October 21, 2018

Final Girl character type mediates between normies vs. abnormality, not hedonists vs. puritanism

The received analysis of the "Final Girl" character type in horror movies -- the one who is left standing at the end, as the others are killed off -- is that her endurance owes to her being more abstinent than the other characters.

She is typically a virgin, or far less sexually active at any rate, and is less inclined to drink or do drugs compared to the others. The villain, in this analysis, is an enforcer of puritanical morality, punishing the hedonists and going lighter on the relatively more abstinent one. When they do confront each other, the Final Girl is in a stronger position to outwit or outlast the villain, since she has not had her energy and focus sapped by sex and alcohol.

Two opposed camps have sprung up around this shared analysis, the hedonists taking a negative view of this character type because they don't like the puritanical moralistic message that they believe the movie conveys, and the abstainers appreciating the hard-nosed no-nonsense view of the dangers of hedonism.

But this analysis misunderstands the relationship between the villain, the Final Girl, and the rest of the characters. The villain is supposed to be an enforcer of patriarchal and puritanical morality -- yet he is typically neither a husband nor a father, not a powerful elder of the community, and is a slave to his own desires and passions, primarily bloodlust. He is a poorly socially integrated loner or outsider, powerless at an institutional level -- resorting to violence as an impotent form of blindly lashing out -- and if anything, his sexual identity is that of a bitter angry incel.

He targets the rest of the characters not because they are hedonists, but because they are socially integrated normies -- teenagers having sex and socially drinking were things that normies used to do back during the outgoing / rising-crime period of the 1960s through the early '90s. He lashed out at them for taking part in the normal social group behavior of their time and place, which he was ruthlessly excluded from (whether or not that ostracism feels justified to the audience).

The Final Girl mediates between these two sides, as a marginal normie. She associates with the rest of the characters, but is still less likely to participate in their normal social behavior. Or her family life is more disintegrated than the families of the other characters. Compared to the others, she is noticeably farther away from the ideal teen of her environment.

Her being less than a total normie means the villain feels less hostile toward her than toward the others, and perhaps even feels a certain kinship with her, as a fellow loner or outsider. Rather than single-mindedly destroying her, the villain may try to seduce her, feeling that she is reachable in a way that the others are not.

This creates some tension within the Final Girl herself -- does she sympathize more with someone who is even more outside the norm than herself, or more with the normies who are under attack from a force of abnormality? Fundamentally, she is normal herself, not pathological like the sociopathic villain, so she sides with her fellow normies -- even if, in some cases, it takes her awhile to figure out that the villain is a warped psycho, qualitatively the opposite of her, rather than a kindred spirit who is simply quantitatively further out toward the margin than she already is.

And it sets up tension within the villain as well, leading to his downfall. He thought he could win her over, and it would be the two less socially integrated figures joined in a non-normie union -- or even an anti-normie union, where they go beyond withdrawing from the normies to actively trying to destroy them. By misinterpreting her marginal social status as stemming from pathology, projecting his own status onto hers, he goes easier on her, and lets his guard down around her.

This could be his only chance to become socially integrated -- albeit with just one other individual, rather than an entire group, but that beats total isolation and ostracism. His wishful thinking gets the better of him, and viewing her as a kindred spirit leaves him vulnerable to her plans to kill him off in order to protect her fellow normies. Her mere withdrawal of respect -- whether it had been out of fear or affection -- is enough to shatter his delusional dreams, and cause him to collapse into despairing powerlessness, neutralizing him as a threat anymore.

* * *

Without going into an exhaustive review, three key examples of this tension come to mind.

First, Nancy Thompson in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy Krueger is clearly intrigued and fascinated with her. He taunts her with hallucinations of her dead friends, rather than treating her as just another prey to be hunted down. He also takes on a more flirtatious tone with her, rather than an angry or hostile tone, and explicitly refers to his killing off of her boyfriend as eliminating his romantic rival ("I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy"). At the end, it is her withdrawal of fear and respect that causes him to collapse.

I don't think that move would have had the same neutralizing effect if it had been one of the fully normie girls or guys who he had targeted earlier. "Fear me or don't fear me, I don't care, I'm killing you off because you're normies who have ostracized me." But because Freddy did feel misplaced kinship with Nancy, and tried to seduce her in a way that belied some level of affection for her, he opened himself up to his own destruction when she dashed his dreams of winning her over.

