December 7, 2011

#4-7 The Death Rattle & Behind the Couch's Top 10 Final Girls

Behind the Couch
#4 Jess Bradford in BLACK CHRISTMAS - Jess is often sorely overlooked when it comes to Final Girls – and she was arguably one of the first incarnations of the trope as we know it today. Intelligent, warm, sensible and confident, she seems to have it all. Except she doesn’t – she’s as flawed a character as they come. Discovering she’s pregnant, experiencing doubt and fear, dealing with her highly neurotic boyfriend and then having to dodge the pervy killer with a penchant for making creepy phone calls holed up in her attic; Jess never gets a break. It’s still pretty uncommon today for a film’s heroine to be considering an abortion throughout the narrative; that Jess is so conflicted only serves to heap more flesh on her bones and make her seem more real. When she hears the shocking revelation that the obscene calls they’ve been receiving were made from inside the house, she attempts to get her friends to safety – unaware that they’re already dead. Courageous and loyal, Jess’s only downfall is that she puts too much faith in the ineffectual police.

The Death Rattle
#4 Sarah in THE DESCENT - Sarah is not a Final Girl in the traditional sense, but I picked her because of her character arc, and also because the female characters in the film are designed similar to those that you'd see in a number of slasher movies. Speaking of which, I admire all of the young women in this movie for their toughness; even the one who we're ultimately not supposed to like. As for Sarah, she's someone who experienced great loss and trauma in her life and is suddenly put in a position where she's outside of her comfort level in the midst of her ongoing grieving process. By all means she's the most vulnerable character of the bunch, but yet she overcomes numerous obstacles (including betrayal), as well as her own personal issues, and comes out on top (well, sorta) by finding a strength within herself that she didn't even know she possessed. Probably more so than any other young woman on my list, her transition from victim to aggressor is intense, emotional, and worthy of many a fist-pump.

Behind the Couch - SPOILER ALERT
#5 Marie in SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE - When we’re first introduced to Marie she appears to exude everything a standard Final Girl should: intelligence, humility, a good nature and dependability. She’s a good friend to Alexa and often despairs of her friend’s disastrous romantic relations. Proactive and selfless, it is her we root for throughout the film as we follow her desperate attempts to rescue her friend. She also shows resourcefulness in the face of danger – concealing her possessions from the guest bedroom and retracing her steps so it looks as though the room has no occupant (much like Jane does in Sergio Martino’s Torso) when the killer is searching the house.
The twist ending of Switchblade Romance created such a fuss. I for one really like it – when re-watching the film it adds interesting layers and things to look out for. I can understand why some viewers felt cheated – here is a young woman with whom we sided and perched on the edge of our seats for throughout the riveting story – only for her to be revealed as a crazy killer who carried out the atrocities earlier in the film. And all because of her obsession with Alexa. Marie is an interesting twist on the figure of the Final Girl and she serves as a reminder that we all of us have a dark side lurking within, ready to snap. Or maybe that’s just me.

The Death Rattle
#5 Jannicke in COLD PREY - When I first saw COLD PREY, one of the main things that stood out to me was how great the character of Jannicke was. When she's introduced it's quite obvious for a number of reasons that, unless the director planned on pulling a fast one on us, Jannicke was inevitably going to be the Final Girl. Despite not actually being a parent, she's the mature, maternal figure amongst her group of friends, and when they find themselves being preyed on by the film's killer, her motherly instincts come into play and she becomes very protective of everyone else, but it's almost portrayed as if it were an unconscious effort on her part; even with an injured friend holding her back, leaving him behind is never an option to Jannicke. Some of her actions towards the end of the film are more reflective of someone who's simply trying to stay alive rather an a fearless heroine, but her endurance, smarts, and determination prove to be rewarding.

Behind the Couch
#6 Wendy Torrance in THE SHINING - Yes, that’s right. I said Wendy Torrance from The Shining. What? You have a problem with that or something? Yes, she’s arguably pathetic, mousey, hysterical and a limp wet blanket, but like it or not, she represents how most of us would react and behave if placed in a similarly isolated and terrifying situation. The man she loves, the father of her son has just gone bat-shit crazy – how do you think she’d react? Wendy has obviously stood by Jack and supported him through some very bleak times. She would be happy for him to wash cars if it meant having an income – she wouldn’t look down at him, she would support him and appreciate his manual labour. She’s a simple, rational woman with a no frills attitude to life – dependable and encouraging. All she wants is domestic stability and food on the table. That she’s also a confirmed horror film and ghost story addict cements my appreciation for her. She might nervously prance around in her night-robe carrying a kitchen knife she seems ill equipped to do anything with other than grip for sheer life, but when she’s pushed she takes the only necessary course of action in defending herself and her son. We can all relate to her nervousness and ineptitude – but it is these very things, especially her ordinariness, that makes her such a believable character and what compels us to root for her.

The Death Rattle - SPOILER ALERT
#6 Taylor Gentry in BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON - I'd be remiss not to give a shout-out to the Final Girl in one of my favorite slasher movies of all time. Taylor Gentry is a reporter who, along with her camera crew, follows around a charming, charismatic serial killer known as Leslie Vernon, who's basically a "real life" version of a seemingly unstoppable masked killer from a slasher movie. Taylor and her crew begin to have second thoughts on their coverage when shit gets real, and they eventually turn on Leslie, which leads to them being preyed on by the man they befriended and Taylor making a drastic turn, going from a fragile, wide-eyed young woman to someone who's backed into a corner and has to get her hands dirty if she wants to survive. The character of Taylor herself is a self-referential manifestation of the stereotypical Final Girl without ever becoming a parody, but what makes her one of my favorites mostly has to do with how well she's played by Angela Goethals. Her inevitable showdown with Leslie could be seen as her acting out some pent-up sexual tension, but that's a discussion for another time.

Behind the Couch - SPOILER ALERT
#7 Samantha Hughes in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL - Typical girl next door, there’s nothing too remarkable about Samantha. She’s a student, wants a place of her own and likes hanging out with her best bud Megan scoffing pizza and listening to music on her totally rad walkman. She’s mature and responsible but far from perfect. Slightly prissy about hygiene and more uptight than her free spirited friend, Samantha might be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, but she’s level-headed, reliable and downright groovy in her own quiet way. Miss Hughes shares the same likable ordinariness Wendy Torrance from The Shining demonstrated, though she reveals herself to be far gutsier. When bonkers occultists try to impregnate her with the Devil’s child, Samantha does what any rational thinking, desperate victim of the damned would do – she kicks, screams, slashes, shoots and bludgeons her way the fuck out of there. With Sam as his mum, Little Lucifer may not be so bad after all; at least the apocalypse might boast a rad Eighties rock soundtrack.

The Death Rattle
#7 Kirsty Cotton in HELLRAISER - What do you do when you find yourself in a situation where you have a wicked stepmother and her skinless lover wanting to kill you and a group of angry demons wanting to drag you down to the depths of Hell? Well, if you're as cunning (or desperate) as Kirsty Cotton in my second favorite horror movie of all time, the answer is quite simple: you turn them against each other and sneak out the back door. There's no denying that Kirsty is somewhat of a brat in HELLRAISER, but the manner in which she goes about saving herself and eliminating the evil entities is quite admirable. For those reasons, and also because I've always had a huge crush on Ashley Laurence, Kirsty was one of the first characters who came to mind when throwing this list together.

Check back on Friday for the final three!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting takes on the subject. I've not seen BEHIND THE MASK and fell asleep through COLD PREY and didn't bother finishing it, but the others are really varied and fascinating additions. Lots of love for BLACK CHRISTMAS and THE DESCENT.