Tag Archives: Marilyn Burns

Fright Club: Best Final Girls

A staple of the horror genre – the final girl. She’s been beaten, tied up, duct taped, stabbed and generally misused, but she soldiers on. Whether through virtue, savvy, or just general badassedness, these women are not above doing what’s necessary to make it through to the sequel – even if that means putting on Jason’s dead mother’s moth-eaten sweater, because that shit had to be gamey. So today our Senior Aussie/Slasher Correspondent Cory Metcalfe joins us again to celebrate the best final girls in horror.

6. Erin (Sharni Vinson – You’re Next, 2011)

Erin is Australian, which is clearly the deciding factor here. She joins her boyfriend for a family holiday in a gorgeous vacation home deep in the woods. Which sounds worse, the first meeting with the family or “deep in the woods”? In her case, that is seriously a toss-up. The gathering is disrupted by violent, mask-wearing psychopaths, but they weren’t prepared for Erin.

Erin’s one of the few at the event who’s new to the family, so she’s hard for the villains to predict. And we find that her boyfriend – a college prof who dates his students, including Erin – doesn’t know nearly enough about her. It’s a great tale of unreasonably low expectations. It’s also, a great character because Erin is savvy, tough, and fearless.

5. Mia (Jane Levy – Evil Dead, 2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. She’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count, but because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

Plus, it rains blood! How awesome is that?!

4. Sarah (Shauna McDonald – The Descent, 2005)

Sarah is another one who appears to be the weak link but proves her meddle. She suffers an almost unendurable tragedy in the opening scene, and a year later, when she and her friends regroup to spend a holiday together spelunking in West Virginia, she appears to be the delicate one. What she goes through in the early part of the film informs her ability to survive – as her friend Beth points out (to her and to us) when Sarah gets caught in the narrow tunnel.

She’s quiet and observant, smart and proactive – all excellent qualities once we find out that the group is not only lost inside an unmapped underground cave with no hope of being found, but that the cave already has residents, and dude! Are they creepy!

The way Sarah evolves, and the turns the character and the film take, are surprising and impressive.

3. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)

Back in 1974, the “final girl” formula hadn’t been perfected. The slasher genre barely even existed, but Tobe Hooper already knew how to play with genre expectations. Yes, Sally Hardesty is the sweet one, the pretty one, the one likeliest to be the last in line for that chainsaw, but there’s a lot more to her than halter tops and bell bottoms.

Marilyn Burns mines for something primal in this performance, which is absolutely necessary if we’re to believe this girl has what it takes to survive the cannibal family. Sally’s mania is recognizable, necessary to the viewer. No one is yelling advice or judgement at the screen because who in the hell could possibly know what to do in this situation?

Unlike so many female characters in horror before her and since, Sally doesn’t whimper and rely on the villain’s conscience to save her. She negotiates, and when she realizes that’s getting her nowhere, she makes tough choices (like throwing herself out a window – because no fate could be worse than the one that clearly awaits her otherwise). In keeping with the film, Burns’s performance is gritty, unpleasant, insane and perfect.

2. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween, 1978)

In 1978, Laurie Strode became the definition of “final girl” in much the same way that Carpenter’s horror masterpiece became the definition of slasher – the blueprint for the genre. For many, Jamie Lee Curtis’s girl-next-door is the ultimate final girl.

There’s great reason for that. She distilled everything that came before and became the model for what would come after in the slasher film: virtuous, smart, self-sacrificing. But Curtis does it with more intelligence and onscreen grace than those before or (mostly) after in the slasher genre. She’s virtuous, but not judgy. She’s hot, but not overtly so. She’s also brave and smart.

The reason the character transcended genre trappings to become iconic is not the writing or the film itself, but Curtis’s performance. An effortless intelligence shines through regardless of Laurie’s actions, and it elevates the film and the genre.

1. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver – Alien, 1979)

Who could possibly push Laurie Strode to second place? Ellen Ripley could.

Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien and its many sequels is a savvy, tough, no-nonsense survivor. She is clearly the smartest member of the Nostromo crew: she understands chain of command and values quarantine regulations; she’s the first to recognize Ash (Ian Holm) as a villain; she understands the need to blow the ship; she outsmarts the predator.