Second, Sarah in the horror-tinged fantasy movie Labyrinth. She comes from a broken home, in which she is marginal compared to her baby brother. In a moment of anti-sociality, she wishes that the villain would take away her brother so that she wouldn't have to babysit him, and could indulge her own interests. She regrets making this deal with the Devil, and yet still has trouble resisting the Goblin King's fascination with her, as he attempts to seduce her over to his side, hoping that the two of them could be a union of anti-normies against the rest of the world.

She disillusions him about the idea that she wanted her baby brother gone for sociopathic motives. It was just out of fleeting frustration, not an enduring desire to sow chaos, subvert norms, or sever social relationships. As she realizes that he is her opposite, she withdraws her fear, respect, and affectionate curiosity toward him, causing him to collapse. That would not have worked if it had been a target who he did not already care about winning over as a kindred spirit. If Hoggle, Ludo, or the baby brother himself had withdrawn their fear of him -- big deal, he would keep callously exploiting them anyway. But the one chance of winning over an object of his affection? That is too much for him to withstand.

Third, Veronica in the serial killer comedy movie Heathers. She not only makes a deal with the Devil (J.D.) to kill off her fully normie friends, who have made her the black sheep of their social clique, she gives into his sexual advances, and they do become an anti-normie couple. Like Sarah in Labyrinth, she comes to realize that her anti-social impulse was an unimportant frustration with certain individuals, whereas the villain who she has aligned herself with is pathological and therefore targets normies in general.

When J.D. wants to blow up the whole school, that is the last straw for her. By the end, she does not just express regret or balk at his plans, as she had done in earlier attempts to wiggle her way out of his grasp. She directly confronts him with a withdrawal of fear and respect, calling him a mere psychopath, not the cool rebel she originally thought he was. After she ruins his dreams of winning her over to kill all normies, he gives up his entire anti-normie project and commits suicide. That ego destruction would not have worked if she had been a generic popular girl or jock who called him a psychopath -- it had to be someone who he treated as a kindred marginal spirit and felt capable of winning over to the anti-normie crusade.

These two Final Girls show a character arc that wraps up in redemption after making a deal with the Devil. In what way did they align themselves with the villain? Not to punish the hedonism of her peers -- Sarah's object of hostility was a little baby, incapable of sex and drugs, and Veronica engaged in casual sex and drinking herself. So that cannot be the role of the villain, and those are not the themes of the movies that the Final Girl appears in.

Rather, she aligned herself with the villain around the goal of lashing out at full normies who were in some way responsible for her assuming a marginal social status. Veronica was the black sheep and butt of jokes in her clique, and Sarah was stuck babysitting her brother instead of living a normal teenage lifestyle because of the baby himself, and her callous stepmother who stuck Sarah with the duty of looking after the baby while she herself spent the evening out on a prestigious social date.

The true theme is deviance vs. normality, with the Final Girl being a marginal-status go-between. It has little to do with hedonism vs. puritanism, with the Final Girl being the abstinent go-between. And the Final Girl becomes a heroine by defending normality against the pathological forces of deviance that threaten it -- an effort on behalf of a group that she belongs to (however marginally at first). She does not become a heroine by winning a contest among individuals as to who can outlast the villain -- the socially blind conclusion of the standard analysis.

* * *

Boomers originally came up with this completely clueless analysis, which stems from their undying worldviews that every action must always take the form of a status contest, and that their hedonist project is under assault by puritanical forces that must be stopped.

The Gen X-ers who appreciate these movies, however, have still accepted this framing, only disagreeing about which side is good or bad. Yes, it's still a status contest among individuals, and yes, the more abstinent individual wins instead of the hedonist individuals -- but that's a good message, not a bad message.

It's time for a fresh look at the pop culture phenomenon of the Final Girl, as well as the quarter-century of analysis on the topic, from a late X-er / early Millennial perspective that sees the Boomer view for the fundamentally mistaken view that it is, rather than accept it analytically but take the opposite side of the value judgment. That stance prioritizes the Culture War implications rather than the objective understanding of the culture itself. For when you troll into the Culture War, the Culture War will troll back into you.

The correct understanding of the Final Girl trope still allows for a battle between two sides who approve or condemn the message. But now, it is between who approves of deviance threatening normality, vs. a marginal normie defending full normie-dom from deviance, even if they are somewhat sympathetic to the deviant side.

Boomers cannot appreciate this drawing of battle lines, because their worldview is all about the debate between "If it feels good, do it, man" or "Keep it in your pants, if you know what's good for you." It's a guide to individual survival and pleasure, only arguing about how those two may conflict with each other. It's not about social cohesion, which opposes normality and integration against abnormality and disintegration.

