Today, we're looking at the final girl. What is a final girl?
Let's start with one of the best - Amy Steel as Ginny. When I think of final girls, this image is what comes to mind:
A defiant woman standing alone against the monster (human or otherwise) that has killed all her friends - that's a final girl to me. All that stuff about virginity/innocence and names that aren't gender-specific is irrelevant and muddies the issue. Ginny certainly isn't an innocent in the way final girls are usually categorized - she's got a boyfriend and doesn't appear to be a virgin, she heads off to the bar with the others - and her name is pretty damn feminine. She outlives the others through intelligence, courage and responsibility.
So, what does all that virginity and innocence stuff actually mean? A lot less than the mythic weight it has accrued through repetition and misunderstanding. To understand it, we need to look at the final girl archetype, as embodied by Laurie Strode.
Laurie has a gender-neutral name, but she's not a tomboy - she's very maternal with the kids, wears skirts and is definitely interested in boys. As I noted back in my Halloween entry:
She’s less sexually active than her friends because she has trouble attracting men, but she has her eye on a guy so the thoughts are definitely there. Also, while she coughs on the joint she doesn’t seem surprised at the offer or unwilling to accept it.
Is Laurie a virgin? Probably, but I don't think that's necessarily through choice. If she'd had the chance, she'd probably go for it. She's not opposed to a sly spliff with the girls, which would suggest she holds a similar attitude to alcohol.
So, why the reputation which has passed on through slasherdom? Because she doesn't do that much "sin" on-screen, and, most importantly, after the killings have started.
That's what usually ends up saving final girls. It's not that they don't drink or have sex, it's just that they don't do it while the loony is about. Jess, the final girl in Black Christmas, wants an abortion - not something virgins tend to do. Annie in Halloween has packed off her charge to go have fun with Paul, and dies in her car as a result. She's not doing what she is supposed to, and pays the price. The same totally applies to Lynda and Bob, who are having sex in somebody else's house. They stop paying attention to their surroundings and pay the price when Michael comes calling.
Laurie, on the other hand, is very attentive and observant - which is what ultimately saves her. That and a straightened-out coat hanger, showing that she's also very resourceful. As is our next heroine - Nancy Thompson.
Nancy's resourceful nature goes a long way toward saving her life at the end of the film - it's her booby traps that take Freddy down. She's got a girl's name, and considering she's dating Johnny Depp I'd assume that his death scene isn't the only time he's gone down whilst on that bed.
One of my favourite final girls is Taylor from Behind the Mask. Spoiler territory, but we're set up for the first 2/3 of the film to believe someone else is going to be the final girl before a brilliant reveal shows that she's not the person she's been played up as. Taylor's cliché credentials are all present and correct - she's quiet and withdrawn, has a genderless name, avoids the standard "sins" of slasher victims, and yet we're still expecting the final girl to be the one we're presented with.
But when thrust into the role, Taylor takes to it like a pro. She manages to bring Leslie Vernon down in true final girl style, and hopefully would have been front and centre to do so again had a sequel ever arisen. It's still not too late...
One of the reasons Ginny is so celebrated amongst slasher fans is that she's a far more interesting character throughout than many other final girls from the series. Let's raise a toast here to thingy from Friday the 13th Part III, wossname from Friday the 13th Part VII, her from Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare and that one from Urban Legends: Final Cut, you know, she was in House, Jennifer something.
For an interesting twist on final girliness, see Lauren McKnight as Skye Rotter in My Super Psycho Sweet 16.
She's pretty standard right up to the end, when she walks away and leaves the main bully in the hands of the killer. That's cold.
So, in conclusion, what have we learned? Final girls are cool, they don't have to be drug-free teetotal virgins named Sam, and they're at their best when intelligent, resourceful, responsible and brave.