Jordana Brewster stands up to Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.
It’s a popular belief that women can’t handle horror movies. That all the scares, the blood and the guts are too much for their delicate dispositions to take.
Who started this erroneous rumor and who do they think they’re kidding? As a woman who’s watched countless horror movies, I’ve never understood this theory, especially when so many famous chillers are headlined by, yep, women. Sure the villains become most iconic but who is usually left battling your Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers? There’s even a popular term (coined by film critics and picked up by horror aficionados) for these fearless femmes—the “final girl.”
So with the opening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning in which Jordana Brewster will no doubt be up against some seriously creepy meat eaters, and Halloween (the holiday - not the movie!) crawling creepily near, we’re honoring ten of our favorite Final Girls.
If you haven’t seen these fright flicks before, beware of the spoilers throughout this column. Either way, read, remember and re-watch, preferably with your closest girlfriends. (Just don’t throw a slumber party. If you recall, a Slumber Party Massacre resulted from that scenario – so not a good idea.)
1. Halloween (1978)
Final Girl: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Nemesis: Michael Myers
Fear Factor: Poor Laurie Strode. Did she know a masked lunatic was going to make her senior year such a serious bummer? 21-year-old Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister when he was a wee-one, has escaped from the loony bin in pursuit of the likable Laurie. With his understandably concerned and stressed-out shrink (Donald Pleasance) on his tail, Myers still manages to terrorize and murder nearly all of Laurie’s friends before finding himself face to face with the one power he can’t contend with…virginity! Well, that’s not really the power at hand though Laurie’s good-girl antics do keep her away from danger. Which leads us to this question: just what is Myers’ obsession with Laurie anyway? Find out in part II. Oh, we’ll just tell you—she’s his sister!
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Final Girl: Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp)
Nemesis: Freddy Krueger
Fear Factor: Movie teens can never get a good night’s sleep. They are either up too late watching TV, being rebellious by sneaking out the window and meeting their friends or…having nightmares about burn victims who live in boiler rooms. OK, so maybe the last scenario only holds true in director Wes Craven’s universe wherein Freddy not only keeps teens from completing their homework, but kills them in their sleep. But not the well-rounded all-American girl Nancy, who accomplishes the arduous task of casting the freak out by draining all of his energy. And she does this on no sleep. Ahhh…youth.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Final Girl: Sally (Marilyn Burns)
Nemesis: Leatherface and the entire Chainsaw family
Fear Factor: Lesson number one: don’t pick up creepy hitch-hikers with a fondness for head cheese. Lesson number two: don’t take advice from anyone selling gas while cooking “Mystery Meat BBQ.” Lesson number three: be mindful of your road trips, especially if you’re young, pretty and driving through Texas. Sally learns these lessons the hard way when her traveling partners are murdered by Leatherface, the bloodthirsty freak whose family of psychos make for the worst dinner of Sally’s life. What’s on the menu? How about a little taste of grandpa’s blood? Ewww…But Sally endures through the most powerfully resourceful method of survival—she goes totally bats-in-the-belfry crazy and jumps through a window. Thank goodness that trucker just happened to be driving by to pick her up. The shot of Sally laughing hysterically shows this girl is not going to be OK. She’s definitely going to be a vegetarian.
4. Scream (1996)
Final Girl: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)
Nemesis: Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stuart (Matthew Lillard)
Fear Factor: It’s all a funny, wink wink, nudge nudge horror spoof until someone gets hurt. And people do get hurt—badly. Our fearless female Sidney already knew about pain before all the Halloween-masked horror started—her mother was raped and murdered years earlier. Coincidence? Not likely. And now the poor girl is thrown smack dab into the middle of a stalking, murderer’s insanity as he picks off classmates and friends while following all the “rules” of horror movies. This guy is clearly a film nerd. When she learns the twisted truth - that the creep is none other than her boyfriend, along with his best friend - she’s enraged enough to shoot him dead. This killer is so obsessed with horror films, that he could very well be one of your closest film-geek friends—if they ever got off the couch.
5. Suspiria (1977)
Final Girl: Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper)
Nemesis: Coven of witches
Fear Factor: And you were worried that sending your daughter to a dance academy might expose her to bad habits like excessive dieting or smoking cigarettes. Please. You didn’t hear about the Dario Argento Dance Academy. At this place, young Susy must contend with a school run by a coven of witches. Suzy survives, enduring some of the most demonic plies of her life. After successfully killing the worst witch, who is (of course) the headmistress, we have to wonder what the future holds for Suzy. “Dancing with the Stars”?
6. Friday The 13th (1980)
Final Girl: Alice Hardy (Adrienne King)
Fear Factor: The trials and tribulations at Camp Crystal Lake have spawned ten sequels in which one Jason Voorhees figures most prominently. Jason (or Mom--come on, you’ve seen the movie) drowned in a lake many years earlier with two irresponsible camp counselors at fault. When Jason is resurrected, he heads right back to the lake wishing to seek vengeance on all those other bad teens. Inebriation, sexual activity or generally bad behavior will be seriously punished (again, sorry Mom!). Sweet little Alice is not only the last girl standing, but the heroine who decapitates Jason. See, Alice didn’t play strip Monopoly -- it’s just that easy (i.e., be good or Mrs. Vorhees will attack you with a machete!)
7. Psycho (1960)
Final Girl: Lila (Vera Miles)
Nemesis: Norman Bates
Fear Factor: Lila is old school Final Girl, the kind who’s so no-nonsense and persistent in solving the death of her sister (Janet Leigh) that she finds a surprise in one of the most famous endings in scene history. No, she’s not as sexy as Naomi Watts or Olivia Hussey, but it’s got to count for something when you find the semi-preserved corpse of Norman Bates’ mother.
8. Black Christmas (1974)
Final Girl: Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey)
Nemesis: Creepy dude in attic making obscene phone calls
Fear Factor: There’s a moment in Black Christmas where you will literally yell at pretty Jess to get off the phone! And more importantly, stop asking the pervert why he’s doing this. But then, sorority sister Jess will eventually have to stay on the phone in order to find the location of the mysterious murderer who’s knocking off her girl friends and den mother. Poor thing. This guy is completely deranged with phone conversations that consist of grunts, maniacal laughing, screaming and creepy utterances like “where’s the baby!” We know he’s in the attic (no one else does), making the entire movie one claustrophobic nightmare. And we also really like our flawed heroine Jess (she’s not as virginal as other final girl counterparts) who does survive by the film’s end but perhaps not for long. He’s still in the attic!
9. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
Final Girl: Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright (Melisa Sue Anderson)
Nemesis: Whacked-out Doctor Wearing a “Ginny” Mask!
Fear Factor: It’s always hard being the new girl, but Ginny is not only accepted into her new high school, she becomes one of the most popular girls in class. This is quite an accomplishment after she recently suffered a horrible accident that left her so traumatized, she’s now experiencing blackouts. Meanwhile, an unknown lunatic is offing her classmates conveniently while Ginny is suffering her spells. Hmm…just what is going on here? Split personality? Hormones? Twin?
10. The Ring (2002)
Final Girl: Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts)
Nemesis: Samara Morgan
Fear Factor: What’s a girl to do when she’s got pure unstoppable evil on her hands? Make a duplicate copy. Really. After attempting to solve the mystery of the creepy black-and-white video tape that’s causing people to die after they watch it (buy a DVD player people!), single mother Rachel Keller has no other choice but to perpetuate the evil. And what is that evil? Only a little girl named Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), the pint-sized star of a video that would make both Mario Bava and Ingmar Bergman proud. They’d make duplicate copies for sure.
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