The Final Girl and Scream Queens: A (Feminist) Call for the Revival of Slasher Films
I have a confession to make: I love slasher films. Any slasher film made between The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and whichever one was the most recent remake (because let’s face it: they’re all remakes nowadays), I love. Alright, love may be a slightly strong word to describe the remakes in particular. Appreciate. I appreciate all of them.
Generally when I tell people that I, a young woman, am a devoted fan of not only horror films, but the “lowest form” of horror – the slasher – films, they give me a confused-looking face. “Why?”, they ask. “They’re not even scary, they’re gross. And all the girls just get naked, and then they die. What’s the point?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
If you are not yet familiar with her, though I’m sure most of you are, let me introduce you to Sally (Marilyn Burns). Sally went on a road-trip with her friends, ended up in a godforsaken house full of cannibals somewhere in Texas, was chased by a chainsaw wielding cannibal wearing a human face as a mask, and lived to tell the tale. Her friends, on the other hand, did not.
Sally was the original “Final Girl”.
Four years later, we meet Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). Laurie is a high-school girl who decides to spend her Halloween night babysitting, whilst her friends go have fun with their boyfriends. They get killed, Laurie does not. She fights back, even when she is stuck in a closet and the Boogeyman (a.k.a. Michael Myers) is hacking through the doors with a massive butcher’s knife. Unlike Sally, she does not simply flee the scene. She self-defends.
Not only did Laurie Strode become the most notorious Final Girl, but Jamie Lee Curtis became the iconic “Scream Queen” of slasher films.
Since 1978, there have been countless Final Girls throughout the 1980s and some of the 1990s. Jamie Lee Curtis starred in three Halloween sequels, and spent most of the early ’80s starring in other slasher films (such as Prom Night and Terror Train). Then, in 1996, we were introduced to Sidney Prescott in Scream, the new Scream Queen. She too starred in an original and three sequels.
But why does this matter? In fact, isn’t this bad? Back in the day, feminist groups were constantly protesting for the banning of these types of films and the numerous imitators that followed, as they supposedly glorified violence against women. Even film critics and theorists from more recent years have argued that the portrayal of women in slasher films functions solely on a sadomasochistic level for the male audience member. They claim that the only people who watch (and enjoy) these films are men who want to see women in distress.
Isn’t that a little harsh though? And what about the women who enjoy these movies? Are they just masochists?
Numerous studies indicate that though horror audiences are predominantly male, the number of women watching – and indeed, enjoying – these films is on the rise, and has been since the heyday of slashers. It has been suggested that women get a kick out of watching a young girl defeat the apparently indestructible killer, when no macho-jock or cop could. It’s a form of empowerment, in a sense.
Though some critics attest that the only reason for women watching horror films is because they want to have a reason to seek refuge in the arms of their dates in a dark movie theater, this type of reasoning is both insulting and incorrect. In fact, when the Saw series first came out, studios were baffled by the vast amount of women attending the screenings, as the films were originally targeted for males under the age of 25, but women often made up the majority of audience members. So, shouldn’t studios start producing horror films targeted for women as well?
Maybe not. As proven by films such as Jennifer’s Body, which was both written and directed by women (Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama), horror films that have arguably attempted to cater to the supposed desires of female fans have failed miserably. If history has taught us anything, it is that women want to see horror films that are apparently meant for men. Nowadays, if you are not inclined towards the demonic-possession type of horror film, you are only left with the torture-porn.
Therefore, perhaps studios ought to properly revive the slasher sub-genre. There have been attempts made in the past with films such as Scream 4, and even though they have proven to be unsuccessful, I will avow that if given the opportunity we will flock to the theaters in record numbers, to see the new Scream Queen kick the ass of the new Leatherface/Jason Voorhees/Freddy Kruger/Ghostface. Enough with this remake-business.
What do you think? Leave a comment.