Boomers grew up in a socially cohesive world, which they took for granted, and have only ever concerned themselves with individual well-being. But Gen X-ers, and especially Millennials, grew up in a more and more socially fragmented world, making them more aware of concerns about social welfare. That allows them to understand a cultural phenomenon that is distinctive of a socially fragmenting climate -- like the Final Girl -- and to more generally re-analyze the zeitgeist of the mid-1970s through the present.


  1. I always thought that the "final girl" theory was flawed. The main reason was that the classic slasher movies always portrayed the teenagers' hijinks in a positive light, not a negative one. When we see them playing strip poker or going skinny dipping, it seems fun and sexy instead of immoral.

    These movies were meant more as cautionary tales about how dangerous the world can be, similar to urban legends, rather than moral criticisms. these movies were made during a period when teenagers were more trusting and willing to socialize with people who were older.

    I think I see a hint of political or class tension in the classic slasher flicks, as well. In the two most classic - "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" - the killers turn out to be working-class people who work for the children and adolescents they later kill. In "A Nightmare...", when Freddy was alive he was a janitor who killed the students at the school he cleaned. In the first "Friday the 13th", MRs. Voorhees(Jason's mom - the real killer) - is a lunch lady or cook at Camp Crystal Lake before her son Jason drowns, and later comes back to kill the middle-class camp counsellors whom she blames. In "Halloween", the town its set in is named Haddonfield, Ill.; its based on co-screenwriter Debra Hill's hometown Haddonfield, New Jersey, which is one of the most affluent and liberal towns in the country.

    There's something going on with this, but I'm not sure what it is. The men who made these films are ultra-liberal - Wes Craven was a humanities professor - so its not condemnation of the liberal protagonists, but more warning the audience to be more careful.

  2. Just saw The Witch, and the protag is an anti-Final Girl. SPOILERS.

    She has all the social traits -- the least sinful of her social circle, and the most ostracized by them. The social reject forces (witches) that are attacking her family feel her to be a kindred spirit, as an outsider. So they try to seduce her over to their dark side.

    If it had been an '80s movie, she would have reflected on what abnormal sociopathic freaks they are, and worked her hardest to destroy them. Instead she joins them. The '80s movie would have at least followed up on that, by showing the end of their honeymoon period, her waking up to their evil nature (not just being poor little social rejects), and turning against them. Like Heathers.

    For Millennials, it's "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." They're so fatalistic and nihilistic. The writer-director is Millennial, and so is the anti-Final Girl.

    As much as I dump on Boomers for misunderstanding the Final Girl, Gen X-ers should not do the same by projecting their own worldviews onto the Millennials' culture and misunderstand it in turn.

    Many X-ers talk about horror movies of the 21st century "subverting expectations" regarding the Final Girl -- but if all of them subvert the expectation, why keep expecting it? Maybe it's just a wholly different character type in post-'90s horror movies, not a variation on the same ol' Final Girl theme.

  3. Occam's razor wise, the most reckless characters are killed off first because they've made themselves vulnerable. But even that isn't necessarily followed; in the first several Friday the 13ths, the leading/final girls are made to be seen as socially/sexually experienced, who survive longer by mere happenstance (notably, all three characters have had long relationships with male "normie" characters in the movies). Not every movie has the exact same approach to characterization. While Laurie in Halloween is correctly regarded as a "good girl", more demure and studious, the same isn't really true of Friday the 13th's leading girls.

    In My Bloody Valentine (1981), every single cast member goes to the bar drinking early in the movie, and later on the entire cast decides to have a Valentine's day party in a town that's banned the holiday. The movie then has the main cast all consent to venturing into a mine. There's no apparent morality at work, other than the obvious theme of reckless young people ignoring wise elders and being more interested in having fun.

    If memory serves, in The Burning (1981), the last survivor is a dude!

    I do think that Halloween created the morality meme, which others movies only had slightly or not at all. A Nightmare on Elm Street, being made in the mid-80's, is more about general social dysfunction and corruption vis a vis broken and tense families, and attempts to bury the sins of the past instead of acknowledging them in a healthy way than it is about black and white moralism (and Silents are not as morally judgemental as the Boomers who made Halloween, anyway). The best sequel, part 3 (1987) opens with a dolled up looking middle aged mother, and a scruffy looking guy in a wife beater, annoyed about having to check in on their troubled teen daughter. No wonder she's in tough shape; the parents seem to be a mess themselves, who can't provide a stable and healthy environment for their kids. Eventually the movie gives a cast of teenagers who've been hurt by the clueless adults around them, and their struggles aren't given a moralistic gloss (maybe you would be angry, depressed, a drug addict, etc. if you were raised in a decaying world).

