Women In Horror Month: Final Girls and Psychotic Women. (6-4)
Welcome to part four of my continuation of coverage for Women in Horror Recognition Month. Additionally to this countdown there is plenty more awesome Women in Horror goodness on the way as Caitlyn and I have recorded a podcast focusing on the topic as a whole and it’s importance in terms of raising awareness surrounding the cause. The podcast is part of our new collaboration, Ghostface Girls, which you can read more about here.
Now at number six, I am close to revealing who will be the top feisty female from the genre. The final girl or psychotic woman in question will be a character that I have been able to identify with for a number of reasons and has the repeated watch-ability factor, if she’s a villainous vixen it will be down to the lengths she will go to in order to successfully carry out her motives. But until then here’s some more wonderfully, wicked women that are worthy of the title “Women of Horror”.
Once again, here is the obligatory **SPOILER WARNING**, I encourage you to check out the films discussed before reading any further.
6. Kate, Inbred (2011)
- Played By Jo Hartley
- Directed By Alex Chandon
- Written By Alex Chandon and Paul Shrimpton
From growing cult classic in-the-making Inbred, Kate (Jo Hartley) is one of the toughest women you’ll encounter in British horror cinema. As part of a character-building weekend, care-worker Kate embarks on a trip to the fictional, backwoods Yorkshire village of Mortlake with a group of young offenders and her socially awkward co-worker Jeff (James Doherty). After crossing paths with the deranged locals, events take a brutal and sinister turn as the group must band together in the ultimate fight for survival. One by one they are captured, tormented and tortured through some strange and twisted methods that accumulates in one of the goriest shows you’ll ever see, reminiscent of the grand-guignol with a 70’s nostalgic edge. Kate is strong and feisty, she does what it takes to get out of Mortlake alive while protecting the young teenagers left in her care. She is the maternal figure of the group and despite displaying her down-to-earth personality she doesn’t take any grief off anyone and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. In comparison to Jeff who enforces strict discipline she is able to handle the teenagers through engaging on they’re level, with a fun but firm approach. Eventually she influences Jeff to work with them in a similar manner. With the shock and panic that follows the carnage and as the group are killed off one by one, Kate remains determined and holds her own against the endearingly insane landlord Jim (Seamus O’Neill) and the rest of the inbreds! Kate also displays a more human side in one of the film’s most dramatic scenes; while trapped in an isolated cottage, she has an emotional break down as events begin to get to her, which strongly reflects Jo Hartley’s acting range. A fighter until the bitter end, Kate has qualities of a final girl, she keeps on running for as long as she can and is extremely handy with a shot gun. Well-written, brave and fiery, Kate is the ideal modern horror heroine.
5. Carrie White, Carrie (1976)
- Played By Sissy Spacek
- Directed By Brian DePalma
- Written By Stephen King (novel) and Lawrence D. Cohen (Screenplay)
Stephen King’s groundbreaking, teen novel Carrie has been adapted for the big and small screen on more than one occasion. However this review will focus on the most iconic adaptation of the telekinetic, terrifying teenager portrayed by Sissy Spacek in Brian DePalma’s 1976 classic film. Abused, humiliated and tormented, Spacek’s Carrie generated an undeniable wave of empathy for the character as she plays a naive, young girl unaware of the depths of the power she possesses. Carrie represents teenage insecurities that are present in all of us, it’s the difficult age where we’re all settling into our own skin. Adding onto these troubling years is the extreme bullying Carrie endures at the hands of her more self-aware, pop-cultured peers. Carrie also suffers mental and physical abuse by her mentally ill and fanatical religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), a woman so fearful she shields her daughter from the reality of the outside world. Considering all this, it’s a surprise that Carrie didn’t snap before prom night however the development of her powers is in place as a metaphor to reflect her coming-of-age and descendent into puberty. Ostracized for being “different”, Carrie is the subject of public humiliation and cruelty as she experiences her first period unaware of what’s happening to her. Led by the bitchy Chris Hargansen (Nancy Allen), the group of viscous girls maliciously throw tampons at her and make cruel jibes. The only one on her side is her gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) who is compassionate and encourages Carrie’s sense of self-worth. She punishes the girls with good intentions, denying them access to prom unless they attend daily detention but ironically it acts as the beginning of Carrie’s downfall when Chris refuses to comply and has an even nastier trick up her sleeve.
