Author: Neil Gravino
Easter is a short film in the Holidays horror anthology, released in 2016. Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy, it tells the tale of a young girl (played by Ava Acres), who is conflicted about the Easter holiday; having just learned of Jesus’s death and resurrection at church, she has a hard time reconciling the story with her mom’s tales of the Easter Bunny, whom no child has actually seen. What follows is one of the most disturbing yet surreal scenes out of recent horror: as the girl traverses the dark hallway of her home to get a glass of water, she encounters the Easter Bunny. But as is to be expected of a horror story, this Bunny is a horrifying, blasphemous combination of the cute holiday mascot and Christ— the raw, flayed, crown of thorns, pierced side, and stigmata-riddled Christ of the Crucifixion story. He is the girl’s confusion made real. Cowering in fear of this monstrosity, the girl is told that she must now “take [his] place.” When the girl questions whether she will see her mother again, the creature replies— with seemingly sadistic glee— that she never will. The short then ends with the girl transforming into a new Easter Bunny.In an article for Fangoria, director Nicholas McCarthy speaks of how the short was based on his own confusion over believing in both the Easter Bunny and Jesus, and his eventual decision to leave the Church when he got older. “So when I think of Easter,” McCarthy says, “I think about religion and the loss of faith.” With that in mind, then, Easter deals with a young girl going through changes and growing up, encountering a dangerous creature that plays a role in that growth. In many ways, it is a modern reinterpretation of the classic fairy tale about a young girl and a monster—“Little Red Riding Hood.”
Like all fairy tales, “Little Red” has been retold in different versions over the years. While some elements remain, others are altered; in one older French variant called “The Grandmother,” there is no woodsman and the girl saves herself, while her grandmother remains dead (Singing Bones). In “Little Red Riding Hood in Oral Tradition,” Yvonne Verdier picks apart the original folkloric elements of the tale and how they relate to the expectations of young girls back when it was first being told, specifically the symbolism of a young maiden encountering a predator in the dark woods. Verdier makes particular note of the scene in older versions of the tale where Little Red gets into bed with the wolf, commenting that the preceding scene— of Little Red undressing before joining the wolf— hints more at the tale’s themes of puberty and sexual initiation.
Similarly, upon encountering the Easter Bunny, Acres’ character is made to feel the creature’s pierced side— a twisted allusion to the New Testament tale of Doubting Thomas. The narrative makes it clear that the girl is uncomfortable, while the Easter Bunny appears to be satisfied, making the implied symbolism tie into Little Red’s own story of initiation in the presence of an intrusive male creature.
It may seem a bit odd to compare something as innocuous as a bunny to the more savage wolf, but in a tale dealing with the transition from child to adult, particularly one featuring a young girl in the lead, the rabbit is just as relevant. In Greco-Roman myth, rabbits were associated with fecundity, and had the “gift of Aphrodite” for their fast rate of giving birth, and they appeared on tombs, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth. Chinese mythology even features a woman on the moon who has a rabbit as her companion (Windling). No matter the country, rabbits have always been associated with fertility and generative forces. The rabbit has also been a symbol for chastity, coming from the ancient belief that a rabbit could give birth without the need of a mate (Abraham). The concept of chastity and virgin birth becomes more appropriate in regards to Easter, with the film’s conflation of Christ— a man born of a virgin— with the Easter Bunny.
Meanwhile, the associations with fertility, life, death, and rebirth, while also tying into the story of Christ, equally hold a lot of weight in a story of a girl growing up and, in the process, “dying” and being “reborn” as a different person. “Little Red Riding Hood” also deals with the cycle of life. In “The Grandmother,” the wolf, disguised as Little Red’s grandmother, invites the girl to eat. The food, however, turns out to be her grandmother’s flesh (Singing Bones). Little Red unintentionally commits cannibalism by eating her grandmother, representing her taking her place as the younger generation, which is followed by the scene of the girl joining the wolf in bed, thus continuing the cycle until she herself is inevitably replaced by her own descendants (Verdier).
Which leads to the final point: after being told that she must “take [his] place,” the little girl of Easter is transformed into a new Easter Bunny. Though the transformation is relegated to a shadow on the wall, we see the lead-in: taking the Easter Bunny’s hand, the girl closes her eyes while the creature places a small egg in her mouth, while ominously chanting. This is notable, because, in addition to symbolizing birth and creation, the egg is also a symbol of rebirth and renewal, such as when the phoenix rises from its own egg after being consumed by flames. So then, does the little girl of Easter effectively die, her innocence cast aside, being reborn as a creature unlike her previous self (Newall). “You will see things few have ever seen,” the Easter Bunny promises. “Magical things!” Meanwhile, his claim that the girl will never see her mother again can be seen as symbolic of how the girl can never return to her former, innocent life. The stage is set, then, for the girl to begin her new life, one filled with simultaneous wonder and horror, just like all who grow up.
What makes Nicholas McCarthy’s film work is its strange, surreal fairy tale-like quality. We have a young girl, a monster, and many allusions and symbols to growth, fertility, and rebirth. McCarthy says in his interview in Fangoria that the film came out of the simple idea of melding the Easter Bunny and Jesus together. But whether he intended it or not, with its symbolism of life, death, and rebirth, his tale echoes many symbols and patterns of old folklore, just like the holiday of Easter itself. His tale of a young girl who is transformed is just a new variation of an old theme, and it will definitely not be the last.
Abraham, Claude K. “Myth and Symbol: The Rabbit in Medieval France.” Studies in Philology 60.4 (1963): 589-97. Web.
Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” Folklore 79.4 (1968): 257-78. Web.
“The Grandmother (France).” RSS. Trans. D. L. Ashliman. Singing Bones Podcast, 25 May 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. <http://singingbonespodcast.com/littleredstories/2016/5/25/the-grandmother-france>.
Verdier, Yvonne. “Little Red Riding Hood in Oral Tradition.” Marvels & Tales 11.1/2 (1997): 101-23. Web.
Windling, Terri. “”Into the Woods” Series, 43: The Folklore of Rabbits & Hares.” Myth & Moor. Windling, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. <http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2014/12/the-folklore-of-rabbits-hares.html>.
Neil Gravino was born in Southern California and has spent most of his life there. In June 2016, he received his Bachelor’s in Literature at Cal Poly Pomona, and is preparing to attend grad school to further his studies. Two of his favorite topics to write about are folklore and mythology, and he enjoys the writings of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Lafcadio Hearn, among others. You can read his short story “A Second Chance” at http://www.cpp.edu/~dhanne/neil18.html. His Twitter is found at https://twitter.com/n6eil.