The Final Girl: Making space for women in the slasher film genre 

Olga Steblyk / Sputnik Photography

October has always been my favorite time of the year. The leaves change colors, I can wear my favourite sweaters and, most importantly, there is Halloween. As a diehard fan of all things spooky, Halloween was my chance to binge all the classic slasher films. However, you can only watch the killer hunt down countless helpless female victims until you become disillusioned with the slasher film genre. A genre that had roots in challenging the status quo, but quickly perpetuated the ideals it shunned. 

Any movie made in Hollywood between 1934 to 1968 was subjected to strict censorship rules commonly known as the ‘Hays Code’. Any portrayals of sex and violence was completely repressed from the big screen following a puritanical moral code of the era showing “correct standards of life”. 

This was until John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise become a box-office hit when it premiered in the 1970s. The slasher film dominated the horror genre for decades after with franchises like Scream, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street becoming mainstays. 

A formula quickly emerged for tropes frequently seen in various slasher films. These tropes included a scorned or traumatized man out for revenge, victims engaging in sexual or immoral behaviors, sudden death scenes and the final girl (typically white, cis-gendered and a virgin) who outsmarts the killer. Even the slasher films themselves started commenting on the tropes of the genre, seemingly aware of the slasher ‘meta’. In Scream, horror film fanatic Randy Meeks comments “That’s why she always outsmarted the killer in the big chase scene at the end. Only virgins can do that. Don’t you know the rules?”. 

Even the way in which the film is presented is through the male killer’s gaze. Everything we see is from their point of view. We as the audience can’t help but subconsciously identify with the killer as we witness their killings. 

The audience is forced to objectify female victims as they are presented in long sequences of violence in various stages of undress, engage in voyeurism through the killer’s stalking, and watch as they are killed with a phallic weapon. 

Despite all the flaws of the genre, I can’t help the feelings of excitement and nostalgia that slasher films give me. This seems to be the case for many women as research done by Brigid Cherry show that women can make up to 50 per cent of horror film audiences. 

Women haven’t completely been ostracized from the slasher film genre as films have been used to explore issues of womanhood. The true disconnect lies with the characterization of women and the lens in which they are seen through. Women could only exist as the helpless victim or the clever surviving final girl, never as fully realized individuals with their own wants or needs. 

Which is why it’s time for women to take a stab at the slasher film genre. The creating of spaces for women has already begun with films like Pearl, Audition and You’re Next. The slasher film genre could be a place to critique society while portraying women and womanhood in a meaningful way. The new wave of the ‘female slasher film’ looks very different than their predecessors. 

Films are more psychological or satirical in nature with cinematography in a more stylized aesthetic. The use of gore and violence is intended to be purposeful to subvert the male gaze. The modern slasher film could be an appeal to intellect and push boundaries for the representation of not only women but other marginalized people. 

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 2 on Thursday, Oct. 5.

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