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Identification of Subcategories within Carol Clover's Final Girl Model of Slasher Film Heroines
By James M. Wiles

"I always believe in following the advice of the playwright Sardou. He said `Torture the women! ` The trouble today is that we don't torture women enough."- Sir Alfred Hitchcock, during the filming of The Birds (Clover, 1992, pg. 42).

Slasher films, a subgenre of more traditional horror that came to light in the mid-1970's, have always followed a similar pattern and featured many common elements. One of the most notable staples of the genre is the typical use of a heroine instead of a male hero: A character type identified by Carol Clover as the "Final Girl."

In her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol Clover puts forth an effective model of the common elements often featured in the typical Slasher film. Clover identifies the principle parts that make up these films, including the typical Slasher heroine, the "Final Girl." Clover's model identifies some characteristics that seem to be shared by most Final Girls in one form or another. Through the course of this study, I will endeavor to analyze several Slasher film heroines in comparison with Clover's model of the typical Final Girl, and identifying the degree to which traits she possesses each of the 6 major Final Girl traits (single/ outsider, sexually inactive/unreceptive, precognitive, studious, inventiveness/special skill, androgynous name). I will then attempt to extend on the Final Girl model by identifying any apparent subcategories within this model.

Theory

Clover's Final Girl model identifies this character as being somewhat of an outsider in the group of Victims in a Slasher film (See Research Artifact for definitions of Victim and Slasher film). She is typically attractive, but sexually inactive (often the only single girl in a group of couples), even refusing the attention of men when it is offered on many occasions (Clover, 1992). The Final Girl is usually the only character who seems to truly realize the magnitude of the situation she and her companions are trapped in (Obee, 1998). She is studious, typically specializing in some unique area that later allows her to defeat the Killer (Clover, 1992). Even if she lacks a specialized skill, she is still intelligent and resourceful, and is perfectly able to come up with some sort of plan to vanquish her enemy. The Final Girl also often has an androgynous name (ex: Stevie, Terry, Max, Jamie, etc.), further downplaying her femininity. The beginnings of this model can be seen in a rudimentary form in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho when Marion's sister Lila ventures into the basement of the Bates Motel and discovers the mummified remains of "Mother," thereby prompting Norman to strike (Clover, 1992). Lila manages to do little against her attacker (at least partially due to the short time she is trapped with Norman), and is quickly rescued by her boyfriend Sam. But it still stands that, even if she was a sketchily-drawn character at best who in the end merely served as a device to reveal Norman's true nature, Lila was the first inquirer into the bowels of the Terrible Place, and did stand up to Norman's attack (Clover, 1992). Since, the character type briefly hinted at in these scenes has blossomed from being a mere supporting player to the standard for the horror film hero.

Research Artifact

Evolution of Horror

Horror cinema has lived a tenuous existence on the fringes of acceptability and artistry since its inception, and has only grown more controversial since. Early silent horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari, Nosferatu, and the various incarnations of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presented familiar tales of the occult and monstrous creatures taken from classic literature by great British authors like Shelley, Wells, Verne and Poe (Wood, 1988). These films often dealt with the ghastly results of humanity's attempts to tamper with the natural order (Frankenstein), as well as the dangers of giving in to the sexual temptations of outsiders (Dracula), and also often presented their monsters as sympathetic creatures afflicted by the evils of their creators (Wood, 1988). Films of this period were presented in a very artistic style, using heavy shadows and surrealistic sets similar to those found in German and Scandinavian films of the time. This underlying morality and artistic sentiment afforded horror a sort of moral high ground, which allowed the genre to continue largely unhindered by any negative public scrutiny (Wood, 1998).

The Roaring Twenties and the era's consequent entertainment boom brought about a new age in horror film as more and more moviegoers flocked to their local cinemas and studios sought to replicate the success of their smaller silent horror productions on a larger scale (Wood, 1988). However, even with the increased studio acceptance, horror still did not truly manage to move away from a literary conceptual basis or its German/Scandinavian Expressionist visual influences of the 1910's and 20's until the 1932 release of The Mummy (Wood, 1988), the first Hollywood horror film not based on a previously existing piece of literature.

Producer Val Lewton pushed the boundaries of the genre even further with the release of a string of seven films from 1942 to 1946 that he defined as "psychological horror" (Wood, 1988). Considered by many to be the culmination of classical Humanism and gothic Expressionism, Lewton's films, directed by Robert Wise, Mark Robson, and Jacques Tourneur, relied far less on explicit violence than on suggestive imagery and suspense, and typically dealt with characters in emotional or religious distress (Wood, 1988). While they remained sympathetic to the Humanist themes of the past, the themes of Lewton's films dealt less with scientific and sexual responsibility than previous works, concerning themselves more with reintroducing man with ancient ideas of myth, as well as examining the repercussions of sexual and political repression that was to occur in the next three decades (Wood, 1988).