Carrie’s home life is no better. Her mother treats her first period as immoral, “first comes the blood, then comes the boys”. She frequently locks her in the closet, forcing her to pray for her “sins”. Another character that encompasses any kind of empathy for Carrie is her former tormenter Sue Snell (Amy Irving), racked with guilt, Sue comes up with a peace offering. By sacrificing her own dreams of prom, she insists her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) take Carrie in her place in a bid to bring her out of her shell and experience one night of high school normality. Sabotaging her plans is the bitter Chris who decides to pull the ultimate prank. Armed with a bucket of pigs blood, Chris orchestrates Carrie and Tommy to win the titles of Prom King and Queen, ensuring they’ll be center stage. At the pivotal moment, Chris and boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) pull the chord, unleashing blood all over poor Carrie. One humiliation too far and proving her mother’s fears right, Carrie gives her high school a night of terror to remember. With her powers in full swing, Carrie traps her peers and teachers in the gym, killing them in a series of brutal attacks following a vision of each and every one of them mocking and laughing at her. It doesn’t stop there, when she returns home she wreaks revenge on her mother, literally crucifying her in a symbolic and fitting killing. The house then falls down around them and Carrie meets her bloody demise.
A tragic figure. Carrie’s external influences are the reasons behind her frustration and anger. Had she not been treated like an outsider in all aspects of her life Carrie may have used her powers for positive means. She is a character many can relate to and when I first watched the film aged thirteen it proved a cathartic experience. Despite her destructive end, Carrie proves that bullies need to be stood up to with the homicidal element in place as a metaphor. She is a girl we’ve all been at one point or another trying to find our way in the world amongst the brutality of high school in which she offers a fantastical outlet for.
4. Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
- Played By Heather Langenkamp
- Written and Directed By Wes Craven
Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is arguably one of the most memorable final girls of 1980’s horror movies from one of it’s famous franchises. Nancy was the first final girl to take on the frightening Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) and proves that the original is superior. A Nightmare on Elm Street was groundbreaking for its time. It reflected 80’s American culture and fears present within society as many films of that era were said to do so at the time. As a horror film, A Nightmare on Elm Street blurred the gap between reality and fantasy or ‘secure’ and ‘paranoid’ horror, a theory developed by Andrew Tudor. This then allowed the character of Nancy to be more of an ‘active’ final girl, instead of waiting for the monster to come and terrorize her, she brings him out herself ready to fight.
Nancy’s character demonstrates a change in how slasher movie heroine’s were written. This was arguably a turning point in the genre and hinting at a more post-modern approach that was on its way, in which Craven experimented with further in the mid-90’s. Resourceful and productive, Nancy is one step ahead of her oblivious parents and ignorant authority figures, as her friends are murdered by the knife-fingered, badly-burned psychopath, she is forced to take matters into her own hands. Nancy must rectify the mistakes of her parents and the adults in the town by restoring the balance of normality. As stated, the film was a reflection of the breakdown of the family unit which was on the increase during this period. Nancy’s role is to literally pick up the pieces and put Kruger to rest once and for all. In comparison to her mother, who is an alcoholic and displays weakness, Nancy is self-reliant and is aware of what she needs to do to survive. That said, she comes up against several hurdles in order to defeat Kruger. The insomnia she develops leads to the assumption that Nancy is physically losing her mind. As she descends further into a state of insanity it becomes questionable as to whether she will come out alive.
We’re all aware that Nancy is in fact successful, drawing Kruger into her environment instead of allowing herself to be killed in his version of reality. In the end she turns her back on him, demonstrating she is no longer afraid, ultimately destroying him. We meet Nancy again in the third installment, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Now working as a dream researcher at the Westin Hills Asylum, she returns to help the last children of Elm Street battle Kruger once and for all, drawing on her own experiences. Sadly Kruger does kill her second time round, however her legacy lives on in horror history. Nancy is a well-remembered woman of horror, determined, independent and is one of the first of a new breed of the horror heroine.
Hayley Alice Roberts