The Final Girls of Horror

How the Women of Horror Survive (Some Spoilers!)

By: Angelina Salvador

Two final girls, characters Sidney Prescott (Scream) and Laurie Strode (Halloween). Credit: ScreenRant website

Have you ever had to survive a night of pure terror and madness, watching your friends and strangers be taken one by one until you made it until the very end? If so, congratulations: you’re one of them.

Carol Clover, a film scholar and writer, was one of the first people to come up with the phrase “final girl” in an essay called “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” (1987). Thanks to her, we now know what to call Sid and Laurie and the other survivors in horror movies. 

The final girl trope in the horror genre is when the main character of the movie is a woman who survives to the very end when no one else does. This trope has been used a few times, letting it outshine a lot of other scary movies that are usually male dominated. 

This is due to the fact that seeing someone survive in a movie is so deeply satisfying, especially when it’s the main character. There is a common theme that runs through a lot of scary movies no matter the sub-genre; a woman is the target, and the ultimate cat and mouse hunt begins, until the final girl is the last one standing and confronts the killer. 

Over decades, there have been few female characters in horror that make it to the end and survive. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was one of the first scary movies to introduce this final girl trope with the character Sally Hardesty played by Marilyin Burns in 1974. 

Just like most scary movies, everyone watches their friends or family die right before their eyes until they’re next. But in Sally’s story, she makes it to the end by running away from Leatherface and screams in relief as she rides on the back of a pickup truck. 

In movies like “Halloween” (1978) and “Scream” (1996), both the lead characters Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott suffer the loss of close friends as the killer tries to get them. Although they get some stabs and scratches here and there, these final girls are here to stay. 

In all four movies of the Scream franchise there are two final girls, which is unusual, that make it to the very end: Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers (played by Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox). Despite people usually just mentioning Sid, Gale is also worth the mention because she is also a strong survivor when it comes to a face to face showdown with the killer Ghostface. 

In the movie “Black Christmas,” the main character Jess Bradford, played by Olivia Hussey, is being hauntingly called by the killer in the sorority house. Slowly but gruesomely, her sorority sisters start to die, but her? 

She makes it. 

Even in the film “The Shining,” Jack’s wife Wendy survives him and the mystery that takes place in the hotel, which makes her by definition, a final girl. 

Not only do final girls exist in slasher films, but they exist in the sci-fi genre as well. Ellen Ripley in the “Alien” trilogy makes it out alive while defeating aliens that are out to get her and her team. 

But what truly makes these characters icons of horror and survive the killer?

It’s not just the fact that they survive or that they’re the main character, but it’s how they manage to stay alive throughout the course of the movie or franchise. Every character that is previously mentioned makes it to the end, simply because of their strength for survival and even the knowledge they carry when getting away from the killer in town — or space.  

There are characteristics of these girls in the genre that are often seen as cliches, such as being a virgin or even prude. But here’s where they dismantle those cliches- they’re able the full mile to survive such as outsmarting the killer’s original plans, or not being afraid to go head to head with them.

The final girls are quick to use their wits, think of on-the-spot plans, and use their mental and physical strength in just a few minutes, all while the killer has spent quite some time concocting the perfect scheme that doesn’t really end well. The final girls really outsmart the killer and that’s why they survive the terror that pursues.

They’re also not the same characters, despite the trope itself; in fact, their stories are different, and that is what makes them iconic and even just a little bit relatable. In real life, we all have our own battles, but we can survive them if we just push ourselves to be stronger while fighting for our futures. 

Both “Halloween Kills” and “Scream 5” are set to be made and come out in theaters soon which raises the question: will Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott continue to reign over their stalker and stay a final girl or will they finally meet death in the hands of Michael Myers and Ghostface?


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