The Evolution of the "Final Girl" in the Movie "You’re Next". Women in Horror Movies

Term Paper, 2019

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3










Carnival 2003 in Gersthofen, Augsburg. A 19-year-old man - Michael Weinhold - went to a party at the outskirts of the city. Just hours before did he dress up as the murderer of a very famous slasher movie, Scream (USA 1996). He slipped on track pants, the black gown and the horrific white mask which serves as recognition factor. Michael went to the party and got drunk. On his way home he got agitated as people were not afraid of him. In court, he said that something pulled him into a side street, to the house where the murderous scene happened. He went into the garden and looked through the window of the living room, spotting two young children. According to the report, the children – boy and girl – heard something and went upstairs to their rooms, afraid that their parents were home already from the party. Michael broke into the house, taking a German quality knife from the kitchen and went upstairs as well. He saw the girl, Vanessa, sleeping in her bed peacefully, and stepped closer. Like in horror films, his breathing became slow and shallow, his heartbeat slowed down, and Michael braced himself for the inevitable act he was about to commit. When she tried to call for help, he covered her mouth with his left hand and stabbed her repeatedly with the knife. He did not stop, only after her body wrapped in the blanket hit the floor. Forensic scientists say that Vanessa died due to internal bleeding. Michael stabbed her lungs, spleen, ventricle and arteries. According to the autopsy report, 21 stab wounds could be assigned.1

Michael’s parents said that he watched horror movies such as Halloween (USA 1978) and Scream day in, day out, seven days a week.2 What he did not internalise after watching these slasher films is that the helpless virgin girl does not die. She survives in the end, yet Vanessa did not even stand a chance. By definition, she is no Final Girl. The term Final Girl has been underlying specific changes over the past decades. Certain films, for instance, You’re Next (USA/UK 2011) were decisive to define a new term. These changes are massive and lead to the assumption that the Final Girl has finally evolved into the Final Woman. This term, however, is also able to revert the dynamic of victim and killer.

This paper serves the purpose of presenting the evolution of the Final Girl into the Final Women, especially which characteristics have been updated. To understand the later analysis, the next chapter will be used to define the horror genre and its subgenres. Furthermore, a precise definition of the Final Girl will be given in the third chapter, explaining all the details on how to define the term. With the film analysis of You’re Next, the Final Woman will finally take over, defining the slasher genre anew. Additionally, the question of who the real monster is will be answered in the analysis.


The history of horror dates back to the beginning of the film industry itself. It can be traced back to Georges Méliès’ silent film The Haunted Castle (F 1896).3 Since the beginning, horror always had the same function: It wanted to scare, shock and horrify the audience, to evoke the feeling of dread. ‘Have you watched one, you have seen them all’ is the common name for the game. Therefore, filmmakers must continually invent new ways of eliciting the emotions of fear in their viewers.4 It indeed is no easy endeavour, yet the film industry is on an excellent way to improve their methods. There are specific screen methods, the use of music, camera angles and many more features which can be used in horror films to send chills up and down the viewers’ spine. The problem of the genre horror is that there is no straightforward classification because it differs from one generation to the next.5 Horror film may have common defining features, yet “[w]hat one person considers to be the defining features of a horror film may be in total disagreement with another’s”.6

As already mentioned, filmmakers have to invent new ways of shocking viewers. To accomplish this, the use of genres is required. What most people agree on is that the horror genre is like an umbrella which subordinates many sub-genres such as supernatural, occult and ghost films; psychological horror and others. The two essential genres for this paper are the slasher and the home invasion genres. The slasher genre is presumably the best-known sub-genre. The plot of the slasher film is stereotyped: Usually, a group of young people visit a remote place where an immediate danger is lurking for them, which culminates in bloody murders. People become easy prey for a violent psychopath who mostly uses bladed tools. The victims in this genre are mostly portrayed through their permissive behaviour or other infringements. Most commonly, a young woman can successfully defend herself or kill the murderer effectively. She is the lone survivor of the bloodbath; she is the Final Girl. Sometimes she cannot hunt down the killer, but she lives on as the female hero who will be pursued in continuations of the film. Examples for these film series are Halloween, Scream or Friday the 13th (USA 1980).