The 1940's and 50's saw an increased movement away from legend and literature as the horror film's primary inspiration, with themes dealing more and more with political and social exploration, as well as attempting to entice in a new, younger audience into the theater (Wood, 1988). The 50's also saw the teenager being featured as the victim of the film, often though the cruel machinations of adults. This was most apparent in films like I was a Teenage Frankenstein, I was a Teenage Werewolf, and The Blob (Wood, 1988). Horror virtuosos Roger Cormann and Alfred Hitchcock also left their respective marks on horror during this period, with Cormann blending horror with comedy (A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors), and Hitchcock introducing his own darker, more cynical tone to the genre (Frenzy, Psycho, The Birds) (Wood, 1988). With the Cold War in full swing, science fiction and political subtexts also loomed large in horror as well, with aliens, zombies, super-sized radioactive animals, and other accidental and intentional creations of nuclear experimentation often acting as antagonists (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Godzilla, Them!) (Wood, 1988). Also, with the dawning of the age of television beginning to leech away interest, audiences began to crave a different experience from. Thus, the use of explicit sex and violence began to increase in horror films, a trend that was especially apparent in the films produced by the English Hammer studios (Wood, 1988).

Taking some cues from The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the late 60's saw even darker, more apocalyptic themes creeping their way into horror film, most notably with the releases of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (Wood, 1988). Both feature subtexts that center around the destruction of the traditional American family and community and the rule of chaos and evil; Rosemary's Baby deals with the birth of the anti-Christ, while Night of the Living Dead depicts an apocalyptic world in which the dead consume the living, and the only survivors appear to be little more than ruthless vigilantes who are seemingly more evil than the zombies they battle against (Wood, 1988).

The 70's saw horror once again distancing itself from the influences of earlier works, like those of the Universal, Hammer, and Toho studios which had become popular in the previous decades (Brophy, 2000). The genre was also meeting with more critical acclaim than ever before, with William Friedkin's The Exorcist and Stephen Spielberg's Jaws leading the charge (Wood, 1988). However, Even with the new critical praise horror had begun to receive, the mid-70's also gave rise to a decidedly more lowbrow and unrepentantly violent new breed of horror movie: The Splatter or Slasher film. These films, with their rampant sex and gore, quickly became a staple of late-night matinees and drive-ins, and the change in trends that they brought about allowed for the rediscovery of similar films like Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and later cemented their status as cult classics (Brophy, 2000).

Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, first released in 1974, is the film most widely considered to have launched the genre, and to have provided the basic template for other films such as John Carpenter's Halloween series (which is often credited as being one of the other founding fathers of the genre) and Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th films (Nolan, 2000).

Slasher Films Dissected

Slasher films typically incorporate very similar elements, seldom deviating from a basic set of common themes and elements. Carol Clover provides a model of the most common Slasher film elements in her book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film:

The Killer: First seen in the form of Norman Bates in Psycho, every Slasher film naturally needs… a Slasher. The Killer is most often a male, typically suffering from some combination of gender confusion (Norman Bates' "Mother" personality; "Buffalo Bill" in Silence of the Lambs), sexual perversion (Nightmare on Elm Street's child molester/murderer, Freddy Kreuger), and/or arrested development (Leatherface and Hitchhiker/Chop-top in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; Halloween's Michael Myers)(Clover, 1992). Female Killers are a rare breed in Slasher films, appearing more often in rape/revenge films like Ms. 45 and I Spit on Your Grave, albeit with different motivations and characteristics than typical Slasher film Killers. But more true-to-type female Killers have appeared on rare occasions (Friday the 13th's Mrs. Vorhees) (Clover, 1992). Those Killers who more closely mimic the Norman Bates model (as in Dressed to Kill and The Eyes of Laura Mars) often appear to function normally in society throughout the majority of the film, and are only revealed as Killers at the very end. Aside from further cementing the foundations of the modern Slasher film, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre began the trend of having the killer be one that not only doesn't fit in with the rest of society (either due to bizarre physical disfigurement or grossly subversive lifestyles), but also seems to possess superhuman abilities (Clover, 1992). These killers not only seem to be indestructible, but are often seen as being larger than average both in terms of weight and height, and are often masked (Clover, 1992). In yet another nod to Psycho, Killers typically are not revealed in their full glory until the climactic battle at the end of the film, but are often seen in brief snatches as they slay their victims: An arm here, an eye there, but never the full body. They are also partially revealed throughout the film in the form of voyeuristic point-of-view (POV) camera shots taken either directly from or in close proximity to the Killer's point of view, a technique used to great effect in Halloween (Dika, 1990). The Evil Dead and its sequels take this technique a step further, only manifesting the true Killer (the evil Force entity awakened by the Book of the Dead) in the form of roaming POV shots, and allowing its possessed victims to take care of the real killing.

