Oh, Final Girls. Let me be your Final Boy.
The term "Final Girl," originally coined by scholar and author Carol Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women and Chainsaws, refers to the character -- almost always female -- who survives to the end of a horror movie. She's usually the good girl, the one who abstains from having sex or drinking or getting high and who is able to find inner reserves of strength when the time comes to fight back against a masked killer. As a huge fan of the slasher genre, I'm well versed in Final Girls and have very specific ideas about who my favorites are.
Let it be said up front that I know there are some notable omissions on this list. That's because Laurie Strode is not one of my favorite Final Girls. The good news is that she lands near or at the top of every other list of Final Girls on the internet, so there are plenty of places you can go to find your own viewpoints reinforced if you're into that sort of thing.
At the same time, there aren't a ton of surprises on this list, which confirms the fact that while the history of horror is lousy with Final Girls, there are very few that make any sort of positive impression. Hopefully that changes going forward. If last summer's You're Next is any indication, we're headed in the right direction.
Here are my favorite Final Girls, presented in no particular order:
the original, while others dig on the Mormon stylings and magic underwear of Part 3's Chris Higgins. The most beloved Final Girl of all 10 movies (11 if you count Freddy vs. Jason) is Part 2's Ginny, played by Amy Steel. Why we all love her so much I couldn't say for sure, except that she is adorable and is one of the few Final Girls in the entire series to "outsmart" Jason by putting on his dead mom's sweater and confusing him. Way to commit to the bit, Ginny.
2. Stretch (Caroline Williams), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) I know, I know -- it's blasphemy to leave Sally Hardesty off this list, especially in light of the recent passing of Marilyn Burns. Sally's great and all, but she's no Stretch. Caroline Williams' DJ with the heavy Texas accent is the glue holding together the madness that is Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw sequel -- she's sexy, she's funny and, like Sally before her, she's eventually driven totally mad by her encounter with the Sawyer family. Stretch would earn a spot on this list just for her jean shorts, but the fact that she manages to flirt with Leatherface in one scene and talk him out of acting on his lust for her in another makes her an all-timer. Plus, she ends the movie by doing the Chainsaw Dance. There may be no cooler moment in the history of Final Girls.Hatchet series (2006-2013) Marybeth is the Sarah Connor of the slasher set, starting out relatively unassuming and in over her head in the first film, when she's played by Tamara Feldman. I like that incarnation of Marybeth: scared but determined, looking for answers but knowing she's also headed for trouble. Then Danielle Harris took over the character for Hatchet II and III, and that's when we got the T2 version of Marybeth -- the one that has seen some shit and has been forever changed by it. She's hardened and looking for some payback. The moments in which Harris gets to explode in rage and unleash a fury of violence on undead slasher Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) are a cathartic howl from every Final Girl who ever took on a monster. She's a badass.
Sam Raimi's several masterstrokes in The Evil Dead is to treat Ash exactly like a traditional Final Girl. Though he would later become a stooge and then a cult hero, the original incarnation of Ash is just a nice guy who can't catch a break. I love the cartoony version of the character, but I think the original Ash is a big reason why the first Evil Dead remains my favorite in the series.
John Carpenter's original Halloween: she has that earthy, girl-next-door quality we love in our Final Girls but is incredibly strong and kick ass in a way that never feels forced. The way she preemptively blows the head off the killer cements her status as one of the very best. Sidney Prescott is not to be fucked with.
Stage Fright (2014) Yes, this is a new favorite. Five years from now, maybe Camilla doesn't make the list, but I'm still riding the high from the hugely entertaining Stage Fright (a movie I seem to like more than every single other person that saw it). Allie MacDonald is incredibly lovely and soft, but is also willing to make Camilla a little dark and opportunistic -- to a point, at least. Combine that with a gorgeous singing voice and you've got one of the very best Final Girls of recent years. She's very reminiscent of Jessica Harper's Phoenix in Phantom of the Paradise, so it's no wonder I love her.
