#2: 13 Final Girls: A Guide to Some of My Favorite Female Protagonists

*This post contains spoilers*

In last week’s post I discussed various female tropes that appear in horror movies. The list ranged from the Emotionless Girl to the Witch on the Woods. The trope I find the most fascinating is the classic Final Girl. There is a lot of debate as to whether or not this stereotypical role really lends to the creation of a feminist character. Some claim that the Final Girls are “bad-ass female heroines” but others are not so sure (Weekes). Anna Biller expressed her not-so-favorable view of the trope on May 8, 2018, tweeting:Anna Biller tweet 1

Anna Biller tweet 2
Source: www.themarysue.com/anna-billers-the-final-girl

I whole-heartedly agree that the Final Girl tends to be a rather misogynistic and sadistic trend in horror, particularly slasher flicks, but some of the more recent iterations flip the trope on its head. These newer Final Girls break from the norm, while still fulfilling some of the more traditional elements, like those mentioned in “How To Be the Final Girl in a Horror Movie,” a podcast from Stuff Mom Never Told You: “The Final Girl is the one to confront the killer or the monster, whatever the thing is, after everyone else has been slain and she survives to tell the tale. She’s almost guaranteed to be a virgin, straight, white, probably brunette. She’s usually chaste, doesn’t really drink or otherwise engage in drugs, and is also probably rocking a gender neutral name . . . and probably a masculine, well not masculine, but masculine-ish hairstyle” (Todd and Aries).

smnty.pngAccording to the podcast, “the Final Girl trope got its start in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1992 that American film professor Carol Clover first coined the term in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Clover argued that, in order to survive, the Final Girl had to in some way become more masculine, probably by adopting a weapon of the phallic variety” (Todd and Aries). These descriptions can be seen in a lot of horror films, but not all of the incarnations follow them to a T.

The following are 13 Final Girls, how they fit in the trope and how they subvert it.

Laurie

Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978):

Laurie is the first “mainstream” Final Girl. Appearing in the 1978 classic, Halloween, Laurie is often regarded as the mold after which other Final Girls are cast.

In the trope:

  • Toward the beginning of the film, Laurie is mocked by her friends for her inexperience. Additionally, throughout the movie while her friends are getting it on, Laurie is babysitting.
  • Her name is somewhat androgynous and she has shorter hair.
  • She is the last of her friends to survive, though she doesn’t actually kill Michael Myers, Dr. Samuel Loomis does.

Against the trope:

  • The one place where Laurie doesn’t totally fit in the trend is her weapon choices. Instead of the more typical “phallic variety” weapons, she uses knitting needles and a clothing hanger, objects more commonly associated with women.

Dr. Ellen Ripley from Alien (1979):Ripley.jpg

Though Alien isn’t a true horror flick, Ripley definitely fits the bill for the Final Girl of the movie.

In the trope:

  • Not only does the Dr. Ripley go by her gender neutral last name and have short brunette hair, but her uniform is just the same as everyone else’s, creating a non-gendered appearance, which also prevents sexualization of the character.
  • The explosion which kills the alien is phallic symbolism.
  • She defeats the monster after the rest of the crew have been killed.

Ripley gif.gif

Against the trope:

  • There is no mention of the character’s sexual purity.
  • The movie isn’t really a horror movie.

Alice

Alice Hardy from Friday the 13th(1980):

Alice never actually faces off against the official Friday the 13thfranchise villain, but she is the sole survivor of the summer of 1980 at Camp Crystal Lake.

In the trope:

  • Alice has short hair and does not have sex during the course of the film.
  • She is first introduced wearing jeans and an androgynous lumberjack shirt.
  • She is the only survivor and kills the villain herself.
  • Her weapon is a machete, which can be considered phallic in nature.

Against the trope:

  • Alice is not pure. She left California for Camp Crystal Lake after ending her affair with an older married man. She also had a relationship with the camp owner.
  • She uses the machete to kill the antagonist, but she also uses a frying pan, which is more commonly associated with women, to knock out the attacker.

Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984):

Nancy is not only the first Final Girl in the Nightmare franchise, but also regarded as the fiercest because she survives multiple attacks from Freddy over two movies and because she teaches the next generation how to defeat the villain. She is considered one of the most influential horror movie heroines by multiple sources.

Nancy

In the trope:

  • She is depicted as pure in the movie, in contrast to her friend Tina.
  • Nancy, in a way, becomes more masculine when the viewer recognizes the implicit comparisons between her character and Hamlet.
  • She is logical and resourceful, buying “a survivalist, self-defense manual and in the conclusion of Elm Street, baits Freddy into chasing her. She runs him through a punishing course of booby traps” (Muir in Wikipedia).
  • Though many other characters survive, they are oblivious to Freddy. Those who encounter or believe in the demon all perish, except for Nancy.

Nightmare on Elm Street Gif.gif

Against the trope:

  • Nancy does not have an androgynous name or haircut. Aside from this, she fits the trope very well.