The Terrible Place: Every monster has a lair, and in Slasher films, this is the Terrible Place. This place stands as a grim testament to the creature that dwells there; be it the Bates Motel in Psycho, the Sawyer's mansion and later subterranean lair in Texas Chainsaw Massacre I and II, Jason Vorhees' hut in Friday the 13th Pt 2, or even the realm of dreams in the Nightmare on Elm Street series (Clover, 1992). Each Terrible Place typically unfolds the true reason for the Killer's dementia through grisly souvenirs (often in the form of the remains of family members, ala Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Etc.), weapons, and the remnants of previous victims. This place often appears at first to be a safe haven from the Killer and therefore is fled to by fear-stricken Victims. But the Terrible Place typically ends up not only being not as safe as it first seems, but also the place where the final showdown between Victim and Killer takes place (and often becomes home to the requisite shot of the Killer hacking through a door or wall with their weapon of choice to reach a Victim) (Clover, 1992). The Terrible place is often a remote, rustic location far removed from the realm of normal people. But some films go so far as to take a place that is familiar to the characters and remake them into a Terrible Place through the machinations of the Killer (The Evil Dead transforms a simple cabin into a den of evil; A Nightmare on Elm Street transforms children's dreams into the playground of Freddy Kreuger).

Weapons: Nearly every Killer has a trademark weapon, and it is almost never a gun. Clover says "Victims sometimes avail themselves of firearms, but like telephones, fire alarms, elevators, doorbells, and car engines, guns fail in a pinch" (1998, pg. 31). Killers seem to often be largely trapped in a pre-technological age, preferring bludgeoning, stabbing, and slashing weapons to guns or other more modern-day alternatives (Clover, 1992). Thusly, the Killer is able to afford him (or her, or it)self a measure of stealth through their weapon of choice, having availed themselves of the need to cause any more racket than the occasional scream or death-gurgle (Clover, 1992). However, the fact that noisy, cumbersome power tools are often chosen over a quieter, more portable blade seems to suggest that proximity to the victim is also a factor in the Killer's choice of means of dispatch just as much as stealth (Clover, 1992). Regardless, these sorts of weapons can be seen as being as much as a personal extension of the Killer's body as they are a mere weapon, much in the same sense as the claws of a werewolf or the fangs of a vampire are their weapons (Clover, 1992). This perhaps affords the Killer an added dash of primal mystique, tapping once again into some of our deeper-rooted instinctive fears.

Victims: As frightening as a monstrosity may be, watching a film of a scary creature lumbering around the woods for ninety minutes isn't nearly as frightening as watching him do what he does best: Kill. And naturally, Slasher films provide plenty of victims for just this purpose. Unlike earlier in horror's history however, the victims in the Slasher film are typically not adults, but teenagers (Clover, 1992), often falling prey or hamstrung by adult misunderstandings in a similar manner to their 50's counterparts (ex: adult disbelief in the resurrection of Freddy Kreuger in A Nightmare on Elm Street). The Victims in horror films are obviously put there to die (thankfully, in the case of many characters), but their deaths are seldom arbitrary slayings. Members of the group of victims are often from an urban background, which plays against the Killer's either directly rural influences or primal nature (Clover, 1992). There is a sort of unwritten code to the Killer's choice of victims which becomes all too apparent after viewing just a few Slasher films; Marion Crane, the screen's first Slasher victim, was a sexual transgressor, and it still holds that members of both sexes that dabble in illicit sex when a Killer is on the loose will be among the first to go. Be it the sexually desperate housewife in Dressed to Kill, or the ever-amorous camp counselors seen in the Friday the 13th series' infamous post-coital death sequences (Clover, 1992), if you have sex (especially illicit sex), you will die soon after. Marion also was unfortunate enough to stumble into the Killer's home territory, which is also akin to signing one's own death warrant in the realm of Slasher films (Clover, 1992). The Killer often seems to favor female victims over male ones, which typically stems from the Killer's motivating psychosis (Norman Bates' oedipal complex; Michael Myers' anger toward his sister) (Clover, 1992). One should note that even though sex may figure prominently into the Killer's motivations, rape very seldom occurs in Slasher films, and is often an act that is impossible for the Killer to perform (i.e. Vincent in Motel Hell) (Clover, 1992). Freud says that the theater spectator "… wants to be a hero, if only for a limited time, and playwrights and actors make it possible for him through the identification with a hero (Zillman, 1994 pp. 35)." Cinematic heroes are characters that have desirable characteristics that the spectator may wish to identify with (Zillman, 1994). The identification with characters in horror film is similar to the identification children exhibit with characters in a puppet show; the children don't seem to share in the hero's euphoria, but scream in distress when the hero appears threatened, much as they would to friends or acquaintances in similar situations (Zillman, 1994). It is also thought that identification with the characters in a horror film is a function of the moviegoer's sexual attraction to them (Nolan, 2000). Also, the fantastical nature of events in horror movies can illicit a wider range of emotional responses in the viewer than realistic events (Zillman, 2001), which may lead to increased emotional involvement with the characters involved in those situations.

