Ranking the Final Girls

I am by no means an expert in slasher movies, but I know what I like; and what I like best is an engaging Final Girl. For me these films aren’t about their kill-scenes so much as the final showdown between killer and nemesis.

What makes a good Final Girl? I think the most important qualities are intelligence and imagination, particularly when it comes to tactics and weapons. Her situation will also demand courage, and toughness, and judgement. I enjoy those scenarios in which a Final Girl is protecting someone else, and therefore lacks the option of just saving her own skin. I also prefer (if I can put it this way) an ordinary Final Girl: she might be smart, she might have specialised knowledge; but she shouldn’t have training in hand-to-hand combat, or be a martial arts expert—or even (ahem) telekinetic.

And one day, while I was pondering these matters – you know, as you do – it occurred to me to attempt to rank the Final Girls.

In a sense, though, I’m doing this backwards—inasmuch as I’ve already decided who the best Final Girl is:

I came away from my first viewing of Friday The 13th Part 2 mightily impressed with its Final Girl, Ginny Field, played by Amy Steel; and nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind about that. On the contrary, over time I’ve come to consider Ginny the pick of the crop; just as I think her showdown with the bizarre first incarnation of Jason Voorhees is one of the very best of the Final Girl sequences.

Consequently, my ranking of the rest will be a matter of judging how they stack up against her; while their qualities (or lack thereof) will be measured on The Ginny Scale:

I should stress that I am using the term “Final Girl” generically here: I’m aware, of course, that there have been Final Boys, and Final Couples. I’m also aware that not every slasher movie has a Final Girl (or Boy, or Couple); whereas some horror films that are not slasher movies do. But the context doesn’t matter: if my general criteria are met, you’ll find her / him / them here.

Remember too that I am not rating the films here, only the Final Girl sequences: as we see below with respect to The Amityville Curse, it’s possible to have a good sequence in a bad film.

And because this is an exercise in ranking, the points awarded are not set in stone; comparisons can make things look better or worse, so there may be some tweaking of rankings as I go along.

Warning:

These short film discussions will contain explicit spoilers, including the identity of the killer and how that killer is disposed of (if s/he is).

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RANKING THE FINAL GIRLS:

Film:  Halloween (1978)
Name: Laurie Strode
Adversary: Michael Myers

Weapons: Knitting needles, coat-hanger, knife
Other talents:  Knitting, pumpkin carving, babysitting
Transgressions:  Pot smoking
Negatives: Repeated dropping of her weapon
Virgin? Yes
Protecting others? Yes, Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace
Disposal of killer:  Shot by Dr Loomis after stabbing and eye-poking
Length of FG sequence: 11 minutes
Bonus Laurie Strode Points for being Laurie Strode? Yes

As the ur-Final Girl, Laurie Strode is almost literally above criticism. Of course in the cold light of analysis she makes unforgivable mistakes, including putting her weapon down repeatedly and turning her back on her “dead” adversary; but then it’s a case of live (just barely) and learn. It’s true that does not herself dispose of Michael; but then, it’s also true that nothing really can… Laurie’s battle with Michael has the added tension of the presence within the house of the children, and it is her need to protect them and her constant thought of their safety rather than her own that elevates the conflict. Laurie also wins points for the ingenuity of her weapons, particularly the coat-hanger: Michael didn’t – as it were – see that coming…

I am awarding her: 9 Ginnys  

 

Film: Friday The 13th (1980)
Name: Alice Hardy
Adversary: Pamela Voorhees

Weapons: Baseball bat, cooking fork, fireplace poker, unloaded rifle, bail of twine, loose objects, frying pan, canoe paddle, machete
Other talents:  Art
Transgressions:  Beer drinking, pot smoking, Strip Monopoly
Negatives: Failure to finish the killer off, voluntary dismantling of barricade
Virgin? Undetermined
Protecting others? No
Disposal of killer:  Decapitation
Length of FG sequence: 17 minutes + kicker

Alice’s main strength as a Final Girl is her ability to turn almost anything into a weapon: she arms herself at the first opportunity, and works her way through an impressive array of random objects, doing some real damage with a frying-pan. She does make some serious mistakes, but so early in the slasher-movie cycle, we can cut her a little slack for that. She must also overcome a deep reluctance to kill but, when finally forced to take action, she takes it very definitively.

