by Caitlin Marceau
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) has spent the better part of her life being tormented by her “best friend” Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep), but it’s only when Madeline steals her fiancé Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) that she crosses a line there’s no coming back from. This ultimate betrayal leads Helen to insanity and—after spending some time in a psychiatric hospital—revenge. Taking a potion that preserves her youth and gives her unearthly beauty, Helen is determined to break up Madeline and Ernest’s unhappy marriage. But it doesn’t take Madeline long to discover what Helen has done, forcing her to take the serum too, and soon both women are stuck in an eternal battle as frenemies.
Death Becomes Her is a fun film that, at times, feels like a supernatural reimagining of Mean Girls (2004), despite predating it by over ten years. The relationship between Helen and Madeline feels painfully familiar, and most individuals will be able to recognize at least one person in their life who fits this insidious, superficial, friend role. While the trope of women competing with each other is nefarious in horror (and media in general), Death Becomes Her does a great job of making this generally unpleasant stereotype fun, and even gives it immediate, visual, consequences.
Streep does a great job of playing the best friend/biggest rival. Well spoken, kind in the public eye, and impeccably dressed, she brings this character to life with style and class. Madeline comes across as easily jealous, greedy, and cold. Hawn, on the other hand, does a great job of playing the innocent, scorned, woman. She’s kind, compassionate, and her obsession with Madeline—and drive to get revenge on the her—feels a little too convincing.
The serum that gives them eternal life is also an exceptionally creative element in the film. Unlike other potions which guarantee eternal youth, beauty, and physical health, this potion didn’t promise anything beyond beauty and youth. When the two women (spoiler alert) kill each other, their bodies die and begin to decompose. Their wounds don’t heal, their lively glow doesn’t come back, and they’re essentially forced to spend eternity as two animated corpses who hate each other. And while the film isn’t technically listed as horror, we can’t imagine anything scarier than spending the rest of time with a backstabbing best friend.