Historically when it comes to horror films, the female of the species has copped for a pretty raw deal; especially in those early days. Women were generally handed out roles that carved them out as weak willed, hysterical, prone to fainting and in need of protection by their stronger male counterparts. It was only after the rise of feminism during the enlightened swinging sixties that things started to change. Cue the inception of the final girl: normally associated with -but not necessarily limited to- the slasher cycle. The final girl stands as a proud statement for women kicking ass in genre film. Usually pit against a male killer, it is the final girl who takes the victory in the end- fights it out against all the odds, survives, and sometimes dishing out a violent retribution of her own.
To celebrate the UK DVD release of THE FINAL GIRLS, SCREAM MAGAZINE take’s a look at some of the genre’s top ten. From Lilia Crane in Hitchcock’s forerunner PSYCHO, to YOU’RE NEXT’s new millennium poster girl, Erin, we look at just what makes these women so irresistible. So join us as we count down ten of our favourites.
Lila Crane: PSYCHO (1960)
It might be Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) that everyone remembers from Hitchcock’s seminal hack and slash PSYCHO, but it was Vera Miles’ portrayal of the smarter sister Lila that stole the victory against killer Norman Bates, when all was said and done. Even though Lila is eventually saved by her male sidekick in those final scenes, it is her brains and determination that unravel the horrifying truth about Bates and his obsession with all things “mother”. Leading her to find out just what did happen to her poor- morally weaker- sister, Marion. Even though the character of Lila Crane is nothing like the girls who came later on, in terms of aggression and independence, she is an important one in the history of the genre. Just as PSYCHO led the way, not only for the Italian giallo but the slashers, Lila Crane told us, women can be heroes too.
Sally Hardesty: A TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
There is no denying that Tobe Hooper’s grim post Manson era shocker struck a chord with audiences on its release. A gruesome tale of a bunch of naive hippy kids who are picked off one by one by lunatic hillbillies and their deformed and demented kin “Leatherface”. Right at the core of it all was final girl Sally Hardesty (played by the late Marilyn Burns). Burn’s show stopping performance personifies the spirit of the age: A time when new American independents were arriving on the scene with their ultra-realistic, contemporary, satirical horror, which blew dated and tame classic flicks out of the water. After failing to save her friends and wheelchair bound brother, Franklin, Sally is captured but later survives. As she escapes on the back of a flatbed truck in the final moments- to be seen wailing hysterically as Leatherface dances with his chainsaw in the background- an iconic moment was set in horror. Burns’ emotional, jaw dropping performance was something new and exciting for the time; resonating with audiences it projected the idea of an everyday person who was forced to fight for her life against a horrifying- and possibly very real- threat. Sadly the actress lost her life to a suspected heart attack just a year ago, but she left behind a legacy in the genre that is unrivalled by so many other contenders.
Laurie Strode: HALLOWEEN (1978)
Just as her mother Janet Leigh played a huge part in game-changer PSYCHO, actress Jamie Leigh- Curtis made her own mark on horror cinema, when she played the ultimate final girl Laurie Strode for her debut feature film role, in John Carpenter’s seminal HALLOWEEN. The character of Laurie worked to set down a number of the tropes associated with the golden age slasher- including those unwritten rules that she shalt not drink, partake in drugs or get her kit off, else face imminent death at the hands of a vicious killer. Laurie also presented to audiences the impression of a strong- physically, mentally and morally- young woman; responsible and clever enough to outwit a killer that evaded capture by an entire local police force- all while her stupid friends were too busy thinking about sex and getting too high to worry about turning up in a body bag. Just as Marilyn Burns’ performance in A TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE echoed the screams of real terror lurking in the heart of rural America, Leigh-Curtis brought her own convincing horror a little closer to home: right outside our front door, in our own suburban neighbourhood. It is not surprising the role turned Jamie Leigh Curtis into one of the genre’s most beloved scream queens, and led her to continue her own legacy in successive final girl roles in HALLOWEEN 2 (1980), PROM NIGHT (1980) and TERROR TRAIN (1980).
