, body, and sometimes even their mind with sometimes little payoff. What would you do to stay in the limelight?
You all wouldn’t know this, because I’ve never mentioned it, but I used to be a dancer. This movie hit such a visceral part of my body. The slow-burning descent into madness, the competition, the weakness. It’s truly one of my favorites.
Right spirit, but the execution was a little off.
1. The Takings Of Deborah Logan (2014)
When a documentary team asks to interview and survey Deborah Logan to monitor the ongoing effects of Alzehimers the Logan family is hesitant to agree. After some convincing, the team starts to wonder if the cause of Deberoha’s ailment is something of natural causes, or if something larger is going on.
It started so well. If you’ve ever worked in the medical field, you know good and well how scary deteriorating diseases can be. The research, the care, and the representation of what that can look like was well done throughout the first half of the film. I wasn’t inherently upset at the turn it took as there are very few routes you can take with an illness like this without turning it into a monster. Though it did land its spot down here.
2. Misery (1990)
After a car crash that left Novelist Paul Sheldon in a wheelchair, he is taken in by a super fan/nurse that may or may have other plans for his recovery.
It’s the blueprint. One most of you were probably waiting to see on this list somewhere. Everyone and their mom has heard of Misery. This isn’t the only Stephen King submission on this list and truthfully there could have been more, but this is one of the higher-rated of his films that depict disability in juxtaposition to the antagonist rather than marrying the two.
3. Escaping the Madhouse: A Nelly Bly Story (2019)
Nellie Bly, one of America’s first investigative journalists goes undercover as an amnesiac to explore the heinous conditions at the Blackwell Asylum for mentally unwell women.
It’s no secret that the medical industry has for women has a dark history, especially for marginalized communities. The reason this one is in the “right spirit” category is because it highlights the effects of wrongful medical treatment and the reality behind breaking someone’s mind for the sake of sadism. The main character, nor the side characters are shown to be inherently disabled. Nelly is a journalist writing about the medical mistreatment of disabled and disenfranchised women.
4. The Midnight Club (2022)
When Sandra is diagnosed with cancer her life plunges into never-ending doctor appointments and medicine. When she finds a secluded manor for sick kids she hopes it is her chance to find some connections with people who know what she’s going through. What she finds is a group called the Midnight Club that gathers to tell spooky stories, but what happens when some of those stories become reality?
Did you ever watch the fault in our stars? The breakfast club okay this is their lovechild if that child was possessed. This is a movie that sheds a pretty good light on illness and doesn’t place the vilification on the illness rather than simple ignorance.
5. Silver Bullet (1985)
Claws and teeth gnash in the shadows. Who will step up to defeat the beast? Well, a lot of people actually, but who will succeed? Werewolves or wheelchairs… one victor.
As I said, Stephen king has had a handle on this part of the genre for a while. Its accuracy for depicting wheelchair use isn’t for me to say, but when I asked for disability recommendations this one came up at least a dozen times.
A solid portion of the movies on this list are of a newer generation of horror, and that is for a good reason. We’ve only begun to see a real industry change for marginalized voices in horror in the last fifteen years or so. That isn’t to say there aren’t any older goodies, but they are farther and few between.
For the sake of the genre, let’s hope this trend turns into a standard.