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.