Friday, October 26, 2012

The Final Girl is Dead, Long Live the Final Girl

This post has been rattling around my brain for a while. It comes from the fact that I love final girls. I love 'em, Jerry! I grew up watching slashers which I'm sure explains a lot for some people.  There were simply no other female protagonists that measure up to them. And I'm talking Final Girls from the 1970s all the way up to Scream's 1996 premiere. They were awesome to me. Shy, quiet and studious but they always rose to the challenge and fought back. That was huge for me. After Scream, the slasher genre changed. It was no longer a film studio's dirty little secret. A slasher could be a legitimate genre hit and appealed to both critics and fans. Well... actually... that was only Scream. With all the I Know What the Faculty Did Last Halloween H20s streaming out of Hollywood there was a backlash, both by fans and filmmakers.

Ginny - Friday the 13th Part 2
 After Scream hit, (despite the omni-presence of Sydney Prescott) there was a rise in the Final Boy (see Elijah Wood in The Faculty, Devon Sawa in Final Destination, Josh Harnett - kind of - in Halloween H20, Fran Kranz in Cabin in the Woods) not a HUGE rise, but there were certainly a lot more guys surviving horror movies than ever before. When Scream hit and the majority of these neo-slashers were released when boy bands were still big and girls would see movies with the right boys in them. Well, sure. Why not. The point being that slashers became a vested interest for major studios. The marketing was slicker and more mainstream, meaning that a lot of these films were PG-13 and therefore a hell of a lot less gore-y. These were sanitized horror films. So all the kids that discovered horror through these films got quite a shock when they went back to the slasher classics.

Too pretty to die.
 But these films led a to a backlash against these sanitized versions of what came before.A backlash that took on a lot of qualities from Grindhouse films and brought back the slasher in a nastier way. (much like a sequel in the Alien franchise) I think we see this clearest in Rob Zombie's Halloween re-imagining. From the get-go, Halloween 2007 is much more interested in Michael Myers than it is in Laurie Strode. The first quarter of the film is dedicatred to Myers' home life and his first murderous rampage which is presented in much more graphic detail than John Carpenter's 1978 original. From the outset the audience is meant to, if not sympathize, at least understand Myers' actions. While he's cray-cray, there are tipping point that set him off. The overly sympathetic Deborah Myers (Sherri Moon Zombie) attempts to save her son, only to realize there is nothing human left and commits suicide.

Skipping merrily ahead, Laurie Strode and her friends traipse around for a bit only to be picked off one by one until Laurie fights Michael Myers, subdues him and... roll credits. She of course returns in Halloween 2 as does Myers (and Sherri Moon + horse), they go at it again and Laurie learns that Michael is her brother and it triggers some kind of killer desire within her. It is insinuated in the film that she will take over the killing. The Final Girl is the killer, the killer is more interesting than those who would fight to stop the madness, the madness is embraced. Everyone is corrupt in Zombie's films (including Dr. Loomis) and Michael (eventually Laurie) is set up to be a kind of vigilante, ridding the earth of these despicable people.

In the 1970s and 80s when slasher films peaked, the main emphasis was on otherness. It was the clean, normal kids versus the deranged Other. At the start of the new millennium, horror took a turn to gore, toture-porn with some misogynistic undertones (see Saw, Hostel, Turistas).  We also have films from Europe making a big impact with horror fans in North America. These films had a nasty streak in them which helped prompt American filmmakers and film studios to go ahead with their unrelenting violence. One of the first big horror films of this creed was Alexander Aja's High Tension (2003) which also presents an interesting version of the Final Girl.

In High Tension Marie is both our Final Girl and our killer. Though the killer is depicted as a disgusting man-slob it is Marie (DESPITE the massive, infuriating plot holes). I think in this case, the horror is interpersonal. It is the horror of not truly knowing a person and the capabilities of any one person at any moment. As an audience our gateway into these kinds of movies is through the Final Girl. Now there is a movement within these films that makes the Final Girl untrustworthy and potentially the monster, implicating us the audience into the sadistic killing.

In the first rash of popularity of slashers, the films were a product of gender and political bias. (yes, they were also a scary good time) This evolution (or de-evolution depending on who you talk to) is an implication that there is something wrong within our world. There are no solutions, no Others to defeat. Only darkness.

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