Shock: Simply watching a series of violent deaths would likely end up being akin to watching a graphic account of a car accident or a film of the front line of a war: serious, frank, and horrible. Splatter films often take the intensity and unusual nature of their death sequences to levels that such realistic accounts would likely never reach except in extreme cases, but the best Slasher films show little but say a lot (i.e. The famous shower slaying in Psycho) (Clover, 1992). However, as technology and makeup effects have become more advanced, the amount of carnage that the audience has been able to see on film has also increased, thus changing the tone of the violence within the film from "real" violence to campy, self-parodying violence, bringing it close to its cousin, the Cult film (Clover, 1992). Audiences react with disgust just as often as they react with fear in contemporary horror films, a reaction that it is clear that directors strive for (Clover, 1992).

The Final Girl

Cinematic Heroes come in many forms, but in other genres a female hero would likely be considered quite of an anomaly. Slasher films have made female protagonists their standard, however. Regardless of whether she is merely the only Victim lucky enough to survive the film's horrific events or actively mounts a counteroffensive against the Killer, the Final Girl emerges as the only true "hero" of the typical Slasher film. The Final Girl is defined as being somewhat of an outsider in the group of Victims. She is typically attractive, but sexually inactive (often the only single girl in a group of couples), often even refusing the attention of men when it is offered (Stretch in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Laurie in Halloween both either ignore or shy away from any offers for sexual attention from available men) (Clover, 1992). The Final Girl is usually the only character who seems to truly realize the magnitude of the situation she and her companions are trapped in (Obee, 1998). She is studious, typically specializing in some unique area that later allows her to defeat the Killer (in Friday the 13th Part 2, Ginny uses her knowledge of child psychology to confuse Jason long enough to attack) (Clover, 1992). Even if she lacks a specialized skill, she is still intelligent and resourceful, and is perfectly able to come up with some sort of plan to vanquish her enemy (Nancy transforms her house into a Home Alone-esque maze of traps and makeshift weapons to combat Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street using tricks she picked up from a home defense pamphlet). The Final Girl also often has an androgynous name (ex: Stevie, Terry, Max, Jamie, etc.), further downplaying her femininity. The beginnings of this model can be seen in a rudimentary form in Psycho when Marion's sister Lila ventures into the basement of the Bates Motel and discovers the mummified remains of "Mother," thereby prompting Norman to strike (Clover, 1992). Lila manages to do little against her attacker (at least partially due to the short time she is trapped with Norman), and is quickly rescued by her boyfriend Sam. But it still stands that, even if she was a sketchily-drawn character at best who in the end merely served as a device to reveal Norman's true nature, Lila was the first inquirer into the bowels of the Terrible Place, and did stand up to Norman's attack (Clover, 1992).

Films continue to be produced that fit the Slasher film model, but Clover says that the genre was in its prime during the period from 1974 trough 1986, an era bookended by the release of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Tobe Hooper's seminal sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). The releases of these two films are representative of the genre at its highest and lowest points, with the first still standing as one of the strongest entries in Horror history, and the second being little more than a silly, shallow exercise in self-parody and attempted dark humor (Clover, 1992).

Clover's model effectively lays out the basic identifying characteristics of the Final Girl character. But upon watching several Slasher films, one will find that this model seldom fits perfectly. For example, some Final girls take far more active roles in slaying the Killer than others and some draw largely on the physical and moral support of minor characters (usually boyfriends).

RQ 1: Does Clover's Final Girl model always fit Slasher film heroines?

RQ 2: Are there other identifiable subcategories within the Final Girl model?

