Final girls: Last ones standing

People ask me all the time,
“Wow, how in the world did you ever come up with your screen name?”

All right, fine … no one ever
asks me about it. But now that I’ve brought it up, aren’t
you maybe just a little bit curious? Those of you with horror
movie cred may have figured it out, but just in case you’re in the
dark: The final girl, as usually seen in slasher films, is simply the
last one alive. The phrase was coined by Carol Clover in
her essential book on gender in horror movies, Men, Women, and Chainsaws,
and she argues that having the hero of the film be, in fact, a heroine,
the largely male target audience is “allowed” to take on the victim
role without shame. To reinforce her point, Clover discusses movies
where the final girl has an androgynous name, such as Hell Night,
wherein Linda Blair portrays Marti, a college student trapped
in a spooky mansion inhabited by a “gorked-out” family thought long
dead.

It’s a tenuous argument at
best; for every Marti found in slasherdom, there’s a Laurie or a Nancy.
I suppose it all comes down to … how much analysis do you want to put
into these horror movies? Is the fact that the final girl is usually
(but not always) a virginal “good” girl a statement about the perils
of sex? Or does sex in horror mean boobs in horror, which in turn
means money? Or does sex in horror simply put characters in vulnerable
situations where the killer can strike?

Whether or not you agree that
the strength of the final girl equates to a masculinization of the final
girl, there’s no denying that she’s tough and resourceful.
While everyone around her, friends and strangers alike, meets the business
end of some cuckoo nutso killer’s knife, the final girl survives to
take him (or, in rare instances, her) on. There’s no
waiting around to be rescued by some guy — the final girl needs to take
care of herself. Here are some of my favorite final girls to have
graced the big screen.

1. Sally Hardesty: The Texas
Chain Saw Massacre

A simple trip to a swimmin’
hole turns into a nightmare beyond belief when Sally (Marilyn Burns)
and her friends encounter Leatherface and his chainsaw. Sally
survives a really gnarly family dinner and manages to escape Leatherface’s
whirring blade. Sure, she ends up completely insane at the end
of her ordeal, but who can blame her?

Burns’s mantle was picked
up by Jessica Biel (as Erin) in the Chainsaw remake.

And Jordana
Brewster
had her shot at dueling against Leatherface in TCM:
The Beginning
.

I vote for Biel.

2. Laurie Strode: Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis as
the studious, nerdious, wonderful Laurie is considered by many to be
the final girl to end all final girls. She’s the good friend
who babysat so her pals and their boyfriends could make with the sexy-time;
meanwhile, Laurie shyly harbors a crush and wonders if he’ll ask her
to the dance. Before Halloween night is over, Laurie has found
all of her friends dead and has been chased all over Haddonfield, IL
by a knife-wielding psycho who turns out to be her brother. And
I thought I had it rough that Halloween in first grade where
I got the flu, barfed all over my Incredible Hulk costume, and couldn’t
go trick-or-treating.

Scout Taylor-Compton
became Laurie in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake to much lesser
effect. I don’t know, I just think new Laurie was kind of a
jerk — she all but hated the kids she was babysitting. I kinda
dig the glasses, though — that’s how you know she’s smart!

3. Ginny Field: Friday the
13
th, Part 2

Ginny (Amy Steel) wins
the “Final Girl’s favorite final girl” competition, hands down.
She’s the one I’d want on my side when the machete hits the fan:
She’s career-minded, she’s not at all virginal, she’s proactive
in her fight against Jason Voorhees (yeah! Kick him in the junk!),
and she doesn’t hesitate to don Jason’s dead mom’s nasty, crusty
old sweater and use a little psychology on the killer before giving
him a taste of his own medicine. Simply put, Ginny rules.

4. Nancy Thompson: A Nightmare
on Elm Street

You gotta give it up for Nancy
(Heather Langenkamp), who goes mano a mano with Freddy Krueger
in the original Nightmare. She slips in and out of dreamland,
she booby-traps her house, she insults Freddy and eventually defeats
him by getting him to disappear in a shower of sparkles, and she keeps
Johnny Depp
(Glen) on a short leash. All of this, mind you,
whilst operating on a massive lack of sleep. Me? I can’t
even get dressed before my second cup of coffee; somehow, whenever I
try, I always end up putting my pants on my head … and you know what?
That’s never the right way to do it. But anyway, Nancy
proved victorious in her battle against Freddy. Now, if she could
just manage to win the battle against damaged hair …

There are countless other final
girls worth noting, from the aforementioned Marti (she wears a flouncy
top and she’s a mechanic!) to Sidney Prescott of Scream
(she’s Neve Campbell!) to all the ladies of the countless
Friday the 13th
films. Who are your favorites?
Your least favorites? And how do I figure into the mix?

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