Sunday, February 20, 2011

Women in Horror Pt II: The Final Girls

By the late 70's, a new type of female character began to emerge in Horror; the so-called Final Girl. Mostly a product of the Slasher sub-genre, the Final Girl manages to survive the evil intentions of the killer/monster/demon/cannibal because she's pure and virtuous, while the slutty gals in her peer group fall victim to whatever kind of villainous antagonist is pursuing them.

The Final Girl doesn't have sex, drink or do drugs, unlike her friends are who are all about misbehaving in just about every way they can. The Final Girl, while usually meek and mild, somehow finds reserves of strength and self-preservation instincts when confronting the killer/monster/demon/cannibal at the end of the movie. She survives, though often worse for the wear.

While there are a scant few before her, the first real Final Girl is probably Sue Snell as portrayed by Amy Irving in Brian DePalma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. While the rest of Carrie's classmates make fun of her and plot to humiliate her at the prom, good girl Sue tries to befriend her and even convinces her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom. It is Sue's basic goodness that saves her. When all the 'bad' girls and boys (and teachers) are killed in the fire that Carrie causes at the prom, Sue survives because she unselfishly gave up her night with Tommy. Of course, she pays for it with shocking nightmares for the rest of her life.

Next came Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in John Carpenter's 1978 low-budget masterpiece Halloween. While Laurie's friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are sleeping with (or making plans to sleep with) their boyfriends on Halloween, Laurie is babysitting two other innocents, thus insuring her survival at the hands of the unstoppable killer.

In Ridley Scott's 1979 Sci-Fi Horror movie Alien, it is Sigourney Weaver's Ripley who manages to outsmart the acid-blooded Xenomorph and live to fight again, albeit 70 years later in James Cameron's sequel, Aliens, in which she is again the Final Girl.

1980's Friday the 13th gave us Adrienne King as Alice, the Final Girl who summons up the strength to decapitate the murderous Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who has been taking revenge on the camp counselors she blames for the drowning of her Special Needs son, Jason.

Unfortunately for her, Ms King did not survive the sequel, though Amy Steel's Ginny did.

Throughout the 80's, there were plenty of Final Girls in a ton of lame Slasher films, but Heather Langancamp as Nancy in Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street proved they weren't all lame.

Of course, Craven would go on to parody the Slasher genre with 1996's Scream, in which Neve Campbell plays Final Girl Sidney through three sequels, including the upcoming Scream 4

So, where does that leave the Final Girl in future horrors? Hopefully, nowhere. Personally, I'm a fan of the unhappy ending kind of Horror film, where no one survives and evil wins. Does that make me a bad person? I hope not. Just a realist. Or maybe a pessimist...  In either case, while I usually prefer the kind of movie that has a happy ending. I'm never opposed to the ones that don't. And since I'm on the subject, where's the Final Boy? Hmmm... maybe I that should be my next screenplay...

More, anon.


Anonymous said...

I know there are probably too many films to mention but doesn't the Resident Evil films deserve a mention - especially since they're zombie films?

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Woo hoo! you finally mentioned Jamie!