The Funhouse (1981) This one is obviously a real personal preference, as I'm guessing Amy Harper isn't going to end up on anyone else's list of favorite Final Girls. I get it. She screams a lot. She's mostly helpless, surviving by sheer luck and coincidence and not by her own wits. That's what I like about her -- she's an updated version of Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which shouldn't come as a surprise, I guess, since Tobe Hooper directed both movies). I like that Amy gets naked in her first scenes in the film, not because I'm desperate to see Elizabeth Berridge naked (that's an added bonus), but because it violates the rules of being a Final Girl. One of the best things about The Funhouse -- which, in recent years, has become one of my very favorite horror films of all time -- is that it is constantly subverting the conventions of the slasher film, up to and including its Final Girl. Maybe I only love Amy because I love The Funhouse so much. What difference does it make?
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) I have already written about my somewhat controversial opinion on this Halloween sequel -- specifically, that I like it more than I like the original. A huge part of that has to do with Ellie Cornell's turn as Rachel, who is a Final Girl in the Langenkampian tradition: the girl next door who's cute, smart and resourceful while still feeling like a believable teenager. She's not just out for her own survival; the way that she cares for and protects younger sister Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) only endears Rachel to us more. Unfortunately, the sequels treat her like so many slasher sequels treat Final Girls, and that's a big reason why I can't stand Halloween 5. Fuck that movie.
You're Next (2013) I know I said this list is not in any order, but that doesn't apply to these last two picks. If not for the next entry on the list, Erin from You're Next would be my all-time favorite Final Girl. Screenwriter Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard rewrote the rules of Final Girls and created one who doesn't just defend herself, but instead actually takes the fight to the assholes terrorizing her and her friends. And she KICKS THEIR ASSES. There's some great commentary in the movie about how we never really know the people we're dating, but there's even better commentary about the traditions of horror movies and what is typically expected of the main female characters. Erin destroys all of those notions in the span of one hardcore beatdown; it's the moment the movie turns and never looks back on its way to becoming one of the best horror movies of the 2000s.
Nice list, Patrick! I loved Allie MacDonald in Stage Fright (and that's about all I loved in that film, no disrespect). Before last year I would have had a bunch of names but that's moot now cause Daddario fucked that all up in 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D when she stomped out all competition.ReplyDelete
Would you say she...does her thing?Delete
I'm totally with you on your two favourites Patrick! Nancy is definitely number one for me, she is such a dynamic character. Erin is number two for just being a hardcore badass! Some really fun movies on that list!ReplyDelete
Great work PBReplyDelete
I've gotta go for Stretch myself. Its a no brainer. Or maybe a brain covered in a metal plate. That introduction to Choptop with Stretch is fantastic. The hissing of the coathanger sizzling at flesh. And Carolines reactions. Her face in that whole Five minute scene is a joy. Shes so good in her role. Maybe im a sucker because I just love TCM2 but that introduction is etched in my mind forever. " My brain is on fire.Ooh no Nam flashbacks"
Of course im the Evil Dead guy so Ash should be number One girl but any girl that can get a Boner worries me so im sticking with Stretch
Any spoilers? Just want to check before I read :)ReplyDelete
By the way...checking out Annabelle tonight, I will let you know if she is the final girl.
What a great article! Where's everybody else's lists?? (Spoilers all over this thing.)ReplyDelete
I actually love Final Girls who can't take the pressure and end up losing their minds at the end the most:
10. Fright (1971) - Amanda (Susan George)
Manic to an unbearable level.
9. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns)
She has the coolest name out of all the FGs, and sets the standard for the full-on freak-out.
8. The Toolbox Murders (1978) - Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin)
Laurie's slasher gets killed, but then the guy who killed him is also a killer! Intertitles tell us she got put in an asylum after that one.
7. Friday the 13th Part III - Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmel)
Reacted exactly the same way I would have to that last appearance by Jason after she thought she'd killed him and spent all night asleep in a rowboat.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - Vanita "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams)
Think Patrick covered it pretty well up above.
I also love Final Girls with superpowers!:
5. Friday the 13th Part VII - Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln)
Doesn't just defeat Jason using telekinesis, but realizes her therapist is an asshat.
4. Phenomena - Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly)
Son of a rock star, and can talk to bugs, maybe apes!
3. The Church - Lotte (Asia Argento)
Lotte doesn't give a shit about anybody who isn't Lotte, and ends up being last girl standing because of it. She actually seems pretty amused by everything that's happened by the end.