Her sexuality is beside the point, which is entirely refreshing in this genre and for the role of final girl. She also changed the game for “final girls.” No longer could we accept a beautiful, sobbing mess who made ridiculous decisions, refused to fight back, and survived based entirely on her virtue. Ripley is never a victim, rarely makes an uninformed decision, and kicks all manner of ass. That’s why she survives. She’s not hoping to be saved, she’s just doing what it takes to get the F out of Dodge and keep Earth safe.

Thanks, Ellen!

So that happened…MaddWolf meets HorrorHound

It’s HorrorHound Weekend, a convention celebrating terror cinema … in Cincinnati. Dude! With too many local commitments this year, we had to skip what would have been our second annual trek. One year ago, a different kind of March Madness gripped the MaddWolf household, as the convention landed in Columbus for the first time. And while OSU gear was in short supply, I counted three different Motel Hell tee shirts. Nice!

It was Saturday afternoon. In a short few hours, Ohio State would take on Syracuse in the East Regional Finals, yet my husband George was sporting the only OSU T-shirt in the sea of humans at the Crown Plaza North hotel.

I don’t think I’ve ever ventured outside my home without seeing at least several OSU tees. What gives?  As I pondered, I turned the corner and blurted, “Oh my God, it’s Pinhead!”

It was Doug Bradley, the actor who’d brought life to the iconic villain from Clive Barker’s 1987 film Hellraiser. He was sitting nonchalantly, wearing a Mansfield Correctional Facility tee shirt and signing autographs for $20 a pop.

Many of those attendees not bedecked in their Evil Dead/Halloween/Friday the 13th finest showed off an even deeper commitment to their fandom, coming costumed as their favorite characters. The Bride of Chucky milled around alongside the Bride of Frankenstein. Jigsaw squeezed past the Wolfman on his way to the bar. I saw many Elviras – some of them women, even. The zombies were countless.

There were also an awful lot of Ghostbusters in attendance, which seemed weird. Maybe they’d been called in case things got out of hand.

Left your Army of Darkness tee at home? No worries!  Vendors shucked tee shirts, jewelry, face painting, and costumes. Booths offered gear from Blacula, The Shining, Shivers – nearly every film you might think of – as well as obscure DVDs, posters, and wildly tacky paintings.

You could even go home stained with a brand new, horror-inspired tattoo, courtesy of on-sight tattoo artists Screaming Ink.

Many such customers, freshly inked with Elvira’s likeness, shuffled directly into line to meet the actual Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson). For just $20 you could get your photo, Elvira hanging off one arm, her face forever etched on the other.

Twenty was the going rate for most photo ops.

I paid it. I’m not made of stone.

Stuart Gordon, director of many genre classics including Re-Animator, pocketed a bill of mine, as did Tippi Hedren from  Hitchcock’s ornithophobic classic The Birds. But she kicked in a prop raven for free. Now that’s the kind of theatrical panache that lures in suckers like me.

I dropped a lot of cash, I’m not going to lie to you. But how else was I going to get a picture of me standing between Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns, killer and survivor from the 1974 original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? How?!

Across from Bradley’s table was a booth crowned with a banner reading: Are you a horror film freak?

Um, yes. And I was in my element.

In the ballrooms, lobbies and corridors of the Crown Plaza gathered thousands of the most ardent consumers and prolific purveyors of all things gore. Along with Pinhead, you might run into Jason Voorhees (Steve Dash), Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), or Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).

If you just read that paragraph and objected that Dash, Mane and Hansen are not the only actors to don a hockey/Shatner/human flesh mask onscreen, you, too, may be a horror film freak.

This is not exactly George’s element. He enjoys a good horror film, but only a good one. Still, he embraced the opportunity to let me absorb all the horror-nerdery I could handle. He took note of the many and varied costumes bedecking the convention attendees and suggested we return in our Halloween get-ups from last year – blood soaked prom-goer Carrie and her date Tommy. God bless George, he does participate in life.

In a few short hours, the Buckeyes would earn their place in the Final Four, but here there was a different kind of madness afoot. Such is HorrorHound weekend, the convention where the man who changed the face – whole head, even – of horror might be right next to you, and the only scarlet you’re likely to see on a tee shirt is the blood dripping from the words “I like boobs and murder.”