Final GirlS

lindsey piller 


My stomach lurched as if I was on a roller coaster, but I was just falling. My eyes shot open. Sweat beaded my forehead and the sheets plastered my body trying to mummify me. All to be heard was short gasps coming from my chapped lips. An eerie silence hung in the air. My dad’s thunderous snores were not present, which was unnerving. It was tense; I couldn’t move. My back was toward the door. I could feel an unrelenting pair of eyes on me, digging into my back. All the hairs on my neck were standing up. This was it. This was how I was going to die. Only a few more seconds passed until lights flashed on, blinding me. I could make out a figure. It was my dad.


"What the hell is your problem? Stop panting and go to bed. How did I come to raise such a weird child?"


Like every other woman in the horror movies that I had watched, I had survived. I lived to tell the tale. I joined the ranks of many and became a Final Girl.


To this day I still don’t understand my fascination with horror movies. My parents had desperately tried to bar my innocent eyes from the onslaught of terror to no avail (I had my ways around the parental block). Years after my virgin eyes absorbed the likes of Freddy Kruger, I still have no answer. Horror movies, after all, are essentially mass-marketed fear with an average running length of 90-120 minutes, so what was the interest? Why did I like the release of cortisol that caused me so much stress? What had driven my attention and drove me into the downward bloody spiral that made me the horror freak/wannabe Final Girl I am today? My answer would be found in the history of horror.


On the rise since the 1920s, horror movies were an extension of an 18th century genre of literature, Gothic Horror. Borrowing from ghost stories, monsters, demons, and murderers that have been around since antiquity, the horror genre found its footing, creating multiple genres and subgenres that have lasted centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when the concept of the Final Girl was born. Essential to the Slasher genre, Final Girls became a classic trope in the horror genre, much like the Token Black Guy. The Final Girl is exactly what she sounds like. She is the last woman standing to confront the killer and survive to tell the story.


Carol J. Clover was the woman to coin the term Final Girl in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Clover even suggests that during horror films, the audience’s identification shifts from the killer to the Final Girl halfway through the film, which solidifies my obsession, but only slightly. It isn’t the blood and gore that piqued my interest (although they are definitely a bonus), but the concept of the Final Girl that I identify with.


The Final Girl is a classic horror device in the sub-genre of Slasher films. She is typically surrounded by a diverse group of friends, all who fall into horror tropes as well. There is the Token Black Guy, the Harlot (also known as the Final Girl’s sexually active best friend), the Professional Douche, the Know-It-All, the Jock, and the Non-Believer; the list goes on and on. However, the characteristics of these characters are keenly similar throughout most Slasher films, especially when it comes to Final Girls. Most Final Girls are either sexually unavailable or virgins. They evade the failings of the victims, helping her survive the onslaught of terror. She’s the one who passes the joint without hitting it. She is the one to politely declines the raunchy threesome designed to titillate the viewers. She is innocent, chaste, and morally pure. She also typically has a unisex name like Sidney Prescott. Earlier Slashers portray Final Girls with boyish features, although those characteristics have long since been discarded. Clover recognizes that the Final Girl’s confrontation with the killer masculinizes her through "phallic appropriation", such as taking up a weapon to defeat the killer. However, in the New Age of Slashers, the Final Girl has been depicted as feminine. Even though recent representations of Final Girls have been feminized, their newfound femininity does not impede on their ability to survive. Not only are the depictions of Final Girls inherently strong, but the concept of a Final Girl also dominated a male-oriented genre and industry, making the male audience identify with a young female character.


I had always wondered what Slasher films would be like without the Final Girl trope. Would I have fallen in love with the genre if instead the classic trope were a Final Guy? The essence of the Final Girl was created to avert the advances of the Feminist Movement in the 1960-70s, but that idea was flipped on its head as the Final Girl prevailed, becoming one of the strongest female figures in horror culture. It’s almost unimaginable to think that a Slasher film wouldn’t feature a Final Girl. However, Clover argues without the concept of the Final Girl, many of the Slasher films would not have been as successful as they are today. She claims that it is essential for the surviving character to be female due to the abject terror that is being faced. The intense fear behind the experience had a specific purpose, which was to ‘purge’ the last surviving female of her undesirable virginal characteristics, something that couldn’t be done on the part of a male because of the cultural double standards.


It’s a hard life being a Final Girl. I should know. Even though my personal experience doesn’t exactly fit the parameters of a Slasher film, I still experience the double standards and terror that so many women face. That’s what drew me to the films in the first place. Final Girls were, and still remain, an essential part of the horror tropes which I have come to love. They signify a struggle that women are all too familiar with, but they defy that struggle and prevail. We Final Girls go through a lot. We survive being called a bitch because we’re assertive. We survive being called selfish for not wanting kids (and no, we will not regret our decision later). We survive being called a slut for having too many sexual partners or wearing to little. We survive being called a prude for having standards and covering up. We survive body shaming because we can’t be too fat, too skinny, too curvy, or too lanky. We survive being called ugly because we wear no makeup. We survive being called fake because we wear too much makeup. Forget about all the blood and gore and the intense paranoia every horror movie promotes. It is all about Final Girls and surviving: surviving peer pressure, surviving fear, surviving horrific circumstances and learning to live and fight another day.



Lindsey Piller is a senior Graphic Design and English double major with a concentration in Writing. She has a deep love for drawing, Teen Wolf, and all things superhero related.