How Horror Films Subvert the Fatalistic Tragedy of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Some horror films fall into a subgenre that explores mental illness such as dementia and Alzheimer’s in a unique fashion.
on Feb 3, 2021 · 8 comments

Memory is the bridge of connection. It builds relationships, community, and a societal framework that encompass every person on the planet. Without this bridge, every man is alone on a deserted island.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that destroys that bridge between family members and loved ones. Along with it is the erosion of familial bonds. The death of bonding from a mental illness such as dementia can be a horror story.

Horror has a unique way of subverting the tragedy of mental illness and using it as a plot device that propels the story along and uses it in a metaphorical way. For simply creative purposes, the protagonist with dementia or Alzheimer’s is not an merely object of pity, or sadness, or tragedy. They are usually a forceful part of story, taking hold of your attention and carrying you along for the ride. Not the other way around.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

In The Taking of Deborah Logan, we follow a medical student film crew who follow an Alzheimer’s patient, Deborah Logan and her daughter Sarah and the effects of the disease on both.  Deborah, when we first meet her, seems to be doing all right. She’s well put together, a woman of great tastes, impeccable style and seemingly coherent. Yet, the daughter explains that her mother can have good days and bad ones. Throughout the story, Deborah’s signs of Alzheimer’s increase. Her daughter’s stress in evident by her smoking and outbursts.

Had this been any other genre film, the tragedy of this declining relationship would be on display. Yet, with theThe Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) - Watch on Prime Video, ConTV, Shudder, Tubi, and Streaming Online | Reelgood horror element, Alzheimer’s and its effects doesn’t become the focus of the film but the plot device that brings about something more sinister to the forefront.

Deborah begins to exhibit behavior that shows something more than Alzheimer’s is afoot. There’s a scene where she goes into a room and is found staring out into the space at a dark corner.  Another scene, she’s seen walking into a room naked and closing the door, found later hurting herself for no apparent reason.

I won’t tell the gruesome parts of the film, but we discover that because of her condition, a dark entity begins to take over her to use it for its own hellish reason, mainly to commit a child sacrifice so it can live again. Basically, it’s a spirit that acts as a parasite on the weak, the old, and the young. This entity and Deborah have a connected past.

As her condition deteriorates, her acts of violence and self-harm increase, turning her into a vessel for the dark entity.  To save her and the child, the rest of the people involved figure out to burn the bones of the dark entity left behind. This causes the entity to leave Deborah and the child is saved. However, Deborah is fingered as the culprit of the crimes, but her mental state is so bad, that she can’t stand trial.

Yet, as the viewer, in a very odd way, you’re almost glad for her because it would destroy her if she knew what she had done.

In this scenario the disease sort of protects  the sufferer from reality. I don’t mean to say that we should jump up and down and clap if a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is living in another reality. It’s heartbreaking. But, I think if they knew they couldn’t remember their children, or grandchildren, or spouse, or whoever it was that had once held a special place in their heart, it would be destructive to them.

Relic (2020)

In Relic, this film takes a more metaphorical approach. The family home is inhabited by Edna, the one suffering from dementia. Her daughter Kay, and her granddaughter Sam come to see her when they receive a message that she’s gone missing. When you see the home, it’s crammed with stacks of mementos, lots of post-it notes, and other things that show Edna’s declining cognition.

Kay has a hard time accepting her mother’s condition. Sam, the granddaughter, has a closer relationship with herIFC Midnight Debuts Haunting New Trailer For 'RELIC' Starring Emily Mortimer - Icon Vs. Icon grandmother. While they wait for Edna to show back up after a failed search with the local police, it’s revealed there’s a strange rot in the house that grows through the movie and on Edna’s body. The arc of Kay is being able to accept her mother is changing and being supportive.

What becomes apparent is the use of the family house. The family house holds memories and is an anchor to keep Edna in the present. It also reflects Edna’s mental condition. Along with the spreading rot is a shadowy figure that frightens Edna and the others, manifesting itself as the condition grows.

Toward the end, the houses changes and morphs, reflecting Edna’s fractured mental state.  The rot on the walls of the house spread. And Edna completely succumbs to her condition by becoming the shadowy figure she saw. Her skin peels away, and this gaunt-like monster version of herself is revealed, showing that the Edna they knew no longer exists. Yet, at the end of the movie, the once Edna creature, Kay, and Sam all lay side by side, showing love and support for Edna even though she is physically and literally unrecognizable anymore.