Method

Through the course of this study I will be performing content analysis on several films within the Slasher genre in respect to how well each film's lead character exemplifies the traits of the Final Girl. After viewing a number of films in the genre (see filmography section for complete list of films), A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, and The Evil Dead were chosen to be the focus of this project due to the unique traits of their characters and the situations that they are placed in. The Final Girl in each film was analyzed according to which traits of Clover's Final Girl model she possesses (1. single/outsider in group; 2. sexually inactive/unreceptive; 3. Precognitive; 4. Studious; 5. special skill; and 6. androgynous name). The level to which these traits were evidenced was rated on a Lichert scale from 1 to 5, with 1 representing no evidence of trait and 5 representing very strong evidence of trait. These results were then recorded in a matrix. I then attempted to categorize the character based on their actions in the movie, as well as other unique traits she may exhibit during the course of the film.

Results and Discussion

Fig. 1: Final Girl traits exhibited by heroines

 

Var. 1

single/outside

Var. 2

Sexually inactive/unreceptive

Var. 3

precognitive

Var. 4

Studious

Var. 5

Special skill/inventiveness

Var. 6

androgynous name

Sally

Texas Chainsaw massacre

5

5

1

1

2

1

Ripley

Alien

5

5

4

2

4

5

Nancy

A Nightmare on Elm Street

2

3

5

5

5

1

Ash

The Evil Dead

2

2

2

2

2

5

Character profiles

Sally: one of a group of teens journeying the visit the remains of the old family homestead, little is revealed of Sally's background other than the fact that she and Franklin are siblings.

Out of the 4 Final Girls focused upon, Ripley and Sally were the only ones who appeared to be single, with both Nancy and Ash having significant others who are seen prominently in the film. Ash stands as the only one of the four whom was receptive to sex, even if the act of sex was never carried out. Nancy and Ripley both show clear distaste for the situations that they are in, and attempt to warn their companions of the danger. Sally seems to show markedly less concern than her brother does Franklin does (a point that I will elaborate on in more detail later). Ash appears briefly to be showing signs of this trait as he reviews the tape that revived the evil Force, but never seems to put any of the knowledge he discovers to use. Nancy is the only one who is clearly shown to be studious, as she is portrayed as an excellent student. Nancy and Ripley are by far the most inventive of the four, with Ash and Sally showing nothing on the same level. And Ash and Ripley are the only ones to bear androgynous names.

Clearly none of the Final Girls analyzed in depth above fit Clover's Final Girl model exactly. In the following sections, I will provide new categorizations that I feel best fit each character based on their actions in the film, as well as other examples of each type.

Sally-The Red Riding Hood: Clover briefly alludes to this classification in Men, Women and Chainsaws in her own description of the Sally character: "… For all her survivor pluck, [Sally] is like Red riding Hood, saved through male agency," (Clover, 1992, pg. 38). And upon closer analysis of the film, one can very much see Sally as a modern-day (albeit perhaps a bit tougher) version of the Red Riding Hood character: Likable, but rather clueless and defenseless.

Up until the murder of her brother Franklin by Leatherface, Sally seems perfectly calm in the assertion that everything will be fine, showing her almost complete lack of the Final Girl's precognition; her friends will all return to them, and the group will continue on their merry way. In fact, Franklin seems to show far more concern than she does, even if it is manifested in rather childishly by screaming and blowing the horn of their van (apparently in addition to being an invalid, Franklin must be a bit underdeveloped mentally). Only having Leatherface bearing down on her directly seems to snap her out of her glass-is-half-full belief that everything is fine, much in the same way that Red Riding Hood can't seem to put two and two together and see the danger she is in until it is far too late. Sally seldom shows any of the Final Girl's inventiveness, relying primarily on her fleetness of foot to escape the danger.

This is not to say that Sally's performance against her foe is not without merit; Her intelligence is debatable, but her toughness is not. She withstands amounts of pain that likely would have put anyone else down and out just in the course of her initial (though ultimately futile) escape from Leatherface, even hurling herself through a second story window of the cannibals' mansion to avoid him. She takes cuts, bruises, and blows to the head as well as any heavyweight boxer. But her overall effectiveness as a protagonist ends there, as the key to her salvation rests on the chance happening that a truck picks her up along the road.