The genre home invasion is usually accompanied by another genre, forming a hybrid genre. As the term already says, this genre does deal with the invasion of the victims’ safe home. Home invasion can be an entirely psychological killer since there is no other place on earth to think oneself safe. If this safe space is to be invaded, it has a drastic effect on our psyche. If you are not safe at home where else are you safe? This genre plays with our minds effectively and can have a more lasting effect than a simple slasher film playing in the woods. The best examples for this genre would be the movies The Strangers (USA 2008) and the more recent one Hush (USA 2016).


“When it comes to films, woman is seldom to be found among the great psychopaths […]. The great monsters are all male”.7 This statement may be true at first glance, but horror films also feature female monsters. Many of them seem to have evolved from images many centuries ago.8 Films such as Carrie (USA 1976) show that women can take on the role of a villain as well, yet the impression remains that mostly male protagonists put the fear of God into the viewers.

Women can act like monsters, but females are first and foremost used as victims in a horror film. If they do not act like the victim or the monster, there is another role reserved for them. The role of the lone survivor: the Final Girl. This role is usually portrayed as the hero of the film, yet there is only a thin line separating the monster and the Final Girl. This statement, however, will be explained and discussed in the last part of this paper.


Closely connected to the slasher movie is the term of the Femme Castratice. The fear of male castration gave way to the two most powerful representations of the female monster in horror films: “woman as castrator and woman as castrated”.9 The depiction of woman as a castrated being either happens to be on a verbatim or symbolic level. The former is usually used in the slasher film, in which the female represents a victim whose body is repeatedly stabbed, until resembling a bleeding wound. If the female feels robbed of her ethnic purpose, she becomes a psychotic perpetrator, for example, in the film À l’Intérieur (F 2008).10 The outbreak of female violence is closely connected to not being able to have a normal life including family and friends.

Castration anxiety, especially the male fear, is a central topic in the slasher film. Women are either represented as castrator in the role of the slasher or the heroine. The heroine has a savage nature as she repeatedly engages in castration, literal or symbolic.11 With the passage “[h]is eyes may be put out, his hand severed, his body impaled or shot, his belly gashed, or his genitals sliced away or bitten off”12, the female monster reminds of an ancient myth or legend, for instance, the Furries, Sirens or Gorgons.13 She operates as castrator and not as the Freudian phallic woman who allays the castration anxiety. She is the deadly Femme Castratrice – a woman “whose image has been repressed in Freudian psychoanalytic theory […] because it challenges Freud’s view that man fears woman because she is castrated”.14 The elimination of men’s castration anxiety can only be resolved by eliminating female victims or displaying her as masculine by phallicising the heroine to kill the monster. This, however, does not happen since the slasher does not seek to resolve the anxiety of castration. The slasher movie instead wants to amplify this anxiety by depicting women as the castrated or the castrator.15


Would you want to be the one to survive or to die in the end? The answer is simple. There is indeed no one who does not want to survive. Surviving and procreation are deeply rooted instincts in every living being. These instincts especially kick in in a situation of danger or threat, which is certainly given in a slasher film. In these films, however, there is usually only one person to survive called the Final Girl. The Final Girl is the most noted trope introduced by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women and Chain Saws. She examines the pivotal traits and stereotyped characters the slasher genre is built upon.

Typically, a slasher film deals with a group of young people spending their time in a remote place cut off from civilisation or neighbours. Of course, this is not always the case, yet it is a classical trait since there is no help in sight for the victims. These groups consist of females and males – singles or couples. It is quite common for the slasher that at least one couple is trying to find an undisturbed place to have sex illicitly. These couples are usually killed after coitus. It seems to be a universal rule for this genre that sexually active people of both sexes will be killed. Furthermore, the death of females is mostly more detailed while male deaths happen to be quick and sometimes happen beyond the screen. Slasher films spend quite some time to portray the female agony while male deaths seem not to be as important.16 The reason for choosing women “more often as victims [is] because they are permitted a greater range of emotional expression”.17

After almost killing off every person in the group, there is this one young woman who survives her friends and does not fall victim to the killer. The Final Girl, as Clover calls her, is the only one, except the audience, who witnessed the murders of her friends and is exposed to the killing streak the longest.18 The Final Girl “is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; whom we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again".19 While her friends are surprised by the killer and die shortly after, she has to face the impending death face-to-face. There are two possible endings for the Final Girl. She either finds a way to stay alive to be rescued (ending A) or she takes the matter into her own hands and kills the murderer herself (ending B). The fight between the protagonist and antagonist depicts the climax of the film.20