Sidney Prescott from Scream (1996):

Sidney is a great example of a Final Girl, and is definitely one of my favorites. Scream was one of the first horror-parodies to grace the screen and mock the conventions of the form. The film has some very meta aspects, like its acknowledgment of real horror films, allowing it to play with the trope and even address it outright.

In the trope:

  • Sidney is an ambiguous name. Scream is interesting because all of the female characters have gender neutral names, like Tatum, Gale, and Casey.
  • She is sexually conservative. Though Sidney does have sex in the movie, she is clearly seen as the more pure character, especially when compared to the more overtly sexualized Tatum.
  • When she comes up against the killer, Sidney prevails, Sidneyusing a knife and a gun (two phallic weapons, as well as dressing in the androgynous Ghostface outfit and using the voice modifier which deepens her voice making it sound more masculine.

Against the trope:

  • Sidney is not a virgin (she actually sleeps with the villain!) but she survives to see the end of the movie.
  • She already knows what it’s like to be the victim so she rebels against those who want to view her as such.

Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003):

I know… I know… Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a movie, but she is “kind of the TV version of the Final Girl. Week after week, she is the last one out there fighting vampires, demons, or whatever” (Todd and Aries).

Buffy.jpg

In the trope:

  • Though she isn’t a virgin for the entirety of the series, she is punished on two separate occasions for having sex, once in season two and again in season four.
  • Her name is Buffy, which in reality is a nickname for Elizabeth, but that context is not given, so the name isn’t really tied to a specific gender.
  • If the stake isn’t a phallic weapon, I don’t know what is.
  • Buffy’s abilities, the abilities of the Slayer, though only available to one woman at a time, can probably be considered masculine.
  • She beats the “big bads.”Buffy Gif.gif

Against the trope:

  • She is not the sole survivor. She’s not even the only slayer.
  • She is resourceful, but she relies on her friends for support.
  • Though on paper, she fits the trope pretty well, her character is more complex and breaks outside the bounds of the trend.

Rachel Keller from The Ring (2002):

Rachel is another interesting case of the Final Girl because of how the survival of others depends on her survival and actions.

In the trope:

  • Rachel has a son, but is not intimate with anyone during the length of the movie.
  • She avoids death after many others have Rachel.jpgdied at the hand of the antagonist.
  • She is resourceful in how she goes about discovering the mystery of the ring and how to avoid death.

Against the trope:

  • Her weapon, her determination, is not phallic in nature.
  • Her appearance and name are in no way masculine or androgynous.
  • She doesn’t become more masculine to survive, but relies on her skills as a journalist.

Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood (2008-2014):

Sookie.jpg

This one isn’t from a movie either, but Sookie is definitely a Final Girl throughout the series, but here I will be specific to season one of the show.

In the trope:

  • In the first season, she is the only woman who we know of that has a relationship of some kind with a vampire and lives.
  • Though she is not a virgin, Sookie is very pure and inexperienced.
  • She is resourceful and logical.
  • She is stronger than she looks and resourceful enough to ensure her survival.
  • Again, we see a stake as a phallic symbol.Sookie gif.gif

Against the trope:

  • Sookie doesn’t look, act, or try to be masculine in any way, she is very feminine.
  • She does rely a bit on Bill to save her.
  • She is not the only survivor of the show. A lot of people face danger and live to tell the tale.

Allison from Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010):

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a great example of a horror-parody. It pokes fun at the conventions of the form, while contributing a new twist. Allison is the Final Girl, but her character doesn’t conform to the trend too much because of her situational context.

In the trope:

  • Of the college kids who go to the woods, Allison is the only survivor.
  • She rejects the sexual advances of one of her friends.
  • She is seen wearing men’s jeans and flannel, though she alters them so they are more sexualized.

Allison.jpg

Against the trope:

  • Allison actually fits in the ‘pretty blonde’ trope physically, not the Final Girl.
  • Her character is sexualized.
  • She doesn’t really do much in the way of killing the villain, she is present for that scene, but Dale does all the work.
  • The weapon used to defeat the antagonist is… tea… If you don’t believe me, watch the movie (it’s on Netflix).

Dana Polk from Cabin in the Woods (2012):

This movie is also a parody, but instead of mocking horror movies, it makes fun of their audiences. The movie has almost every horror trope you can think of, but it breaks the rules a little.

In the trope:

  • Dana is seen as the pure character because Danashe refrains from sexual activities within the confines of the movie, though we learn that she had an affair with a teacher.
  • She has dark hair.
  • The weapon she uses is a gun, which is rife with phallic symbolism.

Against the trope:

  • Dana Is not a virgin, and even says so when the Director tells her that is her role.
  • This is also where she learns about the necessity of her being the Final Girl, which sets her apart from the others.
  • She smokes marijuana at the end. She doesn’t kill the monster, no one does.
  • She is not the only survivor, Marty also lives to see the final frame.
  • Her survival is optional. It doesn’t matter if she lives or dies, but her death must be the last one.

Jay

Jay Height from It Follows (2014):

This particular iteration really turns the tables on the trope. Her determination to live changes her role from victim, as she appears at the beginning, to survivor.