  4. "Boomers originally came up with this completely clueless analysis, which stems from their undying worldviews that every action must always take the form of a status contest, and that their hedonist project is under assault by puritanical forces that must be stopped."

    John Carpenter, himself a Boomer, has said that he never did hard drugs. And his style and influences tend to be informed by the rigorous technical standards of mid-century film-making. His heroes tend to be above the corruption around them, and that's always seen as a good thing, not a boring thing to be mocked as "out-dated". And of course he's always hated Reaganism.

    It's interesting that Gen X-ers have built up a huge cult around Carpenter, with Millennials following suit, whereas liberal Boomers disdain his old-fashioned morality, and conservative Boomers frown at his distaste for yuppie culture.

  5. The boyfriends or love interests of the girls typically are boyish, immature, and unaware compared to the villain. The boyfriend may or may not be aware of the mayhem going down, but he's completely unaware of the designs for and relationship the villain has forced on his girlfriend. He is completely outmatched in every way.

  6. It Follows is another example of recent horror movies ditching the Final Girl type.

    The evil force is impersonal with no motive, unlike the serial killers of the slasher movies, or predatory aliens looking for prey, etc. So the villain is not a social outcast.

    The targets, however, are the same sexually active normie youth. Only here, they are being targeted to the extent that they are sexually active, and the sex act per se invites danger from the villain. It's not a correlation between being sexually active and being a normie. Now it is about promiscuity being punished.

    The would-be Final "Girl" is actually a guy -- Paul, the white knight friend of the protagonist. He's similar to the Final Girl type socially -- the most marginal of his social circle, most awkward, least fun-loving, probably virgin or least sexually active, etc.

    He does try to rise to hero status by shooting at the villain at close range, risking himself. But when that doesn't work, they accept that it can't be killed, but only re-directed and delayed. So after he picks it up from the protag Jay, he passes it on to some streetwalkers (like most of the key plot points in this movie, it's "strongly implied" rather than overtly shown).

    That will only buy them some time before the villain starts following Jay and Paul again, though. And at the price of getting the streetwalkers or their johns killed in the meantime.

    In a way, that's defending normies -- he's diverting the villain to targets that lie far outside of his normie in-group circle (streetwalkers and the outcast men who patronize them). But it's not really killing off or weakening the villain either. It's passing the buck to people you don't care about -- dumping your toxic waste in some other community's water supply... only the waste goes from their water supply back to your own, so it only delayed the inevitable.

    Imagine if Nancy Thompson only had to get Freddy Krueger trapped in the dreams of some streetwalker, bum, or other outcast, and brushed off her hands at the end, like, "Welp, I got rid of him following me for awhile, sucks if he kills you in the meantime."

    More of the nihilistic and fatalistic tone of Millennial horror movies.

  7. Who identifies with these villains? Social rejects, not patriarchs or puritans.

    Rejects sense what the villain's role is -- lashing out in revenge at the normies, something he fantasizes about himself.

    Puritans and patriarchs also sense that -- and don't resonate with it. They're more the order-preserving type, not those who will cheer on an anarchic force that threatens normality.

  8. I think a major appeal of the slasher movies (including comedies like Heathers) was in targeting those who were not the most popular and attractive in their school, and showing that these psychopaths may try to win you over to their side, based on both being outsiders, but that they're fundamentally fucked up and you are just marginal rather than anti-social.

    So, even if you're socially marginal, side with the normies and defend them -- not some warped freak who wants to blow up the whole school.

  9. The "final girl" is "final" because the other characters get killed off. Labyrinth is a different sort of story aimed at an audience too young for slashers. Heathers is a black comedy where the female lead is not depicted as being in danger for the bulk of the film, making for a different dynamic (I'd point to Sightseers as a modern version of the "anti-couple" in a serial killer comedy). A Nightmare on Elm Street qualifies, but Nancy didn't seem that marginal within her group of friends and I got the impression Freddie was mostly being sadistic and trying to make her afraid rather than trying to get her to switch sides. She is disadvantaged in that her parents are separated and her mom has a drinking problem, but we also just don't know as much about the home lives of the other characters.