Pure examples of this type of Final Girl seems to be seldom seen, with Psycho's Lila being the only one who seems to show so little inventiveness and combat ability (granted this can likely be attributed to her lack of screen time, as mentioned earlier). As the genre has progressed, other Final Girls have come close to falling into this category, but most have been more active in their battle against the Slasher than Sally. For example, Friday the 13th's Alice betrays little to no inventiveness or knowledge of the danger she is in throughout the course of the movie. Even after Mrs. Vorhees reveals herself as the Killer, Alice manages to mount little offense until she decapitates Mrs. Vorhees in the film's closing moments. However, even after defeating the Killer, Alice must be rescued by the police from Jason, who drags her into Crystal Lake after she inexplicably decides to retreat in a canoe.

Halloween's Laurie also fits this model rather well; She also shows little of the Final Girl's precognition, standing on the sidelines of the film as Michael Myers systematically slaughters her friends. Even though she manages to fend of Michael Myers twice on her own, she ultimately ends up being rescued by the psychologist who is attempting to apprehend Michael.

Ripley-The Warrior: Even though she appears to be the least "feminine" of the Final Girls focused on, Ripley is the one that fits the model the best. The only trait she appears to lack from clover's model is studiousness. But this could perhaps be attributed to the fact that she is the only "adult" of the four girls featured in this study, and is never seen in any sort of school setting; Unlike the rest, she is not a student of any form, and is out in the work force as a lead member (but not the lead member) of the crew of a space freighter. She shows a great amount of knowledge of her job however, rattling off proper procedures even more readily than the android member of the Nostromo's crew does. She appears to be a natural leader, making decisions seemingly without any emotional hang-ups. In fact, one of the things that separates Ripley from the other female member of the crew, Lambert, is that she remains a calm voice of reason throughout most of the events of the film, only showing any signs of fear when cornered by the alien aboard her shuttle after the rest of her crew has been killed. Even though part of this is most likely part of her training, she is also the only member of the crew who exhibits any sort of misgivings about letting Kane (a crew member who is attacked by an unidentified alien life form during an attempted rescue mission) back onto the ship and risking infection-- A scenario that Ripley makes abundantly clear should be avoided at all costs.

Interestingly enough, of all of the films mentioned this one is the only one that does not seem to feature any sort of sexual contact among the characters. In fact, the crew of the Nostromo almost seems to be living in a world completely devoid of gender identification. In such claustrophobic conditions, one would tend to assume that some sort of relationship would flower among some of the members of the opposite sex, even if the crew does spend most of its time in suspended animation. But even if this is the case in other films of this type, it certainly isn't here. The only scene where there is any sort of inkling that the crew singles out Ripley (or either of the female members of the crew) in any way as being a woman is during a brief encounter between her and two of the other crewmen over repairs to the shuttle that they use to land on the planet. Even so, this scene could be seen as simply workers thumbing their nose at the boss, as workers always tend to do.

Nancy and Glen-The Tandem: Even though Nancy defeats Freddy largely on her own, it is worth noting that she spends a large amount of time during the film with and being aided by her boyfriend, Glen. Both seem to exhibit traits of the Final Girl, and endure Freddy's reign of terror hand in hand (well, until Glen is killed, that is….). Had they been apart they would almost surely have perished; But together, Nancy and Glen are a potent team, able to rise above the power of the Slasher and put him down for keeps. However, Wes Craven takes a great deal of care to throw the audience off the track as to exactly who the Final Girl (or couple, in this case) will be.

While all four of the teens involved in the film's events experience encounters with Freddy in their dreams, both Nancy and Glen seem to take them as being more than just strange coincidences, giving them both a bit of the Final Girl's precognition trait. However, Tina (their friend and fellow high school student) seems to show her own reservations about dismissing the dreams as well, and until one pivotal sequence seems to be being set up as the Final Girl, as well. Throughout the early portions of the film Tina also resists all sexual advances from Rod (the typical macho-type who seems to be merely a pushy suitor at this early juncture), while Nancy is always shown with her boyfriend, Glen. This would seem to imply that Nancy is single and not making herself available for sexual interaction. But after Tina, Nancy and Glen meet to comfort Tina's fears about the dreams, Rod crashes the party. Soon after, Tina gives in to Rod's advances and the two slip off to have sex. Meanwhile, while Glen tries his best to convince Nancy that they should do the same, Nancy flatly refuses, saying that they should just be there for Tina. This leads to a comical (but very telling) moment with Glen lying on the couch listening to Tina's orgasmic cries and muttering to himself "morality bites." the only thing eventually separating the two would-be Final Girls ends up being Tina's choice to have sex with Rod, which always leads to death within the realm of the Slasher film, as was discussed earlier. This film is certainly no exception, as Freddy slaughters Tina soon after her sexual encounter, with Rod eventually being blamed for her demise. He falls victim to Freddy himself later in the film. Having faced temptation and won, virtuous Nancy and Glen pass the test (even as Glen laments the fact), and escape to battle Freddy later.

