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Dismembering the Final Girl Trope

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Alabama chapter.

With Halloween just around the corner, quintessential slasher films, like Sean S. Cunningham’s “Friday The 13th” or Renny Harlin’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are being played on TV screens across the nation. This subgenre of blood, guts, and teenage movie clichés was popularized in the late 1970s because of its simple plot lines and graphic depictions of murder. Often, these storylines featured three major components: the psychopathic killer, the victims, and the final girl. Almost all slasher flicks follow this general formula. The genre of horror is used to exploit the deepest, darkest fears of society. But what is the cultural implication of high school girls being chased by masked murders with sharp objects? Surprisingly, a more in-depth view of the common themes in slasher films reveals an intriguing message about purity. These seemingly harmless tropes have pushed a moral narrative that creates a division between women based on their sexuality or lack thereof.  

Carol J. Clover coins the name “The Final Girl” in her book “Men, Women, and Chain Saws” as a way to describe the distressed and traumatized female character who frequently becomes the last one standing in slasher flicks. She is the survivor, and through her perseverance, audience members are subjected to her journey through hell. By the end of the movie, these characters have watched countless friends die. They’ve been chased down hallways, cornered in restrooms, dragged across the floor, and even stared into the face of death itself.  Yet, by way of border line torture porn, audiences are completely enthralled and accepting of complete brutality against these women. The final girl’s abject terror is made into a spectacle. Moreover, abuse against women is seen as more aesthetically satisfying to a primarily male audience. This misogynistic concept is not new to cinema. In fact, it dates back to the literary pioneers of the horror genre. Edgar Allen Poe once stated that the death of a beautiful woman is “the most poetical topic in the world.” However, there is a stark distinction between the final girl as a survivor and her unlucky female counterparts as the actual victims.  

A common motif amongst these final female survivors is their unwillingness to partake in the normal teenage vices. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and partying happen all around them, yet they refuse to conform to their fellow peers. Instead, they are seen as smart, strong and most importantly chaste. The victims of the films, unfortunately meet their demise as some sort of punishment for their “indulgences.” Take the famous telephone cord scene from “Halloween.” Lynda is one of the best friends of main character Laurie Stroud, a bookish high schooler babysitting on Halloween. Compared to her virtuous friend, Lynda is much more promiscuous. After having sex with her boyfriend, Michael Myers kills the both of them in rapid succession. When Laurie picks up Lynda’s phone call, all she can hear is the sounds of her friend being strangled to death via telephone cord. Lynda becomes one of many “sexually active” victims of Michael Myers killing spree. Because Laurie does not participate in the normal delinquencies of Halloween night, she ultimately is spared in the mass murder.  

What these horror narratives inevitably portray is a divide between the morally pure woman and the sexually promiscuous one. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Abstinence movement was on the rise. In 1981, Congress had passed the Adolescent Family Life Act. The program aimed towards postponing sexual activity until marriage and emphasized ideas of chastity and self-discipline. The same characteristics that hold a shockingly similar attitude as the slasher films of the era. Like almost any piece of media, the horror genre is not free from the influences of culture. In essence, it is the perfect reflection of what society finds the most threatening. In this case, teenage pregnancy.  

Since you’ve made it this far, here’s a fun 80s themed slasher playlist to play at your next Halloween party.  

Hey guys!! I'm Lorin O'Rear and I am a freshman at the University of Alabama. My major is Secondary Language Arts Education with minors in the Blount Scholars Program and Theatre. Outside of writing, I love listening to music, keeping up with politics, spending time with my two dogs Max and Goose, and spending way too much time decorating my island in Animal Crossing.