I love the smell of burning candy corns in the morning. It smells like…Halloween!
If you’re like me, you’ve entered into the all-horror, all-the time-zone. I know I watch and read a ton of all things creepy throughout the year, but October (or as I call it, Horrortober) is when folks like us take it up to thirteen. Fuck eleven. That’s for poseur rock bands.
As I was pondering what to write about during this glorious season, I thought it would be too easy to delve into the Halloween franchise, considering Halloween Kills dropped on us this month. Much too on the nose for me. Trusting that my muse would hear my distress call, I settled into my horror movie binge. I may lament the death of the video store, but I do appreciate the abundance at my fingertips thanks to my DVD and Blu-ray collection of horror movies, and streaming services that I hit hard like Shudder, Tubi, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube.
Perusing my movie shelves and selecting the flicks I NEED to watch, I saw a little trend. In my hand at one point were three movies that all had total kick-ass final girls. No shrinking violets, these ladies of horror exemplified the best the genre has to offer. I started to dig deeper. My muse, this creepy yet sassy being of darkness, clapped her clawed hands. “Yes, yes, write about the new breed of final girls who could hack Ripley from Alien to pieces and not feel an ounce of regret!”
My muse has a weird fixation with Ripley. But that’s beside the point.
I came of age during the birth of the final girl, from Jamie Lee Curtis to the last lady standing in any Friday the 13th movie. These were women terrified by a maniacal killer or killers who managed to overcome their fear and strike that hulking fucker down. The end. Or was it? Most times, not, because a sequel lurked right around the corner.
There’d be a lot of running and crying and screaming before the instinct and will to survive would take over. The vestal virgin would always win, no matter how impossible it seemed.
Cut to the 21st century and that image of the pure final girl who had to go through a horrific hero’s journey is no longer de rigueur. As much as I love Alice in Friday the 13th or Kirsty in Hellraiser, I think I prefer the new class of badasses. These are women who are made from a different kind of stuff. They’ve traded in screaming at the top of their lungs for making bad guys wail in agony. They have complicated and/or mysterious backstories that make them run to danger, not from it.
And who, you might ask, are the baddest of them all?
Here’s my top 5:
#5 – Regan from A Quiet Place
I can’t imagine another final girl having to overcome such a large obstacle as deafness in a world overrun by ravenous aliens who are attracted by the slightest noise. Played by Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf, I cringed throughout the entire movie as she walked around, unable to tell if she was making sound or if a baddie was right behind her. Brave, resourceful, resilient and pretty damn smart, Regan has to endure watching her hero/father die and find a way to protect her family, if not the world. And she’s a teenager to boot! If that isn’t badassery in action, I don’t know what is.
#4 – Sarah from The Descent
Arguably the best monster movie this century (so far), The Descent is girl power on HGH. For the most part, this band of daredevil friends, I feel, would make Michael Myers turn tail if he came across them. A spelunking trip takes them down into the absolute worst cave system they could have chosen, and soon it’s every woman for themselves as they fight a race of pale, slimy cellar dwellers. Sarah (the awesome Shauna MacDonald) enters the movie having been through a personal hell, and has to literally fight her way out of hell and climb back into the light. I absolutely love when she wounded Juno, her newly minted ex-friend (who had slept with Sarah’s husband), leaving her a monster snack so Sarah can get away. Or does she? In one version, Sarah climbs out, finds a car and drives away, the sole survivor. In another, that’s all an illusion and she’s forever trapped in the bowels with the living demons. Either way, she made it to the end. You go! For my money, worst experience to reach final girl status in history.
#3 – Grace from Ready or Not
In a short amount of time, Samara Weaving has become horror royalty. In Ready or Not, fresh from her wedding, Grace gathers around the parlor with her new in-laws and is asked to play a game. What she doesn’t know is that these rich asstards made a deal with the devil a long time ago so they could get rich in the board game business. Personally, I would have asked for a cooler gig, but that’s just me. Grace has to hide all throughout the mansion, witness some brutal and hilarious murders, and find a way to make it to dawn without being sacrificed. It’s the worst wedding night of all time, and it’s one hell of a ride. Grace kicks some serious butt with a dose of very black humor. I guess we can consider the marriage annulled, because there’s a legion of people who’d like to give her the wedding re-do she deserves.
#2 – Crystal from The Hunt
This movie isn’t half as good as it is without the stellar performance by Betty Gilpin as Crystal, a woman kidnapped by rich liberals who want to hunt down deplorables. Crystal is the strong but silent type, though when she strikes out, Gilpin can go all psycho eyes at the flip of a switch. No one can pin Crystal down, both literally and metaphorically. She’s a force of nature that wasn’t in the liberal murderers forecast. The fight scene she has with Hilary Swank at the end is the stuff of legend. Think Peter Griffin battling the chicken, but much cooler. I could watch a series of Crystal movies from here until doomsday and consider myself a happy horror fan. Hey Netflix, you missed the boat by canceling Glow. Redeem yourself and give us more Crystal!
#1 – Erin from You’re Next
First of all, You’re Next gets mad props for bringing Barbara Crampton back to the horror fold. It also bequeathed us Erin (played by Sharni Vinson), a quick-witted Aussie with a strange past that is the only thing that will keep her alive at this fucked up family reunion. A home invasion flick gone mad, Erin is about as resourceful a final girl as you will ever see. Just look at what she does with a blender! I don’t think Jimmy Buffet is coming to her house anytime soon. When everyone else is weeping and freaking out, she’s looking for ways to survive. She may be slight, but damn, does she know how to hurt people. Vinson is also hella cool in the movies Bait and House on Willow Street. She hasn’t done much acting lately, so I think we need to find a way to get her back in the saddle. How about a starring role in You’re Next 2, the Next Chapter? Hmm, I may need to work on the title. I’ll workshop it with the team.
Honorable mention goes to Max (Tessa Farmiga) in The Final Girls and Jay (Maika Monroe) in It Follows. All of them are a new class of final girls, and I like to think new and improved. We used to root for the final girl to get away from the killer. Now we root for the final girl to stomp his ass. Even better, all of the movies I mentioned are awesome, so find ’em and sit yo ass down.
Who are your favorite final girls (and no, I’m not accepting hottest final girls –– that is so 2018. We’re way more enlightened than that –– at least in public)?
Most of all, have a hell of a Happy Halloween. Drink pumpkin beer until it comes out the nose holes in your mask, give treats to the kiddies and mash with your favorite monster.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.