The Final Girls Club posts on the 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.
“You guys keep getting beat up by some girl!”
Women aren’t usually expected to be able to defend themselves. Even among Final Girls — female characters named for their ability to survive— it’s unusual for a woman to be, say, a martial arts expert or a master of handmade explosives. Skills and knowledge that come in handy when fighting masked killers are typically thought of as masculine and therefore off limits to Final Girls. What usually keeps these legendary women alive is their resourcefulness and quick thinking. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) fights Michael Myers with whatever weapon she can find in the original Halloween: a knitting needle or a coat hanger, feminine-coded items that she turns into tools of self-defense.
Ginny (Amy Steel) from Friday the 13th Part 2 and Erin (Sharni Vinson) from You’re Next are unique among Final Girls in that they use specialised prior education and training to survive their respective films. Ginny defeats Jason Voorhees with her knowledge of child psychology. Erin takes out her attackers with skills she learned while living on a (primarily male) survivalist compound. Their expertise is what saves them, both because of their specialised skill sets and the fact that their would-be murderers don’t expect them to be able to put up the “right” kind of fight. Ginny and Erin’s training sets them apart from the scrappy Final Girl archetype. In doing so, it shines a light on what kind of skills society deems useful and how surprised society often is when women possess these skills.
In Friday the 13th Part 2, Ginny is a child psychology major working as a camp counselor near the old Camp Crystal Lake. From her first scene, the film establishes that she is the smartest, strongest, and most confident character on screen. She outwits Paul (John Furey), the head of the camp who also happens to be her boyfriend, at every turn, defeating him at chess and tricking him into fixing her car. He condescends to her about the car, saying that she should apply her academic skills to learning auto maintenance. Showing off her sly side, she tells him after he’s done that she knows how to fix it, she just didn’t want to get exhaust in her face. She later leads the pack in a group run, prompting one of the male counselors to ask another, “Women are showing you up. What’s the matter with you?”
Due to her psychology training, Ginny is thoughtful and observant. Even before the counselors learn that they’re in danger, Ginny senses when Jason is lurking nearby. It’s no supernatural feat or psychic connection; Ginny is simply paying attention to her surroundings and recognising when things aren’t quite right. Her academic training becomes even more evident in a later scene when Ginny discusses the legend of Camp Crystal Lake with Paul and Ted (Stu Charno), another counselor. Ted dismisses Jason as a myth, saying that it’s absurd to believe the story just because “some girl panics and falls out of a canoe,” referring to Alice (Adrienne King), the Final Girl from the first Friday the 13th. Showing his misogyny, Ted dismisses Alice’s encounter with Jason in the lake as a figment of her supposedly hysterical imagination.
Ginny wants to look below the surface, though, and examine things rationally rather than uphold sexist dismissals of women’s experiences. She uses her child psychology expertise to get inside Jason’s head and empathise with both him and his mother Pamela. Setting up her iconic scene in Jason’s makeshift cabin in the woods, she theorises that Jason just wants his mother back: “He must be out there right now crying for her return, her resurrection.” Though Paul and Ted both dismiss her astute observations as drunken ramblings, Ginny is vindicated at the end of the movie.
When most of the other counselors are dead and Ginny is running for her life, she gives Jason the resurrection she theorised about so that she herself may survive. She finds Jason’s shrine to his mother that includes Pamela’s old sweater and her disembodied head; Ginny dons the sweater, fixes her hair to look like Pamela’s, and stands in front of the shrine so that Jason only sees her. Ginny becomes Pamela by using her psychological insight, getting through to Jason long enough to buy the time she needs to escape. Her academic training and knowledge save her life.
Much like Ginny, Erin in You’re Next uses her own training and knowledge to survive as the only person left standing after a massacre. Erin is attending an anniversary celebration for her boyfriend Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) parents when all hell breaks loose: masked assailants start taking out the guests with crossbows and deadly traps. Though Crispian’s wealthy, dysfunctional family is bickering at the dinner table when the first attack happens, Erin recognises the danger right away and starts directing the others on what they need to do to survive the night. She takes charge in a calm, authoritative way. Though she has been quite easygoing and playful up until this point — something the snobby, uptight family sniffs at, adding to the film’s biting commentary on classism — she becomes a different person when the threat arrives.
Erin’s physical and intellectual muscle memory kicks in as she goes into ultimate survival mode. She trained for situations just like this on her dad’s survivalist compound, and that training becomes evident as she coolly gathers items she can use as weapons, sets up traps of her own, and instructs the family on what they need to do next. Unfortunately for them, they don’t listen to her advice at first, dismissing her because she’s not family, she’s of a lower economic class than they are, and she’s a woman. Every time someone ignores her advice, they die. Once they finally acknowledge her expertise, it’s too late: some of the family members are in on the deadly plot, and they do everything they can to sabotage her efforts.
The duplicitous family members are baffled by Erin’s ability to fight back and her refusal to panic and give up. Frustrated that she ruined their plan by defending herself, one of them asks her, “How were we supposed to know that you were really good at killing people?” Erin is a woman getting her Master’s degree in literature. Society teaches us not to expect physical or strategic prowess from people like her: women with “impractical” knowledge. In order to murder their family and get early access to their multi-million dollar inheritance, they were counting on Erin not to be strong, brave, or skilled. Why would they have thought otherwise? She’s just a girl, after all.
What sets Ginny and Erin apart as Final Girls is not just their very particular sets of skills. It is also their confidence in those skills. Erin works methodically and adapts quickly to the nightmare she finds herself in. She solves a problem — whether it’s checking to make sure all the windows are locked or dispatching a man who’s trying to kill her — then moves matter-of-factly on to the next problem that needs solving. When Ginny discovers Jason’s maternal shrine, she gets a determined look on her face, quickly working out in her mind what she needs to do and then executing her plan with conviction. Both women survive because they have the necessary tools for their unique situations and they trust in their own abilities to use those tools.
It is this combination of competence and confidence that draws objections from the male characters in each film. If a woman excels in a field, whether it is chess or athletics or survival strategy, the natural order is disturbed. A man getting beaten up by “some girl” is something to be ashamed of, especially when the “girl” in question owns the fact that she’s fully capable of doing it. Ginny and Erin are indeed scrappy, just like Laurie Strode and the other Final Girls before them. However, they are also experts. They have skills and knowledge that most people don’t have; they can accomplish things that most people don’t expect from women. This element of surprise, this act of surpassing the low expectations of misogyny, makes Ginny and Erin much scarier to the men in their lives than any masked killer holding a machete.
by Jessica Scott
Jessica Scott (she/her) is an Arkansas-based writer and lover of all things horror. She enjoys dogs, fiber crafts, comic books, roller derby, and haunted house fiction. You can find her at WeWhoWalkHere.blog or stalking the dollar store for Halloween decor.
Categories: The Final Girls Club