Last Woman Standing: 5 Final Girls That Changed the Name of the Horror Game

     With the fortieth anniversary of Halloween upon us and the new installment out this weekend, final girls are a topic of conversation amongst horror fans right now.  The final girl has traditionally sparked a lot of debate.  Some argue that the idea of a final girl is sexist, arguing that the virginal girl being spared is a comment on how women who have casual sex are viewed.  Others argue that the final girl represents female empowerment, and that they show that women are smart and strong, and don’t need a man to help them out of a survival situation.  No matter how you feel about the concept, the final girl has undoubtedly formed a large part of horror culture.  Here are five badass final girls that have helped shape horror over the years.

5.  Sarah – The Descent

     Sarah is an interesting final girl in that the fact that she is a final girl is less to do with any of her stereotypical characteristics and more to do with the character’s struggle with her own inner demons.  Surviving a car wreck but losing her husband and child in the process, Sarah heads on a girls trip with friends determined to help her relax.  The group goes cave diving in the Appalachians, and after a cave in, comes face to face with a cannibalistic group of humanoid cave-dwellers.  As the girls fight for survival (and it is a bloody fight), Sarah stands out in that she is terrified, but makes decisions and carefully weighs her options rather than being bogged down in indecision.  As secrets between her friends are revealed, Sarah has to decide whether the struggle is worth it, and ultimately pushes through her demons to survive both the elements and her attackers.  While not a traditional slasher film, Sarah displays amazing resourcefulness as a modern final girl.

4.  Erin – You’re Next

     The character of Erin is a very important addition to final girls in the last decade.  Born of a decade that no longer links sexual activity to instant death for women, You’re Next tells the story of a girl meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time.  They are quickly interrupted by several masked killers with knives and crossbows.  As the family members are picked off one by one, with several characters left gibbering wrecks, Erin stands tall and kicks ass.  She has a very strong sense of self, and embraces it.  Seeing her go into beast mode is something to behold.  For instance, hearing her matter of factly explain that she just used a blender as a defense weapon is both entertaining and badass.  Beyond smart, she understands what weaknesses she has that the killers may try to exploit.  She is unique in that there is an explanation for her MacGyver-like, calculated planning that make her a refreshing and unexpected asset to the ranks.

3.   Max – The Final Girls

     The Final Girls is a love letter to the horror genre, and truly points out how far women in horror have come since the scream queens of the 80s to now.  In this one, a group of friends go to see an 80s horror film starring the late mother of one of the teens.  There is a fire in the theater, and the group is transported into the film.  From the outside, this movie looks like a clever way to poke fun at the breakout decade for horror.  But as the film goes on, it provides a commentary to the fact that the definition of a final girl has changed.

     Max herself, designated the final girl of the group because of her virginal status, calls out that the characters can be whoever or whatever they want.  What I also love about this movie is that it really explores the friendships between the girls, and they work together and sacrifice for each other.  This movie works hard at making the “non-final girls” more than just red shirts waiting to be chopped up by a guy with a machete; they have thoughts and feelings, and the audience cares about them.  By making Max an effective final girl, the film questions whether the trope needs to change while at the same time exploring why they’re important.

2.  Sydney – Scream

     Scream was a HUGE influence on me as a horror fan.  It was self-aware, and pointed out so many horror tropes that it was impossible not to scrutinize any slasher films that followed to see how they would stack up.  This franchise is unique in that all of the girls, not just the final girl, are more than capable.  They all fight back, and make smart moves under extreme stress.  Sydney, while she is the stereotype of the final girl, and is virginal, Wes Craven broke new ground by having her have sex partway through the film.  Lo and behold, she has sex and her brain doesn’t go to mush!  Imagine that!  Through four movies, she is an amazingly strong heroine, ready to kick ass and take names despite being stalked repeatedly by people in a ghostface mask.

1.   Laurie – Halloween 

     Laurie Strode seems to be an obvious choice, because she was one of the first in a series of final girls that would come to be definitive in the horror genre, particularly throughout the 80s.  She was a strong character very well acted by Jamie Lee Curtis.  She reacted in ways that were believable in a crisis.  Rather than behead Michael Myers with a chainsaw that she happened to have handy, she used a knitting needle and a coat hanger for crying out loud!  She was the original badass, and also formed the notion that the final girl should be a virgin (luckily that part of the trope is being challenged in more recent horror, as mentioned in some of the entries above).  Love or hate the Halloween franchise, it is impossible to have a conversation about final girls without including Laurie Strode.

     These are just five of so many amazing final girls!  Who are your favourites?  I can’t wait to see how this concept continues to evolve as conversations around equality in cinema continue.

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