Women In Horror Month: Final Girls and Psychotic Women. (3-1)
Here is part five and the final piece of coverage celebrating the fifth annual Women in Horror Recognition Month. Earlier this month I began a countdown of who I consider to be the bravest final girls in horror as well as the most psychotic and deadly women. Narrowing it down out of a vast range of characters that have made an impact on our blood-splattered screens for decades has been tough and there’s plenty more I’d have liked to have included. A follow-up countdown next year may be a possibility. Now we’re onto the top three, it’s time to analyze my ultimate favorite genre women. The criteria set for these three is down to the impact they’ve had on the genre and on myself, their iconic status within Horror, how they’ve either set up recognizable tropes or challenged them and just for being downright awesome.
I want to thank everyone for their support in reading my work. For all the shares, likes, re-tweets and comments. Your feedback is always more than welcome and its always brilliant to speak to like-minded fans. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices. Who do YOU think should be THE Woman of Horror?
I’d also like to give a personal thank you to Hannah Neurotica who has set up this amazing cause to address the restrictions and prejudices that many women have faced in the industry and to celebrate a genre that has so many phenomenal female contributors. Let’s all keep raising awareness for Women in Horror Recognition Month. Long may it continue…!
WARNING: There will be Spoilers!!
3. Mary Mason, American Mary (2012)
- Played By Katharine Isabelle
- Written and Directed By Jen and Sylvia Soska.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sadistic surgeon Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) slashed her way onto this list. Interestingly, she is the first character included in this countdown who has been written and directed by women, which to a degree emphasizes the lack of strong, iconic female characters written by women for women within the genre. But when Mary splattered onto the Horror scene back in 2012 she certainly made her mark as the fabulous filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska (aka. The Twisted Twins) worked incredibly hard to promote the film, generating plenty of interest via social media and the film wound up being one of the most ‘must-see’ events in the horror genre that year. It also resulted in major studio Universal acquiring the rights to the film making it’s female directors a modern day industry success story. The film itself actually laments the disheartening experiences the Soska’s went through as striving filmmakers echoing the negativity and sleaziness they encountered amongst the film system.
One of the most fascinating pieces of horror to emerge this decade, American Mary is a modern day Universal Monster in every sense of the word. She is a deeply complex character with so many layers its hard not to be compelled by her story arc within the film from promising medical student to rogue body modification surgeon to psychotic woman. Mary is the embodiment of a woman who can be both highly intelligent and sexy. With an array of stylish yet provocative outfits, Mary looks amazing whether she’s covered in blood in a PVC apron or in the designer green dress created for her by Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg). She knows what she has to do in order to survive and is not to be crossed with as deadly consequences will arise. The majority of the time Mary is cool, calm and collected which is vital as she carries out some obscure and unconventional methods of surgery in order to either please her clients or torture her victims. When a horrific incident happens to her she takes matters into her own hands enlisting the help of smitten club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) and gentle giant, bodyguard Lance (Twan Holliday) in order to act out her revenge.
A master at her craft, its evident she relishes in the work she does, which molds her into a creative, beautiful yet feared woman. The majority of the time Mary is sarcastic and deadpan which underlines her disillusion with her unfortunate experiences. Her relationships with the other characters in the film is interesting. She doesn’t quite let them in and deals with her problems mainly alone. Her quasi-friendship with Betty Boop lookalike Beatrice (Tristan Risk) is one of the film’s highlights, with contrasting personalities and attitudes Beatrice tries her hardest to get to know what’s behind Mary’s exterior more so than other characters. Through Billy’s eyes she is seen as sensual yet frightening, comparatively to other women he hires at the club he holds more respect for Mary and there’s a genuine fondness on his part. She also manages to deceive Detective Dolor (John Emmet Tracy) for as long as she can demonstrating how double-crossing she can be while protecting herself and her unique body modification “business”.
A complex and compelling character, Mary continues to gain cult and iconic status providing Scream Queen Katharine Isabelle with another memorable role under her belt next to Ginger from Ginger Snaps (2000). Whether feared or admired, there’s certainly something about Mary!
2. Laurie Strode, Halloween Series (1978, 1981, 1998, 2002)
- Played By Jamie Lee Curtis
- Directed By John Carpenter
- Written By John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is one of the earliest examples and arguably the most famous of the ‘final girl’ trope. Despite not being the first horror heroine to come up against and survive a maniacal killer in the slasher territory (See. Jess, Black Christmas (1974) and Sally, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as earlier examples) she holds a great deal of significance. Laurie’s character and status as ‘the final girl’ has been famously examined by Carol Clover in Men, Women and Chainsaws and its become pretty much concrete that Halloween (1978) set the standard for the slasher films that came after it and coined several of the tropes that have been recognizable ever since. The term ‘Final Girl’ came from Clover who stated the attributes as being a strong female character and one that was distinct from other females within slashers. As us horror enthusiasts know if you’re the slutty blonde cheerleader your more likely going to die but if you’re the shy, bookish, virginal girl, you’re going to survive! The final girl is the one who realizes the extent of the threat facing her and its even suggested that once she confronts the killer and more than often stabs him with a knife (a penetrative motion) its used as a metaphor for her sexual frustration.
It seems as if ‘Final Girls’ during this period of horror were constructed as masculine, with their feminine qualities suppressed, they were in place more as an experience for cinematic terror. By having a female figure rather than a male the intent was to convey fear as women aren’t viewed as physically strong as men. It created more vulnerability when the final girl would face up against a killer twice her size.