Sally from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (USA 1974) is a typical example for ending A. She is rather passive in nature, but shows her astonishing will to stay alive until she is rescued by a passing car. In contrast to the passive Sally, Laurie from Halloween fights much harder for her survival. After being attacked, she is injured and flees into her own babysitting house after her neighbours would not help her, deeming it a Halloween prank. She grasps the nettle and uses a knitting needle to stab him. She thinks he is dead and goes upstairs to the children until the killer goes after her again. Laurie hides in a closet, bends a wire hanger into a weapon and stabs him in the eye. He is not dead in the end, but Laurie as a Final Girl overcame the stereotype of being passive and actively defended herself against her persecutor. From then on there have been following many Final Girls who kill the psychopath without help, sometimes even with considerable cruelty. The protagonist Stretch of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (USA 1986), for instance, inflicts a gaping wound in the stomach of one of her followers with a chainsaw.21

The Final Girl in the slasher is established as the main character from the very start. It is possible for the viewer to tell her apart from her friends in a brief time as she is often characterised as “the girl scout, the bookworm, the mechanic”.22 One of the most important traits is that unlike her friends, she is not sexually active and she possesses skills to increase her chance of survival. The Final Girl is intelligent, resourceful and even registers the smallest hints of danger. Even though the killer is superior to her, with these characteristics, she is able to stand up to him convincingly.23

Even though her sex is female, Clover states that “she is not fully feminine”24 in a way her friends are. She entitles the Final Girl as boyish: “Her smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters, and sexual reluctance set her apart from the other girls and ally her, ironically, with the very boys she fears or rejects, not to speak of the killer himself”.25 The masculinity is even spelt out in her non-female name: Marti, Max, Will, Joey and many others, yet there are also Final Girls with female names.

The concept of the Final Girl is a development in the representation of femininity in horror films. The woman, especially in the slasher genre, is no longer only the victim and while her male friends fall prey to the killer, the Final Girl manages to fight the murderer because of her individual characteristics. She is no damsel in distress anymore who needs to be rescued by a prince; she is capable of surviving the horror on her own terms. It sounds plausible, yet Clover states that the Final Girl is not a real representation of a heroine.26 “The decisive moment, as far as the fixing of gender is concerned, lies in what happens next: those who save themselves are male, and those who are saved by others are female”.27 With this statement, Clover expresses that the Final Girl can only survive by discarding her femininity and becoming masculine, which means that she is only outwardly a woman. Butler’s gender theory only partly confirms this statement. According to Butler, gender is socially constructed and determined by behaviour.28 The ability of the Final Girl to fight the killer is considered as typically male, yet these are only gender roles and who is to decide that a woman has to be weak and cannot fight back? It is just something that society makes us believe since cases of female violence are rare, yet genuine.


1 Cf. Brinkbäumer (2003).

2 Cf. ibid.

3 Cf. McGrail (2018).

4 Cf. Cherry (2009, p. 4).

5 Cf. ibid. (p. 1).

6 Ibid. (p. 1).

7 Lenne (1979, p. 38).

8 Cf. Creed (1993, p. 1).

9 Ibid. (p. 122).

10 Cf. Creed (1993, p. 122).

11 Cf. ibid. (p. 126).

12 Clover (1992, p. 115).

13 Cf. Creed (1993, p. 126).

14 Ibid. (p. 127).

15 Cf. ibid (p. 127).

16 Cf. Clover (1992, pp. 32-33).

17 Creed (1993, p. 125).

18 Cf. Clover (1992, p. 35).

19 Clover (1992, p. 35).

20 Cf. Clover (1992, p. 35).

21 Cf. Clover (1992, pp. 36-37).

22 Ibid. (p. 39).

23 Cf. ibid. (p. 40).

24 Ibid. (p. 40).

25 Ibid. (p. 40).

26 Cf. ibid. (p. 59).

27 Ibid. (p. 59).

28 Cf. Butler (2010, p. 10).

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Evolution of the "Final Girl" in the Movie "You’re Next". Women in Horror Movies
University of Regensburg
Final Girl. Frauen im Horrorfilm
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Final Girl, Horrofilm, You're Next, Female Violence in Film, Slasher
Quote paper
Melanie Höpfler (Author), 2019, The Evolution of the "Final Girl" in the Movie "You’re Next". Women in Horror Movies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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