One of the more important and groundbreaking accounts of the horror film from a feminist perspective is in Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaw (Princeton 1992). One of the book's major points concerns the structural positioning of what she calls The Final Girl in relation to viewers. While most theorists label the horror film as a male-driven and centred genre, Clover points out that in most horror films, particularly in the slasher sub-genre, the audience, both male and female, is 'forced' to identify with the resourceful young female (The Final Girl) who survives the serial killer and usually ends the threat. So, while the narrative dominant killer's subjective point of view may be male within the narrative, the male viewer is still rooting for the Final Girl to overcome the killer. We can see The Final Girl archetypically in Halloween (Jamie Lee Curtis, 1978), Friday the 13th (Adrienne King, 1980), Eyes of a Stranger (Jennifer Jason Leigh, 1981), A Nightmare on Elm Street (Heather Langenkamp, 1984), and Scream (Neve Campbell, 1996).
So, who is the final girl, and how does she, in the stories narrative, and in the audiences mind, become the final girl?
According to Clover, the final girl is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, avoiding the vices of the victims and her friends/peers (sex, drink, drug use, etc.) She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g., Teddy, Sydney, Kim, Ripley). Occasionally, the Final Girl will have a shared history with the killer such as Laurie Strode finding out she is the sister of Michael Myers in Halloween, or Nancy Thompson finding out she is being attacked by Freddy Krueger because her parents helped kill him in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The final girl is the "investigating consciousness" of the film, moving the narrative forward and as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance; it is Laurie Strode that first senses something is wrong in ‘Halloween’ and therefore stays more vigilante. The Final Girl will also be first to point out a moral falling, or obligation that she and her friends/peers have committed. For example, Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is the first to demand that her and her friends go to the police after their hit and run in ‘I know what you did last Summer.’ If the final girl is involved in a crime of some sort, or unbeknownst to them at the time, the upset of an individual, they feel extreme remorse for the act, such as Jamie Lee Curtis as Alana Maxwell in ‘Terror Train’ (1980).
Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (you can buy this brilliant read at the link below.) Clover suggests that in these horror films, the audience begins by sharing the perspective of the killer, for example, at the start of ‘Halloween’ we as an audience are literally seeing things from, the killers, Michael Myers perspective, as the camera does a point of view shot as he murders his older sister, Judith. The film/s experiences a shift in identification to the final girl halfway through the film; for example, at the end of ‘Halloween’ we as an audience are placed in Laurie Strode’s shoes as she tries to better the killer, survive, and kill him. Clover believes that male viewers of these films are literally crossing gender lines to identify with The Final Girl and root her on in a sort of sadomasochistic view against their own masculinity.
More on THE FINAL GIRL next week: