Posted on February 21, 2016

The Final Girl, Pt. 4: The Hostel Films and Paxton as “Final Girl”

Dawn

In my third post on the Final Girl, I argued that Halloween H20 (1998) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002) signaled the end of the traditional Final Girl of the slasher plot—and that things were about to change as we entered the twenty-first century.

Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) marks that change—a change that Roth makes clear by having the ending of Hostel and the beginning of Hostel, Part 2 (2007) echo the iconic Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980) and Friday the 13th, Part 2 (Steve Miner, 1981), but with a crucial difference.[i]

Friday the 13th famously ends with the Final Girl, Alice (Adrienne King), decapitating Pamela Vorhees (Betsy Palmer). Although she survives the first round of carnage at “Camp Blood,” Alice’s luck runs out as Friday the 13th, Part 2 begins. Still traumatized, she lives only long enough to see the worst of her nightmares realized: while making tea and feeding her cat, Alice is attacked and killed by Jason Vorhees, bent on avenging his mother.

Alice’s death is shocking for any viewer who may have expected (and hoped) she would reprise her role as plucky survivor: it approximates the devastating murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) halfway through Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). It’s also a narrative trick that Eli Roth adopts in Hostel: Part 2.

Like Alice, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is a survivor, having escaped the distinctly unwelcoming Slovakian hostel of Hostel. Hostel: Part 2 begins with Paxton back at home, still suffering nightmares after his traumatic experiences in eastern Europe. He’s haunted by the fear that members of the Elite Hunting Club will find him and kill him—and he’s right. As was the case for Alice, fear becomes reality, and Paxton’s girlfriend finds his bloody body, minus head, in the kitchen one morning.

Paxton’s death

Paxton’s death

The mise-en-scène of this moment strikingly evokes the scene of Alice’s murder (by an ice pick through the head) early in Friday the 13th, Part 2. Alice walks to her refrigerator, opens the door, and sees Mrs. Vorhees’ head (fig. 1); seconds later, Jason kills her, and then the camera cuts to Alice’s cat—signally indifferent (as cats are wont to be) to the death of its owner (fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Alice’s fridge

Fig. 1. Alice’s fridge

Fig. 2. Alice’s cat

Fig. 2. Alice’s cat

What’s striking about both these scenes is not only the cats that feature in both, but the virtually identical milk cartons in Alice’s fridge and on Paxton’s table. On Alice’s table, moreover, we see the word “News,” while Paxton’s table sports a newspaper.

These details seem to mirror each other too precisely to be an accident, and it seems Roth is purposefully evoking Friday the 13th, Part 2 in his own sequel. Indeed, these parallel mise-en-scènes, along with the obviously similar opening deaths, might alert us to other similarities among the first two Friday the 13th films and Hostel and Hostel: Part 2.

The similarity I want to focus on here is quite simply that Paxton clearly stands as the “Final Girl” of Hostel—surviving, like Alice, only to be plagued by nightmares and then brutally killed in the opening sequences of their sequels.

In short, the new Final Girl is a Final Boy. What are the implications of this new incarnation of a longstanding horror trope?[ii]

The principal meaning, I think, is that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, terror is no longer “feminine.”

When Carol Clover first defined the Final Girl, she insisted that the character was both virginal and androgynous, thus allowing her to serve as a point of identification for the male viewers of horror. Male viewers of horror, she argued, couldn’t countenance seeing male characters in states of extreme fear, so fear had to be embodied in a female character, but one with whom male viewers could identify. As Clover puts it: “Angry displays of force may belong to the male, but crying, cowering, screaming, fainting, trembling, begging for mercy belong to the female. Abject terror, in short, is gendered feminine.” For Clover, the Final Girl was “feminine enough” to act out terror, but “not so feminine as to disturb the structures of male competence and sexuality.”[iii] The Final Girl allowed male viewers to vicariously experience terror, while preserving the fantasy that they (males) would not be so terrified—would be eminently “competent.”

Hostel and a film that came out the year before, Saw (James Wan, 2004) changed all that. With these two films, MALE ABJECT TERROR came forcefully into mainstream horror. In some ways, this fact removes the psychological need for the Final Girl: male viewers can now countenance “abject terror” as “gendered masculine.”

Paxton as Final Girl Collage

In this shift from Final Girl to Final Boy, we witness, I think, the result of the transformation of gender from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. Gender roles have become more malleable: masculinity and femininity are no longer clear opposites but are increasingly accepted as a continuum. And most men and most women contain within themselves aspects of both.

Paxton as Final Boy shows that male viewers CAN now identify with abject terror embodied in a male character. And in this way, the horror film marks the progress toward increasing gender equality in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century.


 

[i] I pointed out this similarity in an earlier post, from June 8, 2015, but I took that in a different direction (looking at Beth from Hostel, Part 2).

[ii] Anyone interested in this question should read Craig Frost, “Regendering the Final Girl: Eli Roth’s Hostel,” Cinemascope 5.12 (January-June, 2009).

[iii] Carol Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 51.

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