I am awarding her: 8 Ginnys

 

Film:Halloween II (1981)
Name:  Laurie Strode
Adversary:  Michael Myers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weapons: Gun
Other talents:  Shrugging off sedation / adverse reaction to sedation
Transgressions:  None
Negatives: None (that are her fault)
Virgin? Yes
Protecting others? No
Disposal of killer:  Blown up by Dr Loomis after being shot twice
Length of FG sequence: 22 min / 13 min (depending on where you count from)
Bonus Laurie Strode Points for being Laurie Strode? Yes

Halloween II commits many sins, but its reduction of Laurie Strode to the status of passive non-participant for much of its length is the biggest; and even when she is up and around, it is only to run and hide, not to fight. The difficulty of deciding when the Final Girl sequence starts also highlights the dilution of her role: there are repeated cutaways to other characters, instead of a focus upon Laurie. I’m not crazy about her use of a gun, either, but that’s a matter of personal taste. On the plus side, Laurie’s will to survive is still admirable, and she shows courage and ingenuity in evading Michael in spite of her injuries and sedation; but this is nevertheless a far cry from the Laurie of Halloween.

I am awarding her: 4 Ginnys

 

Film: The Amityville Curse (1990)
Name: Debbie
Adversary: Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weapons: Organ music, paint thinner, door, circular-saw blades, nail-gun, metal spike
Other talents:  Psychic
Transgressions:  Pill-popping, beer drinking
Negatives: Puts her weapon down
Virgin? No (married)
Protecting others? Yes, her friend Abby
Disposal of killer:  Impaled
Length of FG sequence: 8 min

One of horror cinema’s most unlikely Final Girls is Debbie, from The Amityville Curse: unlikely both because the wishy-washy nature of the character up to that point, and because the film she’s in is pretending (poorly) to be part of the Amityville franchise. It drops the pretence with about ten minutes to go, however, and offers up a lively, bloody Final Girl sequence that very nearly redeems all that has gone before. When forced to fight, Debbie drops her Meek Miss Mousie persona and displays an unusual ruthlessless—all the more so because her adversary is / was a long-time friend. She does put the nail-gun down a trifle prematurely…but compensates with a vicious wielding of a metal spike that simultaneously saves her friend’s life and disposes of the killer.

I am awarding her: 7 Ginnys :

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15 Responses to Ranking the Final Girls

  1. Jim says:

    Do I get bonus points for foreshadowing the weakness of the telekinetic Friday the 13th final girl? Is that 0 Ginny’s?

    Like

  2. ronald says:

    BTW, any thoughts on how often will this page/discussion will be updated? Thanks.

    Like

  3. Jim says:

    One of tonight’s guests on The Late Show is Nina Dobrev. Her film credits include The Final Girls which is about slasher movie final girls.

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    • ronald says:

      Well, technically speaking, it’s about a (meta)fictional slasher film that includes a Final Girl (and who, in context, is a fictional character within the meta-film who was played by an actress in the exterior-film’s world (an actress who is in turn played by a real-world actress)), within which Our Protagonists become trapped, and one of them “really” becomes a Final Girl.

      So it’s not quite the same thing. 😉

      “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” (2006) takes place in a world where slashers and final girls are “real” but AFAIK no pre-existing final girls actually appear. What a waste of a concept.

      AFAIK a movie in which multiple final girls (who have survived multiple, individual slashers who co-exist in that particular film world*) appear together has yet to be made. “Final Girls,” a novel by Riley Sager, is built around the concept.

      Some slasher franchises have included films in which the Final Girl du jour meets a Final Girl from an earlier installment, though.

      ===

      *”Cabin in the Woods” demonstrated just how difficult it ISN’T for filmmakers to create multiple distinctive slashers to co-exist in the same film-world…

      Like

      • Jim says:

        Just as an aside since Cabin in The Woods was mentioned. An extra is included on the DVD, a Q&A with Drew Goddard. Someone asked him if there was going to be a sequel. His response was basically, “What? Did you see the end of my movie???”

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  4. ronald says:

    Has he ever heard the phrase “post-apocalyptic”…?

    Besides, there’s also the question of prequels. Where did the Organization GET all those monsters, anyway? Did they hunt and capture them, one by one?

    Like

  5. ronald says:

    Also, there is/was a supposed TV pilot about a group of Final Girls with a leader played by Jamie Lee Curtis itself. I think it’s still in limbo, though..

    https://www.themarysue.com/final-girls-jamie-lee-curtis/
    https://io9.gizmodo.com/it-did-but-then-it-came-back-one-last-time-for-hack-sl-1343197119

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  6. ronald says:

    Okay, I’m guessing there’s not any point to posting further in here until the Final Girls tally is updated. Fair enough. 🙂

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  7. Do Final Girls only appear in slasher movies? I was thinking of Shawnee Smith in The Blob, who goes from cheerleader to machine-gun wielder in record time.

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    • lyzmadness says:

      No—a slasher movie doesn’t have to have a Final Girl, and a Final Girl can appear in something you wouldn’t call a slasher movie.

      I am inclined to feel that her adversary needs to be human, though, or at least undead; though there may be exceptions to that on a case-by-case basis.

      Like

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