Alice Hardy: FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)
Just where Carpenter set the bar with HALLOWEEN for the Golden Age slasher, Sean S Cunningham raised it that little bit more with his own take on the formula in FRIDAY THE 13th. Setting murder and mayhem at a summer camp, the director upped the sex and violence quota to kick off one of the genre’s most successful franchises to date. Although Friday’s final girl Alice Hardy (played by Adrienne King) was composed of many of the same sensible and nice girl traits that HALLOWEEN’s Laurie Strode possessed, that bar tipping gave her an extra edge- this time in the form of a nice fat machete and some serious balls. The character of Alice was a pivotal one for the genre. Not only does she get to survive, she is one of the first final girls who got to fight back; ultimately decapitating her assailant the mentalist Mrs Vorhees (mother of Jason) But there’s more, Alice returns for part two, only to join PSYCHO’s Janet Leigh, in coming to an unexpected sticky end within the first few frames despite a star billing.
Nancy Thompson: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET arrived just at a time when the genre needed a heavy shot of adrenaline to the throat to revive its flagging old bones. The slasher started to become tired and dated by this point, and Craven introduced new fantasy elements to the trusted recipe to aid in its resurrection; awakening the icon Freddy Krueger into the consciousness of horror fans all over the world, and kick starting another huge franchise in one swoop. There was a new terror in town, and you couldn’t just lock your door to keep him out, because he was inside your mind, your dreams, and nowhere was safe. It was going to take some kind of hero to put this one to bed, and she came in the form of the plucky young leading lady Heather Langenkamp as the no nonsense ass kicking Nancy Thompson. Although, if you wanted to split hairs you could argue that the end leaves matters on a somewhat ambiguous note, Nancy does return for part 3 (a little on this in a moment) and she does discover Freddy’s Achilles heel- namely the ability to make him fight it out in the physical world where he is no match for her ingenuity. She strips him of his power by discovering that his power lies in belief, and just like a real nightmare, he is nothing should she will it to be so.
Ellen Ripley: ALIEN (1979)
Although technically a sci-fi/horror hybrid there are very few final girls who have taken to the task as splendidly as the true cinematic Amazon, ALIEN’s Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. The androgynous ball-busting, super sexy performance given by Sigourney Weaver remains one of the most inspirational female action roles- both in and out of the genre- and one that earned her an Oscar nomination to boot. Not only that, she holds the esteemed position of a traditionally male profession- an officer- in her role; something that went against the grain of other likeminded features of the era; thus resetting the goal posts for women in cinema. There may be those who argue whether or not she belongs on this list, but there’s no denying ALIEN is- once you strip away the slick effects and HR Geiger’s gruesome xenomorph creatures- a good old body count movie with strong Lovecraftian elements. As each crew member of the Nostromo falls foul of the bloodthirsty beast, Ripley never gives in, outliving several other (mainly male) crew members. Ultimately not only saving herself but the entire human race too. Weaver would return for another three instalments, each one ballsier than the last. She might not have hung up Ripley’s suit just yet either, at the age of 66, rumours started earlier this year that an ALIEN 5 with her involvement might just be on the cards.
Kirsty Cotton: HELLRAISER (1987)
Kirsty Cotton might not have the brawn of some of the other final girls on this list, but she certainly is up there when it comes to intellect. In solving the malignant Lemarchand Puzzle Box, she is able to put an end to her wicked stepmother Julia and her nefarious Uncle Frank in one genius hit. This is achieved when Kirsty trades her own life in return for Frank’s, when making a deal with Pinhead and his sadistic Cenobite cohorts in Clive Barker’s wickedly inspired dark and gruesome HELLRAISER. Her character is initially presented as weak, but Kirsty more than proves her metal purely through her stamina and ingenuity, in a potent performance from actress Ashley Laurence. She gets on this list for owning one of the best parting scenes in a contemporary horror; in handing Frank over to the cenobites in their torture dungeon, she doesn’t bat an eyelid as she walks out the door, leaving Frank to get his own skin torn to shreds as the cenobites wreak their revenge on all that is left. She might have had a frail entrance but she leaves the screen as a serious force to be reckoned with.
