The Final Girls Club is a column posting every 1st, 3rd and 4th Monday of the month. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.
The timeless aspect of the Scream franchise doesn’t come from the sleek slasher aesthetic or the cliché jump scares, but rather the self-awareness of its own conventions. The Scream films mock themselves; they poke fun at horror tropes whilst simultaneously executing said tropes in one bloody slash. Although all the Scream films deserve in-depth discussion (avoiding Scream 3, unless the focus is on Courtney Cox’s fringe), I’m going to focus on what is arguably the best Scream film in the series – Scream 2 and the tortured survivor at the core of it all. Released in 1997, directed by horror master Wes Craven and featuring the return of original cast members and a bigger budget, Scream 2 mocks sequels, whilst serving as an example of one of the best sequels ever made.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), our fabled final girl, greets us two years after the gruesome events of the first film. She finds herself seemingly happy and stable adjusting to college life. This is, of course, not for long, as Ghostface makes an anticipated return and yet again Sidney must defend herself as everyone around her is miserably murdered or suspect of murdering. Fitting every aspect of a classic Final Girl outlined by Carol Clover in her work Men, Women & Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Sidney, often referred to as “Sid”, is a boy-ish girl. She is not entirely feminine but rather contains masculine aspects. Through-out Scream 2— just like the first— Sidney is constantly manipulated by the killer, tortured emotionally and physically. The film does not focus on Ghostface, but rather Sidney’s inevitable suffering as she is forced to earn her right to live yet again. It’s her complex representation of a femininity filtered through masculinity that allows her to survive. She is smart, naturally competent and resilient, as well as steadily adaptable and paranoid to the point of detective. She notices what others don’t. However, she still possesses femininity in her treatment from the world, her sexuality and her empathy. This is what gives a final girl such as Sidney her feminist edge, it’s not because she possesses masculine traits that she survives, but rather because she exists outside the ‘traditional’ gender binary. Sidney is portrayed in such a way that suggests she is ‘not like other girls’, although she contains the very real and completely normal aspects of being a girl more so than any other character.
The common and heteronormative reading of horror films, especially slashers, often conclude that it is a final girl’s boyish nature that rises her above the rest, and whilst this is true it also ignores the inherent queerness of the final girl. This queerness manifests in the destruction of Sidney’s relationships with her partners, reluctance towards trust, and her inability to free herself from her mother’s past – one so violently rooted in misogyny. Suffering the consequences of the patriarchy and heterosexuality, Sidney endures the physical and emotional costs of being a young woman in the 1990s attempting to live a relatively normal life. The fact that her boyfriend violently murdered her mother, most of her friends, and furiously tries to slaughter her is enough to put anyone off romance for life. Yet, in Scream 2 we witness Sidney, in love again. Reliving the same heterosexual traumas, again.
The world crafted in Scream 2 is one so stereotypical to an American teen, the college experience and all it presents the audience is an experience deeply rooted in performing and attaining heteronormative ideals and fulfilling gender roles. It’s not even that Sidney struggles to adjust to the trails and tribulations of student life, as she has a solid group of friends and a seemingly perfect boyfriend, but rather that this heteronormative ideal is consistently threatened. Everything Sidney builds and achieves is rapidly dismantled by Ghostface, each time executed in an increasingly sinister and theatrical fashion. The life Sidney desires is not the life she is destined to have, as Ghostface serves us with the constant reminder that she is not safe, nor is anyone else.
The sequel offers us everything the original gave us and more. As Randy identifies early on in Scream 2, there are rules to horror films, and sequels follow their own:
“Number one: the body count is always bigger.
Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore.
And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.”
What is revealed adheres dramatically to these rules, with a kill count of ten victims (three more than the original), an incredible opening scene so remarkable it features as a parody in Scary Movie, and notable kill scenes unfolding in brutally gory nature or simple and sadistic camp over-kill. The dramatisation of the kill scenes follows through on the expectations set up by the original, with the car scene featuring not only the most graphic kill of the feature, but one of the most tense and traumatic moments for Sidney.
It is a moment where she and her established college best friend Hallie (Elise Neal) find themselves locked in the back of an undercover police car, as a result of two dead detectives, one glorious action sequence and an unconscious Ghostface in the driver’s seat. Cunning and adaptable as always, Sidney begins to pull away at the metal meshing between the front and back seats as the music rises and Hallie, obviously, begins to freak out, perhaps to reinforce that Sidney is built for survival in contrast to those around her. Naturally, with the front passenger side door blocked, Sidney must climb over Ghostface’s lifeless body, a task so tense and daunting it oozes anxiety. Never failing to deliver on messy violence, the scene escalates and just as Sidney and Hallie break for freedom, Sid is tempted by her pride and decides to go back and face the killer. Cue the classic dramatic reveal of – he’s not there anymore?!- and the emotional, swift execution of Hallie, leaving Sid alone once more.
The entirety of this scene takes place over 6 minutes, the most intense 6 minutes of the whole film. A moment used to reinforce Sidney’s suffering, to test Sidney’s will, and to display her raw impulse for survival. Ghostface murders everyone who protects her, Sidney is forced into emotional, social and physical isolation. It’s a scene such as this that displays exactly why Sidney is a Final Girl, and its scenes such as this that build upon the formula of the original film.
However, the charming aspect of Scream 2 isn’t reliant on formula and well timed kills, but rather the ‘victim-heroes’ at the forefront of the plot. Sidney, encompassing every traditional aspect of the final girl has become the token hero of the franchise, the self-proclaimed survivor: a hero to root for because there’s always a chance she can die, but she never does. And while I agree, Sidney is a Final Girl through and through, one that defines the term with a subtle nostalgia, she is not the only Final Girl who deserves acclaim.
Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), female news anchor turned awarding winning author for the ‘Woodsboro Murders’, returns together with Detective Dewey (David Arquette), ready to fight alongside Sid. Gale, although not the central character, deserves recognition for encompassing a different portrayal of the Final Girl. She returns after surviving the events of the first film, anxious yet seemingly self-motivated to discover the identity of Ghostface. Gale falls victims to the same consequences of misogyny that Sidney does, only in different variations. Ghostface toys with Gale, attacking her close relationships and murdering anyone she joins forces with, as Gale stands as the biggest threat to Ghostface. Unlike Sidney, who reluctantly ends up facing Ghostface in the finale of every Scream film, Gale actively pursues the killer. She constantly seeks out information, usually for personal gain as an established motive in the original, but as Scream 2 develops, we see the traumas Gale has survived have not hardened her as expected. She appears kinder and more empathetic (to some), embracing her perceived femininity. Nonetheless, she is also more aggressive, angry and generally more self-absorbed, embracing her perceived masculinity. Another complex woman destined for survival, and the unsung hero of the Scream franchise, Gale Weathers survives gun shots, stab wounds, and some radical fashion choices. It’s safe to say, she is vital to the survival of Sidney in every film.
Both Gale and Sidney encompass the gender-complexity and otherness women experience, and both show it is possible to survive. Scream 2 goes above and beyond to deliver on everything you’ve come to expect from the first and doesn’t for one moment forget the power of the developed Final Girl, earning the title of the greatest addition to the franchise (so far).
by Kelsie Dickinson