    I believe you yourself noted this earlier, but the reputation of slashers as punishing promiscuity so that a virginal final girl can survive is something of a distortion that came later (possibly with Scream). Friday the 13th explicitly has the villain motivated by the promiscuity of the camp counselors, but the final girl is no different from the rest (she smokes, drinks & plays strip poker with them) and is implied to actually be having an affair with Steve the owner. Halloween before it doesn't make a big deal out of Laurie being different, though it's possible that she survives because she wasn't distracted. Michael Meyers is just evil in the shape of a human with no personality or thoughts beyond that, so there's no question of anyone going over to his side. Mrs. Voorhees does try to arouse pity for her dead son, but she's also so demented (and prone to attacking even counselors who don't do anything to violate her rules) that there's no question of any of them siding with her (not that Alice is any more vulnerable to it as she isn't more marginal). Mrs. Voorhees does become less lethal in her attacks (slapping and throwing Alice around), but there's no in-character reason for it, and she does try to use her knife to kill Alice.

    The Burning is a Friday the 13th ripoff which is more obsessed with sex, but oddly enough that's not the motivation for the villain. Instead he wants revenge for a prank gone wrong (which was itself retaliation for his mistreatment of the campers). Here a peeping tom character is supposed to be a marginalized outsider, even though there are others who share his hatred of the bully Glazer. It's both loser Alfred and his protector Todd (the opposite of marginal) who together take down Cropsey. Mostly Todd though, as he has to rescue Alfred.

    While not technically a slasher, you're right that the Witch does follow that formula of gradual elimination by an outside force (as did The Predator). The religious nature of the film makes its nihilistic ending work in a way that might not fit a traditional slasher. The most horrifying thing for this family is to be damned to hell (as might be the case for the unbaptized infant), along with being abandoned by God. All their best efforts are in vain at the end, and Satan triumphs.

  10. The slasher has become a less popular style, so films today tend more to be riffs on the formula. Happy Death Day has a high concept borrowed from Groundhog's Day used to repeatedly investigate a whodunnit (fitting as giallo films inspired slashers, and that Scream was also something of a whodunnit). Here the protagonist starts out a dislikeable sorority girl who learns to be a better person over the course of the film, although she's also the first to die (before the first of her many resurrections) and dies significantly more frequently than anyone else. The rape-revenge movie Revenge was also intentionally written to have the protagonist be the stereotypical early victim of a slasher film, as a seeming bimbo mistress of some rich guy. As she hunts down the men one by one (after surviving something nobody realistically could), it takes on the form of an inverted slasher. The recent Halloween (which I'm about to spoil bits of) of course borrows a lot from previous films in the series, but the ending (the best part of the film) also inverts bits from it to transpose Michael & Laurie. Here the jerk boyfriend of Laurie's granddaughter goes unpunished for his misbehavior while her more marginal friend (who goes without a date to the dance) is killed after embarrassing himself. That granddaughter is no more averse to alcohol & drugs to anyone else, though she doesn't get the opportunity to fully indulge. "The Final Girls" tries to knowingly mock the gender politics of 80s slashers, but still insists there can only be one girl remaining and she must be a virgin to defeat the killer (whose motivation is cribbed from The Burning). Here arguably it's the self-aware "mean" girl who is most marginal in the group of friends (more of an ex-friend in her case), which she notes means she's likely to die first. The most traditional throwback of a slasher untied to an existing property I can think of off the top of my head is "The Ranger". Here the protagonists are all punks who should be marginal relative to the rest of society, but the protagonist is marginal within that group because she has more respect for the public park in which her uncle's cabin is found and doesn't want to behave in similarly antisocial ways while on the run from the cops. This actually does fit the mold of the villain (who talks more than most slashers, and doesn't technically kill via slashes that often) declining to kill the protagonist (with whom he has a prior history) as he believes she should instead defect to his side. My favorite of the recent slasher films would be "You're Next" (the rare horror comedy whose comedy doesn't reduce its horror), which also ends with a villain arguing that the final girl should defect, but I don't want to spoil later plot developments. Instead I'll just note that the film begins with the assorted characters already divided & arguing before the slashing starts, much more fitting the nihilist/individualist trend of not being able to rely on others (even those you know) than It Follows.