Kristen Parker: A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
Returning once again to the world of Wes Craven (making this his second entry in this list, this time as a scriptwriter) Freddy returns once again to haunt the dreams of the children of Elm Street. This time not only is the fearsome Nancy Thompson there waiting for him, but the spirited young Kristen Parker too. Both Nancy and Kristen performing as a tag team duo in order to take down the infamous child killer once again. As there can only be one final girl- thems the rules- it is Kristen that gets to walk away the victor this time. Patricia Arquette’s depiction of the role injects an impressive amount of gumption into the part; as she brings with her a new twist to the tale- the power to pull other people into her dreams. As well as being able to defeat Freddy from the confines of a mental institution- where she is subject to sedation- Kristen subverts, and ultimately gains control of Freddy’s domain purely by will alone.
Sidney Prescott: SCREAM (1996)
Just as Wes Craven managed to help delineate the genre in the 1970’s with his cult hit THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and in the 1980’s with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, he returned for the hat trick in the 1990’s when the genre was seriously flagging, with another slasher based horror SCREAM (which eventually spawned a highly successful franchise). In doing so, Craven introduced the final 20th century Final Girl, Sidney Prescott (portrayed by Neve Campbell) to audiences. Craven exploited well-known horror tropes, turning them on their head to produce a new brand of horror that was self-aware and infused with strong sense of irony; in the process redefining genre film and reflecting current thinking of the time. In his (almost) breaking of the cinematic fourth wall, the punchline was that we were all in on the “joke” from the very start: a component that many found difficult to resist. At the heart of the appeal of the films- especially the original- is Craven’s reworking of the final girl character in Sidney. Sidney is a girl for the new millennium, and Campbell’s strong performance more than reflects that. She is a girl that maybe plagued by her mother’s death, vulnerable and fragile but one who ultimately proves herself with an immense inner strength when she is hunted and tormented by the Ghostface killer. She also has sex with the killer and lives to kiss and tell, consequently smashing THE cardinal slasher rule to pieces, and proving Sidney Prescott is a final girl like no other.
Erin: YOU’RE NEXT (2011)
Adam Wingard’s surprise 2011 indie hit provided a highly ingenuous re-hash of home invasion and slasher themes in YOU’RE NEXT. When masked killers burst in to kill and torture members of the Davison family home, as they gather together for a family holiday, it is left up to final girl Erin- in an inspirational turn from Australian actress and former HOME AND AWAY star, Sharni Vinson- to save the day. Erin is at the home to meet her boyfriend Crispian’s parents and siblings when the proverbial shit hits the fan. Unbeknownst to anyone in the house she was brought up by survivalist parents and harbours some pro-skills when it comes to trapping and killing the assailants. Erin is able to fight her way to the finish line using some resourceful means that make a mockery of not one vicious killer, but a whole pack, beating them into submission and forcing their ultimate defeat at the hands of just one girl. And as the tale unravels providing some wicked twists and turns it is up to our fearless heroine to stay one step ahead of the game. Vinson’s performance combines spunk, dry wit and kick ass charm to make her one of the most outstanding final girls of the new millennium so far.
So there you have it, our favourite final girls. Do you agree with us? Why not send us a Tweet or hit us up over on our Facebook page and tell us who your favourite final girl is?
THE FINAL GIRLS is out now on UK DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
When Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends reluctantly attend an anniversary screening of “Camp Bloodbath”, the infamous ‘80s horror film that starred Max’s late mother (Malin Akerman), they are mysteriously sucked into the silver screen. They soon realize they are trapped inside the cult classic movie and must team up with the fictional and ill-fated camp counselors, including Max’s mom as the scream queen, to battle the film’s machete-wielding killer. With the body count rising in scene after iconic scene, who will be the final girls left standing and live to escape this film? THE FINAL GIRLS is a genre-blending horror comedy also starring Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat with Alexander Ludwig and Nina Dobrev.
DVD Bonus Features:
Cast And Crew Commentary
Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary
Visual Effects Progression Reel