This week, I’m going to take the subject of The final girl and show examples of her in action in two narratives.
In ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, the Final Girl is, of course, Nancy Thompson (played by the fantastic Heather Langenkamp.) Nancy displays all of the characteristics of the final girl; she is strong, inquisitive, and moves the narrative forward by her own curiosity and intelligence. She demands to know why she is being stalked by the villain of the piece, dream-killer, Fred Krueger (Robert Englund.) Nancy is virginal, refusing to make love with boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp ), and is also morally blameless. During the course of the film, it is proved over and over that Nancy can’t rely on the men in her life; she asks Glen; her boyfriend, to protect her two times, and on both occasions he lets her down, falling asleep in both instances. She is the victim of a broken home, and her father, Lieutenant Donald Thompson (John Saxon) is often absent. Although he seemingly wants to protect her, when she asks him to, he lets her down also. So both the men in her life prove unreliable. During the movie, Nancy realizes that she can only depend on herself, and it is alone that she vanquishes the demon.
It is Nancy’s investigative consciousness which moves the narrative forward, with her constant questioning of who Freddy is. Nancy also has the typical Final Girl shared history with the killer; Krueger is only attacking her and her friends in revenge for a crime her parent’s committed (again, she is blameless.) She is portrayed as intelligent (creating traps to trap Krueger ), physically brave (she physically charges and fights Krueger), and mentally strong (investigating and deciphering the rules of the nightmares.)
Nancy Thompson (as portrayed by Heather Langenkamp in the 84 version) is in fact, the strongest Western horror movie Final Girl; relying on no-one but herself to vanquish the killer, while still remaining feminine. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ proved popular with a lot of minority groups, starting with African Americans and working it’s way to the gay community; perhaps one of these reasons is because, as a woman, Nancy is viewed by society as the weaker gender, but throughout the film, she proves that she is in fact, the stronger gender within her situation; turning the viewer’s perception of society’s stereotypes on its head.
An interesting question in horror, is why is the final girl pattern repeated over and over? Sure, there are exceptions, but more so, we are seeing the final girl shown again and again, but with a troubling new twist. The final girl doesn’t outdo the killer, and in recent years, dies along with the rest of the characters, despite her high morals.
The unsettling formula of killing off every character is becoming more and more common; so much so; that it is actually a surprise nowadays if a character survives a horror film.
Probably, the most famous Final Girl is Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Carpenter’s ‘Halloween.’ What is interesting in this case, is if you compare the original film to its much inferior recent re-make of the classic, byRob Zombie. In the re-make, Scout Taylor-Compton, plays Laurie, and is a far weaker and morally ambiguous character. In the original, Laurie’s two female friends are murdered – in both of these scenes, the violence isn’t gratuitous (and more importantly, sexist.) However, in the re-make, all of the male characters are murdered swiftly by killer, Michael Myers, while every female is stabbed repeatedly over and over; replacing the original’s suspense for graphic brutality and extended scenes of nudity. These scenes of nudity, all of course involved women, in the two scenes where Laurie’s friends, Lynda and Annie are killed (in the re-make), they are making love and are topless – and then they are stabbed repeatedly, with the phallic representation of the knife.
In the re-make, you could not tell one teenage character from the next, with their stereotypical rocker Goth images, whereas, in Carpenter's original, each teenager had real and distinct personalities; making you care more for the characters and mourn their death, rather than simply being disgusted by it.
So why are horror movies moving backwards with their Final Girls; objectifying them more now than in the eighties? What does this say about the new horror audience?
It can easily be said that the media represents two strong opposing views of women; that of the virgin, and that of the loose woman (rhymes with oar). If, in ‘Rob Zombie’s Halloween’ all of the female victim’s are portrayed as characterless “loose women”, then doesn’t that make them in the viewer’s eye, as somehow deserving death? Once the women in the film have been split into these two groups; in some viewer’s minds, the “loose woman” characters can be murdered and tortured, free of guilt from the audience watching, because of their “sins.” This is also made all the better by the Final Girl, who restores justice and order at the end of the film by slaying this punisher of “loose women” and allowing the audience to watch guilt free, excusing the prurient thoughts of the viewers, especially the heterosexual males. Because the Final Girl is ever pure and virginal, in an archaic way, some modern horror is celebrating the repression of women.
(PINK = USA) (YELLOW = UK)