  11. The identification with the killer happened with slasher movies because they kept making sequels in which the killer was the returning element everyone came to see, while their victims tended to become dumber & more unpleasant so the audience could cheer on the cool kills. Halloween II seems to imitate Friday the 13th by upping the sex & blood (while also making it explicit that Michael was basically immortal), and while Laurie is in it she's mostly sidelined. The producers hoped to finally finish that story and move on to an anthology, but the comparative failure of Halloween III meant they had to revive Michael Meyers even if Laurie didn't follow. Over time villains can get Flanderized, with Freddy Krueger becoming more of a comedic presence, while Jason became a sympathetic handicapped character who was being manipulated by Freddy (or at least that's my impression without seeing their matchup). Similarly Godzilla shifted from destroying Tokyo to fighting other monsters. The earliest on-screen portrayal of Dracula is as a rat-like monster, but in Coppola's version he's played by Gary Oldman as a tortured soul who's actually able to seduce Mina & Lucy for a time. The Phantom of the Opera started out a deformed criminal, but he was changed to be disfigured by acid thrown by his enemies and more handsome over time with less of his face covered by a mask (reaching a nadir in Argento's version, where he doesn't wear a mask at all).

  12. The final girls in Friday the 13 parts 3 and 4 fit Agnostic's characterization. I think his post is spot on. Chris, in part 3, has a more big sister attitude and is wholesome even as she laughs at her friends' antics. She drives the van as her friends smoke, then eat pot in order to hide the evidence; she laughs in an almost matronly way. The final girl in part 4 takes on Jason with her kid brother. She's even more of an observer to others' antics because she is there with her mom and little brother, not with a group of friends.

    Phantom of the Opera also illustrates Agnostic's theory. I believe Christine is orphaned and she feels for the abused phantom. Raoul, her fiance, is outmatched and only learns later, after being initially dismissive, that the phantom wants to steal Christine and he's powerless.

  13. I suspect the most salient factor of the final girl is that she's the most empathic. Agnostic has noted over the years that broken families, growing up in adversity often increases empathy. So, the final girl is really both: marginal, or at least more on the outside looking in, and empathic, loves and looks out for others. In the less slashy Phantom, the final girl actually does love him.

  14. We always assume that the final girl surviving is a good thing, a reward for her good behavior. But, in the context of Agnostic's analysis, her lone survival is a metaphor for her obsessive admirer scaring away all her friends - leaving her socially isolated and stigmatized.

    1. "metaphor for her obsessive admirer scaring away all her friends - leaving her socially isolated and stigmatized."

      Don't know about this. The relationship may be more like callow normies-empathic girl-poorly integrated psychopathic villain. To move this away from the horror, less psychopathic realm for illustration... In the Bostonians, the girl is sought after by a wealthy lesbian, but ends up with the very masculine and conservative Basil Ransome. In real life, Human Abedin ended up with the powerful lesbian and the callow Anthony Weiner, no Basil Ransome in the picture to rescue her. In these horror movies, there are no Basil Ransomes, either, which is why the villain has it easy for so long.

  15. Candyman is another who becomes fascinated by Final Girl and tries to seduce her.

    Helen is marginal status w/in her circle of the movie -- a mere grad student in academia, and one who's obsessed with weird subject matter for its own interest value, not mindless careerism. She is passed over romantically, as the prof she's interested in opts for a younger and cuter grad student.

    The threat she poses to the villain is debunking his legendary status (she's an urban legend researcher), and potentially causing others to no longer fear or respect him.

    She is somewhat intrigued by him and his sympathetic backstory (lynch victim, not a born psycho), and he becomes intrigued with her in response. Ultimately, though, he's more intent on preserving his frightening reputation by killing innocents, and she turns against him.

    Although in a twist ending, she becomes a vengeful legendary figure herself -- though she seems to be just getting revenge against the prof who jilted her, not necessarily joining Candyman as a villain targeting innocent people in general.

  16. Beetlejuice is fascinated by marginal Final Girl Lydia, and nearly weds her.

    It's a horror-tinged comedy, so he doesn't murder the other characters, but he cuts them down to size, harasses them, pranks them, and otherwise terrorizes them. Yet he spares the goth misfit girl, who has taken an interest in him as a fellow weirdo.

    But when she learns how intent he is on spreading anarchy, targeting her own family who she discovers she doesn't hate as much as she'd thought, she joins with the normies to banish the villain back to where he came from.

  17. An example of mutual fascination between villain & heroine outside of anything comedic is Silence of the Lambs. But as memorable as Hannibal Lecter is there, he's really a supporting character, so Clarice Starling can defeat her original antagonist (Jame Gumb) and have a happy ending without explicitly confronting Hannibal. Thomas Harris wrote a sequel in which Hannibal actually seduces her, but that was fortunately never filmed and Jodie Foster refused to return for what actually was. One of the problems with Bryan Fuller's take on Hannibal is that he's too enamored of this later antihero take on the character.