As the film continues and Freddy focuses his energy on claiming Nancy, Glen stands by her side through it all, even if he is not the most effective of assistants (for all of his loyalty, he never seems to manage to be all that useful in a pinch, often falling asleep when Nancy needs him to wake her up). In the end he falls victim to the misunderstandings of adults himself (a theme that is especially prevalent in the Elm Street series), as his parents take the phone off the hook while Nancy tries to call and wake him up, thus leading to his extremely messy death.

Another example of a tandem would be Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in The Terminator. Even though Sarah is relatively helpless as Final Girls go (she largely resembles a Red Riding Hood until the film's climax), she receives all of the aid, training and support she needs from Kyle until he is killed. It is interesting to note that even though Sarah and Kyle have sex, Sarah survives, thus leaving her to battle the Terminator alone. Interestingly, much as the Ripley character becomes increasingly tough as the series progresses, Sarah also becomes far tougher in the second film, going from resembling a Red Riding Hood type character to being more of a Warrior. This seems to be another constant among Slasher films, as Final Girls who return in the sequel often seem to have their "powers" increase… almost as if they gained an RPG-style level. Still, Sarah's character remains a Tandem to a large degree in the second film, this time with her assuming the role of the skilled Warrior and protecting her son John alongside the T-800 Terminator. On another interesting note, Sarah still draws emotional support from both her son and the terminator sent back in time to protect them. Even if she is a more capable fighter, her emotional nature remains unchanged. This is especially evident in the scene where she ventures off alone to kill Miles Dyson (the eventual creator of the SkyNet computer that spawns the Terminators), and eventually breaks down in tears. This scene clearly illustrates that without her emotional grounding, Sarah is still not capable of functioning at full capacity on her own.

Ash-The Screwball: Naturally, a girl typically occupies the place of the Final Girl in a Slasher film. But the unrated oddity The Evil Dead tosses that convention out the window entirely, leaving the viewer with not only one of the most inept final Girls around, but one of the only guys in this all-girl club.

Boyhood friends Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell dropped out of Michigan State University in 1978 to begin filming The Evil Dead, along with fellow High School and college comrades Rob Tapert, Ellen Sandweiss, Rich Demanicor (who appeared in the credits under the pseudonym Hal Delrich), and seemingly any others they could come up with (Warren, 2001). And, on a shoestring budget of a mere $85,000 dollars borrowed from various friends and investors, produced one of the most violent and visually compelling splatter films of all time (Warren, 2001).

At its core, The Evil Dead follows many of the traditional splatter conventions: Five teens journey to an isolated cabin in the back-woods of Tennessee, and by playing a recording of readings from an ancient Sumarian text left there by the cabin's scholarly owner, awaken an evil force which begins taking over their bodies and transforming them into murderous zombies) with a notable exception: much like in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the one character who stands out at first as perhaps being a Final Girl is the first victim to be claimed by the evil Force entity. This idea is played out in the opening minutes of the first two Friday the 13th films as well, but the use of the technique feels far less jarring and obvious in The Evil Dead.

Cheryl, the apparent Final Girl and the character that audiences seem to identify with the most at this point in the film (Obee, 1998), is the only one who protests the playing of the mysterious tape, thus exhibiting signs of the Final Girl's precognition trait. She is also the only single girl in the group, is often seen working on art instead of flirting like her friends, and has also been the focus of many of the previous scenes. Soon after the tape is played however, in classic Slasher movie form, she wanders off into the woods (which by the revival of the evil Force have become in essence the Terrible Place) in search of a noise, and is brutally violated by vines animated by the evil spirits. Her body is claimed by the evil soon after, and she becomes the first of the group to be transformed into a flesh-eating, undead creature.

All of the apparent potential heroes in The Evil Dead are soon either killed or transformed into zombies, leaving the audience stuck with the utterly un-heroic stumblebum Ash… a character who seems to have reversed Slasher gender roles in a similar way to the role reversal seen in characters in the Screwball comedies of cinema's golden years: the Screwball Final Girl, if you will.

