A Love Letter to the Girls Who Die First in Horror Films - Electric Literature
One of the rules: there has to be a last girl standing. It’s easy to pick out a film’s Final Girl, a term coined by Carol Clover in her brilliant work of horror theory Men, Women, and Chainsaws. She’s the one who will face the killer last, after he works his way through a gauntlet of her friends and classmates. She’s the only one who stands a chance of defeating him. If she dies, it will be face to face with her killer, as something close to equals. She begins as an ordinary girl but is transformed by loss and battle into a champion. You can’t have a Final Girl without her counterpart. For one girl to be left standing, the others must fall. The girls who die first don’t have a catchy title. We don’t tend to consider them as part of a group, as connected to each other. Each one is an individual point, so alike they are not worth connecting, so inseparable they are alone. There is no grand unified theory of the girls who die first, but there are observable patterns. The rules for girls in horror movies are the same as the rules in the real world. Don’t fuck. Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t go anywhere by yourself. A character who breaks those rules is doomed; a woman who breaks those rules is blamed. There’s a morality play element to this, as countless film writers have explored: girls in horror movies are punished for doing things girls aren’t supposed to do, especially for having sex. But there’s an even simpler way of looking at it. In horror movies as in life, you’re supposed to direct your attention toward survival. Sex is a distraction. If you close your eyes for a kiss you won’t see the knife coming. I’ve done the math. I am not a Final Girl. I’m loud and weird and queer and fat and tattooed. I can’t fit into a small hiding place, or climb out a window to safety without breaking my neck. I’m easily distracted by attractive people and shiny objects and good music and food. Put me in a horror movie and I won’t last an hour. Heather was like me, only more so. In a movie, she’d die early. In real life, she died early too. Horror Lives in the Body Watching horror films stirs up trauma, but it also reminds me that I don’t suffer alone Oct 10 – Megan Pillow Davis culture Oct 10 – Megan Pillow Davis The final girl is the one who perceives the threat. We know she’s the wisest because she is afraid. She looks over her shoulders. She hears the strange noise. She sees the footprint below the windowsill. She is on guard, and if she lives this is the reason. Because she’s looking for her death. She sees it coming. When a woman is described as “asking for it,” for whatever trauma or violence has befallen her, what she’s really being accused of is not doing enough to prevent it. Harassment, assault, violence, death are supposed to be things women plan around as habitually as checking the weather forecast before getting dressed. We’re taught that someone wants to hurt us and our job is not to let them. The final girl is the one who perceives the threat. We know she’s the wisest because she is afraid. You can live your life that way. It’s possible. It’s easier, even. But it’s less joyful. “Don’t die” is a demanding aspiration, but not a satisfying one. But Laurie was miserable. Is that the life lesson—sacrifice everything, alienate your loved ones, be hard as a rock, but survive? I can’t imagine Laurie Strode on a roller coaster, or on the highway with the windows down and the music cranked up. In real life, playing it safe doesn’t save you. You can do everything right and still end up ashes. The Final Girl is an empty promise. What it seems to offer women is the guarantee of survival if we do everything right. But what it actually ensures is that, if you are hurt, there will be a way to trace it back to a rule you broke. You become the Final Girl by attrition, not achievement. You can’t earn the title. You can only outlast everyone who didn’t get it. Slasher movies satisfy because they impose a pattern on mortality, make it a puzzle you can solve. But in real life, there’s no way to game the system. There’s no system. I don’t deserve to have outlived my best friend, yet here I am. I still like my music loud enough to drown out approaching footsteps. I still sleep with my window open. Sep 17 - Michael J Seidlinger Read Sep 23 - Amanda Minoff Sep 16 - Deirdre Sugiuchi Sep 10 - Emily Heiden Powered by WordPress and hosted by Pressable.