The Final Girl was a pretty great evolution for horror movies. Instead of endless heaps of screaming ladies falling victim to supernatural and human evils, some would rise above, running out the front door rather than up the stairs, finding a way to fight back rather than just blow the audience’s ear drums with blood-curdling screams.
But the Final Girl was just that – a girl. One solitary girl might live so that the evil had someone to fight with in future, franchised battles. The down side to having a Final Girl was that only one would persevere while many more perished – victims who were often just as capable (if not smarter, or at least more charismatic) than the ones who would live.
To make the victims into Final Girls might not always make narrative sense – and indeed, can change the entire outcome of a film – but it’s still fun to imagine the alternative, especially on Halloween.
Brooke Theiss, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
As a child of the ’80s, Brooke Theiss’ Debbie Stevens was my first taste of Final Girl discontent. The Dream Master popped up on cable over and over, delighting in Alice Johnson’s rise from lame weakling to ass-kicking powerhouse. She was the unlikely hero audiences could live through vicariously, but she didn’t do it on her own inner power. She could only become a heroine by taking her dead friends’ powers for herself.
Indeed, her story requires her to “collect” the powers of NoES 3 Final Girl Kristen, plus all of her friends, in order to defeat Freddy. This includes Theiss’ Debbie, a busty girl with the blood red nails who looks like the typical horror victim on the surface, but is actually a tough-as-nails weightlifting teen. “I don’t believe in you,” she firmly tells Freddy, but it doesn’t matter. After engaging in battle of strength, he turns her into the one thing she fears (a cockroach) and smushes her. “No pain, no gain” Freddy had told her, but the rule didn’t apply to Alice, who reaped the benefits of her friends’ pain.
Rose McGowan, Scream
The Scream franchise liked offing its most charismatic characters, starting with Rose McGowan’s Tatum. While Neve Campbell’s Sidney got angsty about the anniversary of her mother’s death and her boyfriend’s sex drive, Tatum was the perfect friend – offering support, encouragement, and some of the film’s best one-liners. She wasn’t the only one who wanted her in the sequel.
She was strong and sarcastic, and the film’s best defense against the “stupidity leaks” of Woodboro’s residents. When it came time for her to die, she got all the fight and sass that would sustain Sidney through multiple films, but she was put into a confined space she couldn’t free herself from, and killed by the size of her breasts, as if she was the typical, busty victim.
Jada Pinkett Smith, Scream 2
When it came time for part two, the franchise wanted to diversify, at least for the deadly opening sequence. Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Elise Neal and Duane Martin were added to the cast – but the first two died in the film’s first scenes as masses of yelling, fake knife-wielding fans watch the premiere of Stab, the meta-movie about the events of Scream. She didn’t get much chance to fight, her one memorable moment came with her quick death, as she screamed in front of the movie theater screen.
Neal’s Hallie, Sidney’s replacement bestie, was offed next, and Martin’s Joel likely survived only because he kept talking about the expendability of Gale’s cameramen and black people in horror films. As the franchise set up the three can’t-be-killed heroes (Sidney, Dewey, and Gale), it was hard not to dream about an alternate trilogy where some of the victims became heroes. Pinkett Smith had already faced the Demon Knight, but was the quick victim this time around, for nothing other than having the same name as Sidney Prescott’s mother (Maureen).
Amy Acker, Cabin in the Woods
When Joss Whedon is involved, it’s easy to have high hopes for Amy Acker. On Angel, she got the chance to transform from the innocent (and grating) Winifred Burkle to the magnetically unstoppable god Ilyria. And while other casting included a stint on a super-cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movie (Dear Santa), Whedon pegged her to play the dark, scarred Dr. Claire Saunders in Dollhouse.
Unfortunately, Cabin didn’t give Acker a chance at big-screen asskickery, something the film sorely needed to put its cabin victims in place. Her responsible employee Lin is just trying to appease the Ancient Ones, while Dana and Marty would rather let the world burn.
As the Facility’s monsters kill all of the employees, Lin is swept away by the Kraken – but it would’ve been much sweeter to see her later covered in Kraken blood and ready to off Dana and Marty herself.
Greta Gerwig, The House of the Devil
At first, Greta Gerwig’s Megan seems like the typical teen destined to be killed in Ti West’s The House of the Devil. She’s a cute, brash and outspoken smoker who has lots of sex and a rich family that leave her with no financial worries. But she’s more than meets the eye. She might be a carefree teen, but she’s also a girl with more sense than the desperate, money-needing Samantha (Jocelin Donahue).
Samantha takes a mysterious babysitting job and stubbornly ignores all the clues that scream danger, as well as Megan’s many warnings that she shouldn’t trust a creepy liar living in a mansion outside of town who wants to give her heaps of money for a few hours of work. Unfortunately as the friend, and not the heroine, Megan is doomed. She drives away, stops for a smoke, and is immediately shot dead without pause when a passerby discovers that she’s not the babysitter. Her death nicely juxtaposes with the usual drawn-out death scenes, but it also means killing the girl with sense and letting the stubbornly clueless friend survive.
Sarah Polley, Dawn of the Dead
The 2004 survivors of Dawn of the Dead are doomed. They survive the zombie outbreak in their town, and flee in a boat, but as the short bursts of footage during the credits reveal, the voyage is plagued from the get-go as they find proof of other zombies at sea, and then land on an island with a zombie horde that overtakes the group in seconds.
It’s a deadly neat, wrapped up package, but one that also could have had promise in an alternate universe where the movie became a franchise and Polley was willing to lead it. It was fortuitous enough for the Zack Snyder remake that Polley signed on, but it’s nice to think of her nurse Ana somehow bursting through the horde, defeating them, and becoming an ongoing kickass zombie killer. Heroes rarely last multiple films in horror franchises (unless they’re Ash from housewares), and they’re almost never critically acclaimed talents.
Janet Leigh, Psycho
Before Final Girls there was Marion Crane, the iconic victim everyone knows. She was the beautiful blonde prey of a murderer and karma – she was, after all, on the run after stealing from her employer. She also provided one of the best twists in cinema, but it’s still delicious to think about what would’ve happened if Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic scene didn’t end with her death, but with her survival, and how the Master of Suspense might’ve handled a Final Girl scenario as Marion hunted down Norman Bates and his other personality.
Hitchcock couldn’t deliver, but John Carpenter could. Eighteen years after Psycho, he gave the world Halloween, where Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, became one of horror’s most iconic Final Girls.
Related Topics: Horror