While the Final Girl is typically a brave, resourceful character, Ash is cowardly and foolish, spending most of the film being tortured physically and mentally by his now undead friends and the evil Force manipulating them (Obee, 1998). He is almost always positioned with the female members of the group in a scene, and is usually cowering in the corner while Scott (the other male member of the group) takes the initiative (Obee, 1998) (up until the point he dies, that is). This is most notable in a sequence where Ash and Scott are cornered by one of the fiends, and Ash is too frightened to attack with the axe he is carrying. This leaves Scott to take charge and hack his former girlfriend to pieces. As evidenced by this scene and corroborated by later ones, Ash is unable to do the one thing he knows can stop his friends (which, granted, is bodily dismemberment), and finally ends up relying on dumb luck to save his life from them, as he manages to toss the evil Book into the nearby fireplace just as they are about to kill him. He does show a bit of inventiveness in this scene however, using the necklace he gave his girlfriend earlier as a crude grappling hook to snag the Book with. Regardless, The end of the film seems to imply that the invisible evil force that is responsible for the transformations may have even finally claimed Ash, despite his lackluster efforts. Even his name (short for Ashley… yet another androgynous name) seems to be a play on the Final Girl (Obee, 1998). Interestingly enough, however, Ash is one of the only Final Girls featured in this study to have Clover's androgynous name trait.

Despite the horrific violence that is shown in The Evil Dead (not to mention the infamous "tree-rape") and the utter ineptitude of its "hero", The film remains quite popular, especially in cult circles where its innovative camerawork elevates Raimi to the same sort of pedestal for young filmmakers that is reserved for the likes of Clapton and Hendrix for budding guitarists (Nashtaway, 2000). And strangely enough, even with its over-the-top violence and the male-oriented nature of the genre, the film and its sequels are quite popular among women (Obee, 1998). Seeing a man in utter terror as we see Ash in The Evil Dead and its sequels is very rare in horror films. Women are always shown in terror on film, and therefore it seldom needs an explanation. But a man in terror is so unusual that it often comes off as comic (Obee, 1998). It is possible that seeing Ash being tormented as he does serves as an identifier for female viewers (Obee, 1998).

Conclusion

The final Girl is without a doubt an oddity in film. One grows quite used to seeing a movie hero as being a square-jawed, fearless he-man who dives into the situation, takes no prisoners and gets the job done in ninety minutes or less. And perhaps it is that point that led to the Final girl character being developed. A man is seldom shown as being afraid. And in a genre that revolves around fear, having the character that the audience is in closest contact with never show any fear makes it that much less likely that the audience members will show fear themselves. Thus, as women are "permitted" to be afraid on film, they became the horror film's protagonists. And for that, we can't thank them enough.

 

Works Cited

Brophy, Philip (2000). Horrorality-The Textually of Contemporary Horror Films. In Ken Gelder (ed.). The Horror Reader. New York: Routledge.

Clover, Carol (1992). Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Dika, Vera (1990). Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and the Films of the Stalker Cycle. New Jersey: Associated University Press.

Nashtaway, Chris. "Out of Left Field." From Entertainment Weekly Online http://www.ew.com/ew/archive/0,1798,2|26675|0|evil_dead,00.html?

Nolan, Justin M. and Ryan, Gerry W. "Fear and Loathing at the Cineplex: Gender Differences in Descriptions and Perceptions of Slasher films." Sex Roles, vol. 42 nos. ½, 2000, pp 39-56. Plenum Publishing.

Obee, Amanda (1998). "Discuss the Portrayal of `Ash` in the Evil Dead Trilogy in Relation to Other Films of the Horror Genre which Present a Female Victim-Hero." From Bruce Campbell Online. http://www.bruce-campbell.com/babble/guest/ed-essay.html.


Schoell, William (1985). Stay out of the shower: 25 years of shocker films beginning with "Psycho". New York: Denber Books.

Warren, Bill (2001). The Evil Dead Companion. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Wood, Gerald C. (1988). Horror Film. In Wes D. Gehring (Ed.). Handbook of American Film Genres. Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Zillman, Dolph (1994). "Mechanisms of Emotional Involvement with Drama." Poetics no. 23, pp. 33-51.

Zillman, Dolph and Knobloch, Silvia (2001). "Emotional Reactions to Narratives About the Fortunes of Personae in the News Theater." Poetics. No. 29, pp 189-206.

Filmography
Alien (1979, Ridley Scott, US, 117 mins.)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven, US, 91 mins)
Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi, US, 95 mins)
Evil Dead, The (1982, Sam Raimi, US, 85 mins)
Evil Dead 2 (1987, Sam Raimi, US, 88 mins)
Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham, US, 95 mins)
Friday the 13th part 2 (1981, Steve Miner, US, 87 mins)
Halloween (1978, John Carpenter, US, 91 mins.)
Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock, US, 109 mins)
Terminator, The (1984, James Cameron, US, 108 mins.)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron, US, 137 mins.)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper, US, 83 mins)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, Tobe Hooper, US, 89 mins.)