In the trope:

  • Jay is a very gender neutral name.
  • In the film, “It” punishes people for having sex. Though Jay does the deed, she refuses to let “It” catch her.

Jay

Against the trope:

  • Jay is clearly meant to be a victim. She is blonde, feminine, and sexualized, and has sex at the beginning of the movie. It Follows turns its back on the Death By Sex trope and gives a new take on “female ownership over their own sexuality” (Taylor).
  • She uses electrocution and a gun to harm the entity, but whether “It” is really killed is left rather ambiguous.
  • Jay very much relies on the help of her friends.

Thomasin from The Witch (2015):

Thomasin is a pretty different Final Girl. Not only does she reach this status, but she exceeds it, embracing the evil that consumed her family.

Thomasin gif.gif

In the trope:

  • Thomasin, though not a masculine name itself, is the female version of Thomas.
  • She is virginal and religiously devout.

Against the trope:

  • She is blonde and feminine, wearing a skirt thomasin.jpgand tending to her younger siblings.
  • Thomasin does not defeat the witch. Instead, she becomes one herself, evolving from Final Girl to Witch of the Woods.
  • Instead of fighting against sexuality, she embraces it, accepting the “wild, feminine, sexual side of herself” (Ryan).
  • It is interesting to note that, while typically the lack of sexual activity sets the Final Girl apart from the others, had she been promiscuous in any way it would have been more notable.

Max Cartwright from The Final Girls (2015):

This movie is in some ways similar to Scream and Cabin in the Woods. The characters are aware of the conventions of horror movies, and become conscious of the roles they must play. Max, the Final Girl of the movie, is the daughter of an actress who was most famous for her role as a Final Girl in a fictitious 80’s slasher film.

In the trope:

Max

  • Max is a gender neutral name, and she appears in a flannel, jeans, and combat boots, unlike some of her more femininely dressed female companions.
  • She is a virgin.
  • She uses a machete to kill the villain.
  • She is the last girl to survive

Against the trope:

  • Max is desperately fighting to save another character, and would likely have killed herself if it meant she could spare her friend.
  • She has long blonde hair.
  • She is aware of her role from the get-go.

If you have seen these movies, or at least three of them from different years, you know that the Final Girl trope has evolved a lot. If used correctly, it can be implemented to portray a feminist character, but that would probably mean disregarding some of the more traditional requirements of the trope. Though, in general, the trope isn’t typically used in a feminist capacity, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the movie or the character for its entertainment value. As an avid fan of horror and final girls, I appreciate them for what they are: fictional characters that allow us to live-vicariously and relieve the stresses of day-to-day life.

Check out next week’s post to learn how to properly enjoy a scary movie.

Are you following The Final Girl on social media? Be sure to check out the widgets below to find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Sources:

“Final Girl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 June 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_girl.

Millican, Joshua. “The Ones That Got Away: Final Girls of Horror Infographic.” Horror Freak News, 19 Nov. 2016, horrorfreaknews.com/ones-got-away-final-girls-horror-infographic#content-anchor.

Peitzman, Louis. “The 25 Fiercest Final Girls Of Horror.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 16 Oct. 2013, www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/the-25-fiercest-final-girls-of-horror?utm_term=.dmM8nOAVx#.cd6Y0reBg.

princess-weekes. “Is the ‘Final Girl’ in Horror Movies a Feminist Concept?” The Mary Sue, The Mary Sue, 12 May 2018, www.themarysue.com/anna-billers-the-final-girl/.

Ryan, Danielle. “5 Horror Movies That Subvert the ‘Final Girl’ Trope.” Paste Magazine, 5 Apr. 2017, www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/04/5-horror-movies-that-subvert-the-final-girl-trope.html.

Taylor, April A. “Underrated Final Girls In Horror Movies That Deserve More Recognition.” Ranker, www.ranker.com/list/underrated-horror-movie-final-girls/april-a-taylor.

Todd, Bridget, and Emilie Aries. “How To Be the Final Girl in a Horror Movie.” Stuff Mom Never Told You, Stuff Media LLC, 13 Apr. 2018, www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/how-to-be-the-final-girl-in-a-horror-movie.htm.

Image sources:

31 scary movie moments – 19) Nancy’s school dream in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Prescott

http://www.aaronswansonpt.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/

http://www.favslist.com/pages/Rachel-Keller/156895

https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/360428776398739528/

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/tucker-and-dale-vs-evil-2011

http://thecabininthewoods.wikia.com/wiki/Dana_Polk

Awkward Buffy The Vampire Slayer GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Alien Sigourney Weaver GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

It Follows GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

https://dailygeekette.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/urban-legends-exploring-the-meaning-behind-it-follows/

http://www.theuselesscritic.com/2012/08/lucky-for-us-this-weeks-true-blood.html

http://www.indiewire.com/2017/02/the-witch-wins-independent-spirit-awards-best-first-feature-1201786869/

The Witch Trailer GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

http://www.thenightmarenetwork.net/the-final-girls-review/

The Final Girls is a feminist blog, exploring the portrayal of women in horror movies.

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