The chilling factor at the very end shows Sam, looking at Kaye’s back, seeing a small spot of the dark rot that took over her grandmother, indicating that Sam may one day be holding a woman that no longer resembles her mother as her mother is doing, too.

The movie dealt with more of how our response should be to our loved ones who are suffering with Alzheimer’s. And granted, although turning Edna into a gaunt-like monster isn’t likely to happen in the real world, the point is that the family NEEDS to show support for their loved one. Don’t abandon them. One thing that Edna asked her daughter before her transformation was if she was going to leave her alone.

No Tears in Heaven

A much brighter future awaits for those of us who love the Lord and suffer with dementia and we, the caregivers who love them.

As the movies depicted, the bonds are severed. Imagine that being it – your loved ones die having never remembered who you are, who was important to them, etc.

Thanks be to God, that is NOT the end for those that love Him.

The following verse is often used for eschatological discussion but allow me a little license as I say this:

1 Corinthians 15:53-55

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Sin and disease corrupts these bodies.  The cure is found in Christ. Romans 6:23 makes that abundantly that these corrupted bodies will one day no longer be affected by a sinful nature. We will be given new bodies that will live eternally with God. The bonds we once had with our loved ones will be renewed but in a far greater, richer capacity. Nothing will ever break those connections again.

In Eric Clapton’s song, “Tears in Heaven,” he mournfully sings:

Would you know my name?
If I saw you in heaven
Would it be the same?
If I saw you in heaven

This song, written after he experienced the death of his four-year-old son, hauntingly asks if the relationship he had with son would be any better in heaven.

A question that a lot of people ask is, ‘Will I recognize my loved ones in Heaven?”

The answer is yes. No Alzheimer’s or dementia there.

As Mahalia Jackson sang, it’ll be always, “It’ll be always howdy, howdy and never goodbye.”

What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Parker J. Cole is an author, speaker, and radio show host with a fanatical obsession with the Lord, Star Trek, K-dramas, anime, romance books, old movies, speculative fiction, and knitting. An off-and-on Mountain Dew and marshmallows addict, she writes to fill the void the sugar left behind. To follow her on social media, visit her website at
  1. Travis Tyree Perry says:

    I spent 5 years working in a nursing home. Of all the patients I saw, the condition of those with Alzheimer’s was the most tragic. I think there’s nothing that frightens me more than getting Alzheimer’s myself.

    Thanks for the article. I wasn’t aware that Alzheimer’s horror was a thing. But it makes sense that it is.

  2. L.G. McCary says:

    I’m very curious to watch these movies, but I think it might upset me too much. My own grandmother died from complications of rapid-onset dementia, and it was very difficult to see my vivacious and wildly funny grandmother fade slowly away until the only person she remembered was my grandfather. The whole topic breaks my heart. I hate The Notebook, and I refuse to ever rewatch the last season of Chuck because they deal with similar themes. Just hurts too much.

    • I agree. The Taking of Deborah Logan gets gory at points (in gore horror fashion) but in that way, it takes away the tragedy of the woman having Alzheimer’s. Relic is more atmospheric and gloomy but still brings about the message of support for loved ones who can no longer reciprocate. Relic is intense though.

  3. Robert Womack says:

    Interesting parallel… Just as sin separated people from God, so too does the finality of Alzheimer’s or dementia separate people from those they know and love and all that is familiar to them. God is a social being, a being of relationship and community—the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are separate individuals but in relationship are one. God seeks us out to have that same kind of relationship with Him—a relationship of family, of community. Since all disease, sickness, and death were thrust upon us as a result of the fall which separated us from God, in a very dark and evil way it make sense that that same continuum of disease, sickness, and ultimately death separates us from one another. Alzheimer’s and dementia are a very visible, very tangible example of just what that kind of separation looks and feels like. Imagine that multiplied infinitely and you start to see what it means to be separated from God. Makes the cross and Jesus’ sacrificial death to buy us back that much more personal and real.

  4. Thank you, Parker! My grandmother recently passed from Alzheimer’s, and you made me feel a little better about it with horror movies and Scripture. That’s some slick preachin, sister. I’ve read about the cathartic nature of fictional horror and was always dubious, but you expressed it beautifully.

What do you think?