Friday, September 13, 2013

What's Up with The Final Girl?

The tables turn in slasher films. Bad guys may ultimately rise after defeat to leave sequel potential open, but usually there's a culmination in which someone, almost always the "final girl," stops the killing.

Carol J. Clover named the archetype in 1992 in Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, not terribly long before Kevin Williamson delivered the self-aware Scream which turned the plot tradition into a plot twist.

You know the story, the virginal, studious teenager in the character mix rises to the occasion. See: Laurie Strode in Halloween etc.

I could be wrong, but I think now the final girl may be moving in a new direction, given a shove in that direction by slasher's evolutionary cousin torture horror.

Jeremy Morris--in an essay in Thomas Fahy's The Philosophy of Horror, "The Justification of Torture- Horror: "Retribution and Sadism in Saw, Hostel, and The Devil's Rejects"--observes a "transformation of torturers and victims" as far back as Last House on the Left (1972, remade 2009) .

In that one, the parents of a  murdered young girl exact revenge in brutal fashion on her killers. In Virgin Spring, which inspired the tale, Max Von Sydow takes up a sword after exfoliating, but it's not quite as gritty as a microwave death or the biting off of  genitals of the Last House films.

The trend of victims becoming torturers, Morris notes, continues in the films mentioned in the essay's title.

A trend evolves?
The final girl type seems to be changing along similar lines. Some of the DNA from torture horror seems to have dropped into the archetype gene pool.

In a number of recent neo-slasher films the final girl's a force to be reckoned with. It's perhaps most obvious in the "Tuesday the 17th" segment of the anthology film V/H/S, directed by Glen McQuaid.

Wendy (Norma C. Quinones) leads new friends on a camping trip, gradually revealing she is the final girl from a previous outing in which campers fell prey to a slasher who can't be captured on video. That makes inspired use of the film's handheld point of view.

Wendy's now out to kill the entity. Spoiler warning: She succeeds, only to become possessed by the spirit at the open-ended tale's conclusion.

Mary Mason in American Mary from Jen and Sylvia Soska isn't a slasher victim but is the survivor of a roofied date-rape. The experience transforms her from a medical student to underground body modification surgeon who ultimately kills. The arc is tragedy, but the Soskas know horror and slasher territory well.

Mary the victim becomes the antagonist as the tale marches forward.

I haven't seen it yet, but that appears to be the direction things are headed in Anna: Scream Queen Killer. 

It's interesting to watch the edges of the box cave in and to see things take on new freshness. There's always a new twist, and it's good to be reminded. Don't mess with the final girl. 

Interesting Addendum

If this project, The Final Girls, comes about for ABC Family, it looks like final girls will be working for good by channeling their experiences into fighting evil under the guidance of Laurie Strode herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. 
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