Another attribute of ‘The Final Girl’ is having a gender neutral name which supports this idea that the role of the female in slasher films is for a male audience to be able to identify with. Clover’s theory however has been criticized for being problematic as it doesn’t suggest that the heroine reflects female identity and anxieties. Laurie in fact does display several of the characteristics Clover set out. Despite thwarting the killer at the climax and surviving, Clover’s focus on a male outlet has been argued against as Laurie is ultimately rescued by a male character Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Through this she is not entirely an ‘active’ final girl who seeks out the killer herself but she is one step ahead of the other characters as she remains continually cautious and is smart enough to keep herself alive. Laurie is an early reference point for the trope however she does evolve over the years. In the sequel she is hospitalized but still displays more awareness, warning others about the boogeyman who attacked her, the doctors dismiss her fears and continue to sedate her. In Halloween II (1981) Laurie makes the connection that her attacker is in fact Michael Myers and also her brother. With that knowledge she is able to defeat him once more with the help of Loomis. During Halloween IV (1988), V (1989) and The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) she is presumed dead leaving behind a young daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) who becomes Myers next target. In Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) its discovered that Laurie is alive and living behind a secret identity. Fragile and unable to cope with her past, she is on medication and a shadow of her former self, which makes her more human. This time round she has her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett) to protect as Michael targets his little sister once more. By the end Laurie gains the courage to fight back and finish off Michael Myers once and for all, beheading him with an axe. By this point Laurie had molded from the vulnerable teenager in the first installment to a stronger woman. Unfortunately Halloween:Resurrection (2002) exists, destroying everything the previous film had intended with the evolution of Laurie’s place as a final girl, by having Myers kill her off in an asylum in the films opening minutes. Allegedly Laurie had decapitated a security guard rather than Myers in H20.
As stated Laurie Strode is one of the most emblematic heroines to emerge from the genre. Even though she does fall into several categories that make up the traditional final girl, its not to say that she doesn’t display any feminine qualities. She begins as a teenage girl with insecurities and becomes a strong woman which is plenty for a female audience to relate to. Laurie is without a doubt the first notable final girl in the slasher sub-genre and a huge influence on all the strong horror females that came after her.
1. Sidney Prescott, Scream Series (1996, 1997, 2000, 2011)
- Played By Neve Campbell
- Directed By Wes Craven
- Written By Kevin Williamson
If Laurie Strode was responsible for evoking ideas about ‘the final girl’ then Sidney Prescott was in place to challenge them. The 90’s were upon us and the horror genre was in dire need of a re-vamp. Precisely everything had been done by this point and filmmakers needed to find a way to keep on terrifying audiences who were now all too aware of the cliches and tropes thrown at them. Enter Kevin Williamson, a complete godsend. Williamson re-invented the genre with his quick-witted, self-aware but also brutal Scream (1996) along with the experienced genre director Wes Craven on board. Instead of re-hashing the same tired conventions, Williamson challenged them by creating a slasher film where the characters were conscious of being in one yet still met a bloody demise at the hands of an all new sinister serial killer, Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) who knows these movies inside out and through the knowledge of the conventions is able to outsmart the targeted teens.
As a final girl Sidney on one hand does qualify for some of the attributes Clover discussed. She has a gender-neutral name and has intimacy issues. On the other hand she is clued up on how females in horror are constructed yet when faced with a slasher-type situation she acts on instinct rather than logic. That’s until the sequels where she becomes even more savvy on how to outsmart the knife-wielding masked murderer. The previously mentioned intimacy issues are down to trauma rather than just playing the good girl. Sidney’s mother was brutally butchered before the events of Scream (1996) however she eventually bows down to pressure from suspected boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and sleeps with him right before the blood-curdling climax. Even more of a turning point is Billy does turn out to be one of the killers meaning in this instance rules have changed and Sidney not only has sex, she has sex with the villain which establishes what audiences thought they knew about horror conventions is about to change.
By Scream 4 (2011) Sidney has encountered and defeated seven serial killers that donne the Ghostface disguise all out for her blood. Sidney achieved somewhat of a sick, celebrity status as ‘everyone’s favorite victim’ even though she yearns for a normal life where she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder. She overcomes more than most, the death of her friends and her only stable boyfriend Derek (Jerry O’Connell) as well as family members attempting to massacre her yet she still comes out on top. There has been rumors over the years that if another Scream installment was to be made there is the possibility that Sidney may be killed off however that would be disrespectful to her character and legacy and would be taking it down the previously mentioned Halloween:Resurrection route, which would just be awful! What’s empowering about Sidney is she isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and takes no second chances when eliminating the threat. There has been criticism that technically Sidney is as bad as the killers in the franchise as in self-defense she murders them in equally bloody measures however given the situation any rational person would react similarly in order to save themselves and remaining friends. She does all she can to protect herself, in the sequel she stays around her friends and is given two bodyguards, in the third installment she is a broken woman who isolates herself in a highly-secured house before deciding to come out and face the danger rather than pushing her surviving friends away. By the fourth and most recent film Sidney is wiser and displays more confidence, she even becomes an author recounting her traumatic experiences as a way of catharsis.
Sidney Prescott is my number one female of horror because she is strong, empowered, determined, will always fight back and has a well-rounded character arc. Sidney is a survivor who has left just as much as an impact as Laurie before her through turning conventions on their head and giving genre audiences much more to expect from what a final girl is capable of.
Hayley Alice Roberts.