The final girl is a trope in thriller and horror films (particularly slasher films) that specifically refers to the last woman or girl alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. The final girl has been observed in dozens of films, including Halloween and its remake, Friday the 13th and its reboot, A Nightmare on Elm Street and its remake, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its remake, Scream, Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Hellraiser, Alien, The Strangers, The Ring, The Grudge, Terror Train, Event Horizon, the Cabin in the Woods and Resident Evil. There are also examples of final girls in other genres as well. The term was coined by Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Clover suggests that in these films, the viewer begins by sharing the perspective of the killer, but experiences a shift in identification to the final girl partway through the film.
A common plot line in many horror films, particularly prior to the 1990s, is one in which a series of victims is killed one by one by a killer amid increasing terror, culminating in a climax in which the last surviving member of the group, a girl or woman, either vanquishes the killer or gets away. According to Clover, the final girl in many of these works shares common characteristics: she is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, avoiding the vices of the victims (sex, illegal drug use, hedonistic lifestyle, etc.). She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g., Teddy, Billie, Georgie, Sidney). Occasionally the final girl will have a shared history with the killer. For example, in Halloween II, Michael Myers is revealed to be the brother of Laurie Strode and in Scream 3 the killer is revealed to be Roman Bridger, half-brother of sole survivor Sidney Prescott. The final girl is the "investigating consciousness" of the film, moving the narrative forward and as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance.
One of the basic premises of Clover’s theory is that audience identification is unstable and fluid across gender lines, particularly in the case of the slasher film. During the final girl’s confrontation with the killer, Clover argues, she becomes masculinized through "phallic appropriation" by taking up a weapon, such as a knife or chainsaw, against the killer. Conversely, Clover points out that the villain of slasher films is often a male whose masculinity, and sexuality more generally, are in crisis. An example would be Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Clover points to this gender fluidity as demonstrating the impact of feminism in popular culture.
The phenomenon of the male audience having to identify with a young female character in an ostensibly male-oriented genre, usually associated with sadistic voyeurism, raises interesting questions about the nature of slasher films and their relationship with feminism. Clover argues that for a film to be successful, although the Final Girl is masculinized, it is necessary for this surviving character to be female, because she must experience abject terror, and many viewers would reject a film that showed abject terror on the part of a male. The terror has a purpose, in that the female is 'purged' if she survives, of undesirable characteristics, such as relentless pursuit of pleasure in her own right. An interesting feature of the genre is the 'punishment' of beauty and sexual availability, sometimes expressed as "Sex = Death".
The film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) explains and talks extensively about this popular horror film convention (although in the film, it is referred to as "survivor girl"), even using it as a major plot device.
Examples of Final GirlsEdit
Before the release of Alien 3, Clover identified Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise as a final girl. Elizabeth Ezra continues this analysis for Alien Resurrection, arguing that by definition both Ripley and Annalee Call must be final girls, and that Call is the "next generation of Clover's Final Girl". Call, in Ezra's view, exhibits traits that fit Clover's definition of a final girl, namely that she is boyish, having a short masculine-style haircut, and that she is characterized by (in Clover's words) "smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters, and sexual reluctance" being a ship's mechanic who rejects the sexual advances made by male characters on the ship. Ezra notes, however, that Call fits the description imperfectly as she is an android, not a human being.
Christine Cornea disputes the idea that Ripley is a final girl, contrasting Clover's analysis of the character with that of Barbara Creed, who presents Ripley as "the reassuring face of womanhood". Cornea does not accept either Clover's or Creed's views on Ripley. While she accepts Clover's general thesis of the final girl convention, she argues that Ripley does not follow the conventions of the slasher film, as Alien follows the different conventions of the science fiction film genre. In particular, there is not the foregrounding in Alien, as there is in the slasher film genre, of the character's sexual purity and abstinence relative to the other characters (who would be, in accordance with the final girl convention, killed by the film's monster "because" of this). The science fiction genre that Alien inhabits, according to Cornea, simply lacks this kind of sexual theme in the first place, as it has no place in such "traditional" science fiction formats.
Laurie Strode (from Halloween I, II, and H20) is another example of a final girl. Tony Williams notes that Clover's image of supposedly progressive final girls are never entirely victorious at the culmination of a film nor do they manage to eschew the male order of things as Clover argues. He holds up Strode as an example of this. She is rescued by a male character, Dr. Samuel Loomis, at the end of Halloween. He holds up Lila Crane, from Psycho, as another example of a final girl who is saved by a male (also named Sam Loomis) at the end of the film. On this basis he argues that, whilst 1980s horror film heroines were more progressive than those of earlier decades, the gender change is done conservatively, and the final girl convention cannot be regarded as a progressive one "without more thorough investigation".
Williams also gives several examples of final girls in the Friday the 13th franchise: Alice in Friday the 13th, and the heroines of Part II and Part III. (He observes that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter does not have a final girl.) He notes that they do not conclude the films wholly victorious, however. The heroines from Parts 2 and 3 are catatonic at the ends of the respective films, and Alice survives the monster in the first film only to fall victim to "him" in the second. The final girl in Part 2 is carried away on a stretcher, calling out for her boyfriend (which Williams argues again undermines the notion of final girls always being victorious). Moreover, Ginny's adoption of the monster's own strategy, in Part II, brings into question whether the final girl image is in fact a wholly positive one.
Other characters identified as final girls include Sally Hardesty of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Nancy Thompson of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and Wendy Christensen from Final Destination 3.
Final girls can also exist outside of the horror genre. Sarah Connor from The Terminator and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games are examples of science fiction final girls.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer as subversion of the "final girl" conceptEdit
Buffy Summers, the protagonist of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series (1997–2003), was designed by creator Joss Whedon as an alternative to the "final girl" cliché. Buffy is, in the words of Jes Battis, "subverting" the final girl trope of B-grade horror films. Jason Middleton observes that although Buffy fulfills the monster-killing role of the final girl, she is the opposite of Clover's description of a final girl in many ways. Buffy is a cheerleader, a "beautiful blond" with a feminine first name, and "gets to have sex with boys and still kill the monster".
In the middle 1990s, the trope of the final girl in horror films was "resurrected, reshaped, and mainstreamed". Kearney points to Sidney Prescott (in Scream (film), Scream 2, Scream 3 and Scream 4) and Julie James (in I Know What You Did Last Summer and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer) as examples of this along with Natalie Simon in Urban Legend and explicitly links these changes to Buffy.