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final girl

Posted on February 29, 2016

Gwen’s Pick for the Final Woman: Sarah Logan

Gwen

As Women In Horror Month draws to an end, I wanted to bookend our discussion of the final girl with the character who, I feel, best depicts forward momentum. In order to see a clear trajectory I had to reflect upon Dawn’s discussion of Carol Clover and subsequently consider the criticisms mentioned by others such as BJ Colangelo and noted scholar Isabel Cristina Pinedo. [i] I agree that there are problematic components embedded within the final girl, much of which has to do with the assumption of male spectatorship. Nonetheless, I feel that there are positive representations of womanhood in recent horror film. Most notably, is the character Sarah Logan (played by Anne Ramsay) in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014).

Sarah Logan is the last woman standing. Granted, The Taking of Deborah Logan is not a slasher, and Sarah Logan is not your stereotypical final girl. Regardless, Sarah Logan is the survivor: she meets the killer, takes it on, and defeats it (or so we hope). This is as far as Sarah Logan follows the formula Carol Clover laid out for the final girl. Sarah is a lesbian in a relationship who has temporarily left her lover in order to care for her ailing mother. What I love most about Sarah is that she is a realistic representation of womanhood. She is vulnerable; we see her struggle, trying to make financial ends meet while balancing her relationship with the nebulous task of managing her mother’s Alzheimer’s. Sarah is flawed, she is scared, uncertain, she drinks to manage her stress, and she sometimes needs help from others. Read more

Posted on February 24, 2016

Origins of the Final Girl: Ann Radcliffe and American Mary

Guest Post

In Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 four-volume Gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, the heroine Emily is incarcerated in the castle of Udolpho after her father’s death and the subsequent guardianship of her aunt and new husband, Montoni. Montoni brings her to Udolpho in order to coerce her to marry his friend, Morano, threatening her virginity, and her life until she agrees to do so. Emily, in other words, is in a position of subordination, instability, and danger typical of eighteenth-century Gothic literature: we see it in Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Lee’s The Recess, Lewis’s The Monk, and the list goes on. Some version of female incarceration happens in nearly all of Radcliffe’s novels, though Udolpho is her most iconic.

Laura1

Though Radcliffe’s heroines may not be as obviously strong and independent as the horror film women discussed during Women in Horror Month, I want to argue for them as precursors to Carol Clover’s “Final Girls”: women who, through their own ingenuity, survive the men (or monsters) who threaten them with violence and/or sexual assault.

Udolpho is well-known for exhibiting Radcliffe’s characteristic “explained supernatural”: Suggestions of a supernatural force throughout the text are revealed to be the misinterpretation of natural and easily-explained occurrences by the heroine. However, the “natural” threat to her life and person is still very real. The men who fill the castle and stalk the hallways of Udolpho make murder and rape more terrifying than any supernatural element. But what makes Udolpho noteworthy in the context of Women in Horror Month is that, despite the images of death and horror that Emily encounters around every corner of her new prison/home, she refuses to be intimidated into a marriage with a man she despises, and she eventually escapes with the help of her sympathetic servant and a mysterious stranger.

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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.

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Posted on February 19, 2016

The Final Girl, Part 3: The End?

Dawn

By the end of the 1990s, the Final Girl trope had arguably run its course, at least within a conventional slasher narrative. One reason for this, I think, is because of the self-reflexivity of horror in the 1990s. The persistent reflection of one character by another, on TV screens and in mirrors, started to disclose how characters were trapped in a mirror of reflections that was preventing radical transformation.

The Halloween and Scream franchises are deeply reflective of each other. And while one of the things the Scream franchise was known for was its self-reflexivity—its internal explicit references to other films—the Halloween franchise (beginning twenty years earlier) was actually the first to build into its narrative meaningful references to other horror films.

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) famously weaves Christian Nyby’s 1951 sci-fi horror film The Thing from Another World into its plot. Lindsey and Tommy are watching the film throughout the fateful Halloween evening—and it’s not just a throwaway reference. In the earlier film, the “Thing,” an alien from another planet, is called a “boogeyman on ice”—and is an utterly inhuman, emotionless killing machine. Michael Myers, called “The Shape” in the credits, is also, of course, an inhuman, emotionless killing machine, and the last exchange of the film is Laurie (Jamie Lees Curtis) saying to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), “It was the boogeyman.”

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Posted on February 10, 2016

The New Final Girl of 90s Horror: Part 2

Dawn

There is much to say about how the Final Girl changed in 1990s horror, so this post will inevitably be partial.

First of all, the Final Girl became intriguingly fused with AUTHORITY in the 1990s. In the slasher films of the 1980s, the authority figures were, for the most part, nowhere to be found when the killer started stalking and slaughtering teens. In fact, part of the ideological message of these films was to indict the authority figures (parents, police, doctors) who were either recklessly absent, incompetent, or were somehow involved in creating the problem in the first place. Why did officials at the psychiatric hospital allow Michael Myers to escape, anyway? Why are police and/or parents signally absent when it matters in Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and their many sequels?

Things changed with the groundbreaking The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991). Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is unambiguously a Final Girl, meeting all the characteristics, as I laid them out in Part 1 of this series. As fledging FBI agent, however, she is also the authority figure—and an effective one at that. She finds Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) and saves his latest victim while the rest of the FBI is miles away.

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