2. Freddy vs. Jason - Lori Campbell (Monica Keena)
Decapitating Freddy counts for a lot in my book, and so does being Monica Keena.
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D - Edith Sawyer aka Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario)
Chaybee is dead on. Not only is Daddario one of the most beautiful women who's ever been in a movie, she's the only character who can truly be considered a Final Girl who ends up siding with the slasher. While TCM3D is by no means a great movie, I think it subverts the slasher rules even more than The Funhouse does, since the character who begins as "Heather", happily unaware of her past, gradually turns into "Edith", the Final Girl who doesn't save the day because the day isn't worth saving. Lots of Final Girls get embarrassing catch-phrasey final insults in ("Merry Christmas, motherfucker!" - Michelle Trachtenberg in Black X-mas,) but Edith's is so ridiculous ("Do your thing, Cuz!") and so perversely liberating that it's actually awesome.
Oops, my I meant movie star for Jennifer, not rock star.Delete
And daughter, not son, fucking cripesDelete
Great list, Patrick! I wasn't as much of a fan of YOU'RE NEXT as others, but that final scene was one of the movie's better bits.ReplyDelete
I just rewatched the original TEXAS CHAINSAW and not enough good things can be said about Marilyn Burns. Both her fear and her determination to escape feel so real.
Also, let's not forget Fay Wray. The original scream queen and all that.
You're in my brain, Patrick. Just explained the "final girl" trope to my students today. More or less spoiled You're Next for them. Worth it. Well done.ReplyDelete
It's gotta be Erin from You're Next for me hands down. She's gorgeous, she straight up demolishes those home invaders and she's got that adorable accent, what's not to love? Nancy is fine but I feel like Erin would fuck Freddy up so bad if she was in nightmare on elm street that we wouldn't have any of the shitty sequels because he would have a blender in his brain. I love that ash is on this list too by the way lol. happy scary movie month Patrick thanks for the list!ReplyDelete
Great list! I think the only one I'd add would be Sarah Carter fron The Descent.ReplyDelete
Had to put Ash in this list because - like only getting 71 cents on a dollar - women can't get 100% of anything due to them?ReplyDelete
Meanwhile, Ginny lost my respect when she used the word "retard"....and doesn't realize that the body of the dead sherrif should have a gun she could use...
One thing I wanted to bring up is the old horror trope of sequel deaths, where "final girls" are brought back only to be killed off.ReplyDelete
I know Patrick dislikes that as well, as once they've survived the first (or more in some cases) time around, it's unfair to bring them back only to kill them off as shock value, or to just claim that no one survives Jason, Freddy, Jigsaw or whoever.
Whether it be Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, Nancy Allen, Alice Hardy, Paxton, Cotton Weary, Rachel Carruthers, or even worse in some cases where they die off screen like Alex in Final Destination. In some cases it actually angers me that they go so far to make what happened in the original product almost meaningless when they almost show disdain to our heroes by killing them off.
The question is on which occasions did the series earn the right by killing off a final girl? It's a rarity, but if the buildup and meaning becomes strong enough, than occasionally it can work. I think Amanda's death in Saw III is a good example of this; even if she became a villain in the sequels. I think the Saw series generally does an admirable job in shifting around characters by killing them off, but that's because the characters aren't all that memorable to begin with. I also don't mind Juno's death in The Descent Part 2, but only because I loved her so much in the first movie, and she redeemed herself the second go around.
Aside from a very few occasions it's one of the things I don't like about horror movies. Can anyone think of any other movies where they didn't necessarily mind when someone came back only to be killed off?
I don't have near the breadth-of-horror knowledge that you do Patrick, but I have to throw in a vote for Sarah, in The Descent. Depending on which cut of the film you watched, she may not fit this list, but she is otherwise totally bad-ass and rises to the occasion. But perhaps she also cracks under the pressure? Who's to say for certain.ReplyDelete
The image of her sliding out of the blood pool is beautiful/horrifying and is qualification enough. Plus she's not a special, 'virginal' girl. She's lived, seen some shit, and come out stronger.
I'm a little late (I came here from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 review), but I'm glad I've found some one who agrees with me about the first Evil Dead being the best of the series.ReplyDelete