A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, Aliens, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Black Christmas, crime, Doctor Loomis, drugs, Ellen Ripley, feminism, feminist, Final Girl, Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Halloween, Hannibal Lecter, Horror, intelligence, Jason Voorhees, killer, knives, Laurie Strode, Leatherface, Lila, Mad, Mad Man, Madness, Michael Myers, misogynist, Nancy, Norman Bates, psychiatric illness, Psycho, Psychological, resourceful, Sam Loomis, Scream, Sex, Sidney, Sigourney Weaver, Silence of the Lambs, slasher, stabbing, strength, strong women, thriller, twists, victims, virgin, weapons
Slasher movies are a favourite with horror fans. Even if you’re not an outright horror fan, it’s likely you will have seen at least one of these in your life! The slasher has elements of thriller and crime, so can be appealing to audiences who also enjoy these genres too. In turn, some thrillers and other horrors, which are not really slashers as such, may have elements of the slasher in them.
What you may or may not realise is that there is a set of rules that come along with slasher and slasher-type horror films. During my post graduate in film and television, I had fun studying the “Final Girl” in horror. The Final Girl is a strong, independent female protagonist, the peer of the victims, but seen to be virtuous. She does not indulge in the sex and drugs that prove to be the downfall of the others. She also tends to avoid any kind of bullying. She’s just an all-round nice girl, sometimes slightly “put upon” by others who take advantage of her good nature. She is known as the Final Girl because, well, she’s the last one standing at the end of it all. The Final Girl either escapes or overcomes the threat, showing her power, strength and intelligence for whatever scrape she’s managed to land herself in.
Final Girls share many characteristics: they are often sexually unavailable or virgins who avoid any illegal or illicit activity and often, though not always, have a non-gender specific name such as Laurie (Halloween) or Sidney (Scream). The Final Girl can even be found in non-slasher horrors such as Alien, with the masculinised female character of Ellen Ripley (known only as Ripley); although, it has to be said that Alien does have many other characteristics of a slasher too.
The Final Girl is “watchful, intelligent and resourceful”. She is, pretty much, the perfect horror movie heroine. She is a character the audience can admire and she is a survivor. Many critics of the slasher might say that it is a misogynistic genre, as it often has naked and vulnerable women being overpowered by men. However, the Final Girl proves this not to be the case at all, quite the opposite. The Final Girl is a very smart and dignified character, who usually always outwits the killer in the end.
However, the character of the Final Girl has evolved over time. In Halloween Laurie’s ability was to simply remain alive until Doctor Loomis got there to save her. By the time A Nightmare on Elm Street came along the Final Girl was starting to take steps to protect herself, and defeat the threat. In the latter, Nancy is ready to take on Freddy!
Not only do Final Girls take on the killer, they also often protect young children too, showing their maternal side into the bargain. Just as there are monstrous maternal figures to be found in horror, the Final Girl is the complete opposite. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween has two young children in her care that she is babysitting for, whilst Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens protects Newt with the famous line: “Get away from her, you bitch!”
As time has gone by, various differences have crept into the genre to allow it to evolve, and also to create unexpected twists at the end. The first slashers had the Final Girl discover and help to capture the killer (Psycho), escape the killer until another day (Black Christmas), and finally, killing the killer, after the killer had killed all her peers, so that the Final Girl is also the Final Killer; this has further evolved so that some Final Girls turn out to have been the killer all along, although this is a little bit more unusual.
In slasher horror, usually the weapon used by the killer is a blade of some kind, hence the term ‘slasher’. It could also be argued that in, for example, Halloween, Laurie attacks Michael Myers with weapons that are phallic: a knitting needle; a coat hanger, which she fashions into a spiked object, and a knife – all intended for stabbing. In the final sequence, Laurie takes over the dominant role using very masculine weaponry.
Probably the first Final Girl appeared in Psycho (1960), in the form of Marion’s sister Lila. Lila appears with Marion’s boyfriend Sam Loomis (in Halloween a character bearing that name would also step in to save the day, as has previously been mentioned…!). Along with other conventions that were built up over time, Psycho also saw the appearance of the human monster in the shape of the serial killer. The serial killer is necessarily dangerous and frightening, an almost supernatural killing machine, usually with a severe psychiatric illness and a grudge to bear, often caused by a traumatised childhood. The Final Girl is confronted with her every nightmare in the flesh: Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees (well, actually, his mother…but his legend lives on regardless!), Leatherface, Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Hannibal Lecter. Sometimes they have a supernatural side, like Michael Myers. Most often they are the scariest thing of all, real-life people! But, always, always, always, they are not just bad, they are completely and utterly insane. The Final Girl has her work cut out for her, but through it all she prevails.
Every horror fan has got their favourite Final Girl/Psychotic Maniac movies, whether slasher or not. Here are some recommendations. I don’t suppose they are really in any particular order. Silence of the Lambs and Psycho, though not slashers, have my favourite psychotic serial killer characters, whilst Alien has my favourite Final Girl – a good, strong performance from Sigourney Weaver. Black Christmas is actually, to my mind, probably one of the best and earliest of the genre. I really have no idea why I love Halloween so much. I just do. I think it’s the atmosphere, but I just can’t quite put my finger on it. Nevertheless, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it – at least once a year at, yes you’ve guessed, Hallowe’en! And I just loved the twist in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.
I’ve actually written my own slasher horror movie script! If any budding film directors or production companies wish to get in touch, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
I’d also love to know about readers’ favourite slashers, psychological horrors, Final Girls and serial killing maniacs. Do feel free to post comments!
Until next week. Don’t go anywhere…I’ll be right back! Your friend, A.D.
Muir, J K (2007) A History of the Dead Teenager Decade in Horror Films of the 1980s McFarland & Co: USA (Chapter 2).
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