5 Genre Movies that Debase Disability Stereotypes
Mental, physical, and sensory disabilities have been a common trope in movies since way back when. Sadly, the unfortunate truth is that horror movies more often than not depict disability as either being closely related to evil or a synonym for helplessness.
Thankfully, times are changing, and whilst many films continue along those same lines, plenty of contemporary filmmakers are depicting disabled people exactly as they should be: complex, independent, and, when the situation requires, gung-ho human beings, perfectly capable of taking care of themselves even when up against savage killers.
A perfect example of horror movies challenging disability stereotypes is Mike Flanagan’s latest release, Hush, in which a deaf and mute novelist, Maddie (Kate Siegel), finds herself fighting for her life when an intruder sets about tormenting her when he discovers her specific disabilities.
To celebrate the release of Hush, Dread’s here with five genre films that challenge movie-incited disability stereotypes…
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Flanagan and co-writer Kate Siegel both confess that Wait Until Dark was one of the key inspirations behind Hush, switching Audrey Hepburn’s blind housewife Susy Hendrix for deaf and mute thriller novelist Maddie (Siegel).
Advocated as the scariest movie of all time in Stephen King’s non-fiction book Danse Macabre, in which he described Alan Arkin’s performance as possibly “the greatest evocation of screen villainy ever,” Wait Until Dark is pretty much as taut a thriller as you’ll find.
Regular James Bond helmer Terence Young keeps the tension running high as a trio of ruthless criminals in search of a heroin-stuffed baby doll pay Susy a visit when she’s home alone, thinking her blindness will work in their favor. She might be blind, but she’s anything but stupid, and her other heightened senses soon raise her suspicions before she takes the bull by the horns to even the balance.
Director Michael Apted made damned sure that Emma Brody (Madeleine Stowe) didn’t follow in the footsteps of every other stereotypical innocent and defenseless blind woman when she believes she may have witnessed a murder after receiving a cornea transplant that restores her vision.
Although struggling to adapt to her new (now visible) surroundings and not 100% convinced what she saw was indeed a murder, Detective John Hallstrom (Aidan Quinn) is assigned to her case to watch over her, although it turns out she’s quite the tough cookie when things turn pear-shaped, and she certainly has no qualms when it comes to speaking her mind.
Extra plaudits to DP Dante Spinotti, as he forges an aesthetic that cleverly lets us see things from Emma’s perspective, making it almost as hard for the audience to decide if everything she’s seeing is to be believed.
Curse of Chucky (2013)
Truth be told, with each entry in the Child’s Play franchise going from bad to worse, I had little to no hope going into this one, but being the throwback to Chucky’s early days that this sequel is, things were much more entertaining than what we’ve come to expect from Don Mancini of late.
This latest installment finds a wheelchair-bound Fiona Dourif as Nica, still grieving over the death of her mother. Whilst friends and relatives come to stay with her in this time of loss, that’s not the only person intent on “taking care” of her as a Good Guy doll mysteriously arrives at the creepy household via special delivery.
Curse of Chucky fits right into this list alongside the other movies with Dourif, despite being condemned to a wheelchair, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast when it comes to facing everyone’s friend till the end.
Monkey Shines (1988)
George Romero’s adaptation of Michael Stewart’s novel sees the previously fit as a fiddle law student Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) trying to come to terms with life in a mechanized wheelchair after he is hit by a truck. As a heartfelt gesture, his scientist friend Geoffrey (John Pankow) comes bearing gifts in the form of Ella, a simian aide, who is instructed to help Allan around the house.
Up to that point everything sounds like the perfect plan of action, but Geoffrey has been injecting Ella with a special serum on the quiet that allows her to telepathically hone in on Allan’s thought processes, turning the organ grinder and the monkey into one and the same thing.
Although Romero certainly beats around the bush in terms of exploring the ins-and-outs of the protagonist getting to grips with life after the accident, where Monkey Shines really shines is when Allan realizes, after being unable to prevent more than the odd death, that only when he is capable of summoning up his own inner strength will he be able to stop Ella from taking over completely.
The Human Race (2013)
Despite being considered by many as a poor man’s Battle Royale or Hunger Games, writer-director Paul Hough’s The Human Race is another prime example of people adapting their disabilities into advantages.
Eighty strangers, including a one-legged war vet, a couple of deaf friends, a cancer survivor, and a seven months pregnant woman, are suddenly ripped out of their daily lives and forced to take part in a brutal race to the death. The rules are simple: Follow the arrows or you will die, step on the grass and you will die, get lapped twice and you will die. Only one participant will survive. Race or die.
If you’ve seen the likes of Battle Royale, then you know that it’s every man for himself when only one can come out alive. Physical disabilities are anything but an unfair disadvantage in this game as survival (or serial slaughtering, depending which way you look at it) depends that much more on competitors’ morals than it does on their physical prowess.