    There seems to be a common narrative for female-led stories (particularly romcoms) in which the protagonist is in danger of winding up with the wrong man, but then winds up with the right one. In The Philadelphia Story the wrong man is played by John Howard, while Jimmy Stewart & Cary Grant are potentially right ones. Sometimes the wrong man is just "the baxter", and lacks the spark of the right one, sometimes he's an outright cad. It seems natural to use that formula in horror as well, although it won't fit the extremes typical of slashers & creature features (King Kong & the Creature from the Black Lagoon both abduct the female lead, but she's not in danger of making the wrong choice). Universal's Mummy film was basically a riff on their earlier Dracula which helped change the formula in a way Coppola would later imitate, although here the choice of the female lead is more central to the climax. But most 30s horror films tended to reduce the woman's agency (like being turned into the titular White Zombie), leaving the rescue to her man.

  18. An example of that sort of story of a woman's high-stakes choice of romantic partner in a thriller setting written & directed by a woman is Jane Campion's "In the Cut".

  19. "The identification with the killer happened with slasher movies because they kept making sequels in which the killer was the returning element everyone came to see, while their victims tended to become dumber & more unpleasant so the audience could cheer on the cool kills. "

    Within a series of movies released in fairly quick fashion, the level of talent behind and in front of the camera usually descends as the series goes on. Sometimes the writer/director acknowledges this by playing for cheap laughs (so you don't notice the poorer workmanship), and they may also up the villain's screen time as a gimmick to hide the decline in creativity.

    Another thing that plays into this is the initial audience for a movie series or character is older; older audiences are too jaded/sophisticated to be suckered into paying for sequels that often are lousy compared to the original (even if they liked the original), and besides, it's usually impressionable children and teenagers who keep the villain's mystique alive, well after the general older public have lost interest.

    As odd as this might sound, the Alien series should've lightened the tone and simplified the story as it went on. By the time you get to the third, let alone fourth, sequel, Boomers had completely lost interest in the series, while early Gen X-ers were also moving on. There's no way in hell that Alien 3 was going to match the general audience success of the first two movies, so why not try and have a little fun with it? Even 25 year old people, to say nothing of even older people, tend to have a derisive attitude towards sequels. Sequels play to an increasingly niche and young audience that doesn't know any better. Alien 3 is a vastly hated movie precisely because it is so absurdly dour and mean-spirited, after Aliens thrilled audiences with an emotionally and narratively simple movie (that conceals some thematic complexity that isn't too tough to discern, but still can be overlooked while you enjoy the movie). The 18 year olds who went to see Alien 3 wanted to have fun, not be smothered in a brown/yellow/olive green muck.

  20. I guess Spielberg said to Renny Harlin, in 1988, "how are you gonna bring Freddy back this time?" Harlin responded: by having a dog pee a stream of fire. This is how stupid a series can get, and indicates how quickly creative burn out sets in, as more talented people are soon avoiding these movies like the plague.

  21. "The final girls in Friday the 13 parts 3 and 4 fit Agnostic's characterization. I think his post is spot on. Chris, in part 3, has a more big sister attitude and is wholesome even as she laughs at her friends' antics. She drives the van as her friends smoke, then eat pot in order to hide the evidence; she laughs in an almost matronly way. The final girl in part 4 takes on Jason with her kid brother. She's even more of an observer to others' antics because she is there with her mom and little brother, not with a group of friends."

    Chris is still playful and personable, though. And she clearly has a long-term relationship with Rick. I point this out because Laurie Strode is the standard bearer for Final Girls, and Laurie is painfully shy and unworldly. The notion that all slasher movies feature Laurie Strode clones is an absurd meme, that as Agnostic points out, is a Boomer creation that's endured because Boomers want to criticize slasher movies for being relics of the Just Say No era.

    Corey Feldman's older sister in F13 Part 4 is simply too busy taking care of her brother and running errands to go and party with the nearby kids. These kids (who appear to be college age) are on a trip to the woods to be away from party pooping authority figures. When Trish turns them down, it isn't done with discomfort or derision, but matter of factly. The early Friday the 13th's mostly don't have the same moralistic gloss that Halloween clearly did (where Micheal Myers is literally called "evil", while white knight Donad Pleasance rescues the demure damsel Laurie.).

    1. "Chris is still playful and personable, though"
      Oh she is, just more mature and least callow of the bunch. Rick is a poor example of the callow boyfriend as he's quite manly and mature, even wondering why Chris puts up with her friends. They're not his friends. He gets done in despite being mature, smart, and a protector.
      If I remember F13 part 2 right, the Final Girl kills Jason by using empathy, making him think she's his mother, and he puts his guard down and kneels before her.

  22. Alien: Resurrection does have a lighter tone (it was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, best known for Amelie), but if anything it's held in lower regard than Fincher's Alien 3. Fincher himself is not one of the people you'll find saying that his Alien is underrated though, as he's practically disowned the film.

  23. "She is passed over romantically, as the prof she's interested in opts for a younger and cuter grad student."

    Good catch. In these movies, the final girl is attractive, but not necessarily the most beautiful.

  24. Bilge Elbiri just wrote something about how the monsters from horror films have become more sympathetic over time:
    But he makes more explicit that films have become relatively negative on humanity. I was thinking of that reading tweets responding to clips of some elephant hunters, in which the tweeters said they hoped the elephants kill the hunters. It used to be the case that movie audiences would just naturally always sympathize with humans over some other creature, but that's less common now. In Heinlein's Starship Troopers it's made explicit that all of humanity is now united and will side with each other by virtue of being human (just as they once were unified by nation) rather than given other moral justification for why they're in the right, and in Verhoeven's film humans are depicted as dumb & fascistic, cheering on as a bug is tortured. Elbiri mentions Guillermo del Toro, who won at the last Oscars, and I'll add that while he's a talented visualist, his stuff isn't that scary in part because he sympathizes with monsters over humans.

  25. Extraordinarily perceptive post, one of my favorites you've ever done, Agnostic. Yes, the villain does render judgment, he effortlessly and truly sees normal people as evil, and is eager to exact justice. Easier than it is for the prey to see him as evil. Especially, Final Girl as you mentioned. They'll say "disordered," "sociopathic," or "psychotic", etc. but will be loathe to use the word that would mean unreachable, incapable of being saved. Villain is roiled by feelings of envy and hatred, caused by them he believes, so of course they're evil. Anything that causes profound psychological harm
    is evil, and being ruthlessly excluded is the worst thing a young person can suffer.

  26. You know who he is, don't know? I suspected awhile back you probably knew, that you had retraced my steps, seeing with whom I had friendly contact.

  27. just watched the latest Halloween film last night....disappointing. Why did they stop having scenes with topless teens in horror films ? In the eighties it seemed every film we went to see had a few scenes showing topless girls. One of the highlights of going to the movies as a 13 year-old boy in 1982 was seeing naked girls in most of the films we went to see. It seemed every film I saw from 1981-1988 had a topless scene, American Werewolf in London, Porkies, Fast times at Ridgemont High, Risky Business, Trading Places, Revenge of the Nerds, etc...There were also several second run theaters which enabled us to see films 2 years after they first came out. Watched double feature of Halloween and Halloween II in 1982 at the local theatre which showed second run films, they let everyone into the theatre no matter our age back then.

  28. I always liked the sluts best in those movies. The good girls, I felt, always looked like they weren't quite fully developed physically/sexually.

    Comparing Nancy to her slutty friend in A Nightmare on Elm Street, her friend looks much more ready to fuck, with her bare legs and mature face, than Nancy, whose face appears much more childlike, and who dresses younger. Ditto with Friday the 13th. And Halloween---Jamie Lee Curtis looks like she's barely having her period, if at all (the androgyny is shocking these days on rewatching it, given the rumors about her being a he-she).

    Carrie, which I recently rewatched, has a very interesting undertone about sexuality: Carrie is a late bloomer (she only gets her first period senior year), and all of the other women who have sexually matured ahead of her have been ruined. The slut who targets her is a sex-crazed manipulative psycho, the chick in the hat is also sexually active, and even the girl who is nice to Carrie by donating her boyfriend at first tortures Carrie by helping throw tampons at her. In the final act, Carrie learns that even her mother's sexuality has ruined her; despite her religiosity, she confesses that she enjoyed it when her husband took her forcefully and drunkenly and she conceived Carrie. Thus, in Carrie's mind, sexual maturity brings ruination to your soul, hence why she subconsciously kills her mother and causes the house to collapse upon them and kill them, thus preventing Carrie from becoming like all the other ruined girls.


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