The various monsters of the screen (whether they be human, boogeyman, or otherworldly) would be nothing without that original final girl that stood up to them for the first time. As they raced upstairs or hid in closets with only their wits to protect and save themselves, many of these final girls would go on to achieve mainstream success, and some with acclaim, continuing in the world of film or television. Yet, as many of the respective monsters grew stronger with each sequel to follow, even they were brought back a step as these final girls made their returns to the world of horror. While these monsters hesitated, we as audiences cheered while these ladies made their return, with many of them in the roles that originally made them famous. While the roles they played after horror ranged from romantic comedy to sitcom stars, the ladies that grace this list are noteworthy for their return to the genre that fits them like a razor blade glove.
Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls Back
Carol Kane’s performance as Jill Johnson in the original When a Stranger Calls has a frightening beginning where Kane portrays a babysitter receiving unsettling phone calls. The opening sequence climaxes when the phone calls are revealed to be coming from inside the house. Kane’s scenes are bookends to the middle of the movie in which the killer (Tony Beckley) escapes from the asylum. Eventually, he tracks down Jill as an adult and attacks her once again but she emerges triumphantly.
Carol Kane’ return to the series was one full of strength in When a Stranger Calls Back. The film has many structural problems and forces the audience to greatly suspend their disbelief. However, two things work well for the film. The first is the opening scene with the familiar setting of a vulnerable babysitter (Jill Schoelen from The Stepfather) left alone to watch her charges. As far as opening scenes in a horror film, this one plays out very successfully in nail-biting fashion, ending with very likely out loud screams from the audience. The other successful element of the film is Kane’s performance as a much more now adult Jill Johnson. Jill is all about self-defense and strength. It is unfortunate that the filmmakers couldn’t take the film’s terrific opening sequence and Kane’s performance and deliver a more comprehensible film.
Amy Irving’s portrayal of the prom-sacrificing Sue Snell from the adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel shows the actress’ subtlety in Carrie. Her actions at the beginning of the film cause her to re-examine what kind of person is she and designates herself for the rest of the film as an observer. She has always thought of herself as a good girl and the primitive behavior she shows toward Carrie (Sissy Spacek) at the beginning of the picture causes her to search for the good person within and not just on the surface. As the quote goes, however, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and Sue’s act of kindness ultimately leads to the deaths of the majority of her classmates. Removing herself from the prom as an attendee, she is the observer and she comes close, though, to saving everybody. She notes something is not right and spots the bucket of blood but to no avail. She is only directly attacked by Carrie in a nightmare, but nevertheless, she is the sole survivor of those that, in one way or another, went to the prom. A Final Girl in the literal sense and not necessarily in the archetype of what late 1970’s and early 1980’s horror films would determine as the Final Girl. After Carrie, Amy Irving’s career went on to span theatre, television, and film.
Amy Irving’s reprisal of her role of Sue Snell in The Rage: Carrie 2 warrants her inclusion on this list. While the film is a pale comparison to De Palma’s, Irving’s appearance at least forms a link to the original picture. She provides the exposition needed to explain Rachel’s (Emily Bergl) powers. Her death in the film is one of the more interesting moments (a poker drives through another character, a door, and then her eye). Aptly, Irving’s portrayal of Sue is one mostly of observer and it is her last observation that leads to her death. While her death is somewhat innovative, one feels that for such an important character her demise is fairly unceremonious. However, it was interesting to see the role reversal of Irving now playing the guidance counselor, a position filled previously by someone her character somewhat resented.
The Scream franchise always found Sidney Prescott battling a killer that has been affected in some way by her mother. She is the archetypical Final Girl in the series. However, it would be amiss to forget about the series’ anti-hero, Gale Weathers. While she lacks the Final Girl’s moral compass, Gale survives no matter what. Without her in the original film, she would not have diverted the two killers’ attention and Sidney’s fate would have taken an entirely different course. While she may have forgotten about the safety of the gun (“you bastard”), throughout the series she has had more than one chase scene of her own and time and time again has come out as a survivor. Like her co-star, Neve Campbell, the Scream series catapulted Cox from television recognition to international fame. At this point in her career, she was mostly known for her role on Friends.
Courteney Cox’s return as Gale Weathers in Scream 4 is definitely noteworthy and deserving of mention on this list. Her character has survived one film after another and that is not an easy feat, even for an official Final Girl. While beginning her appearance as the series’ anti-hero, Cox’s portrayal of Gale Weathers shows audiences that there can be more than one Final Girl in a series.
As Kirsty Cotton, Ashley Laurence portrayed a Survivor Girl in a fairytale sort of darkness. The kind father. The wicked stepmother. Having to seek the aid of creatures in order to defeat the wicked stepmother as well as her pleasure seeking maniacal uncle. However, in this fairytale the Final Girl must also defeat the creatures helping her for they will just as well take her soul. Hellraiser is a horror movie after all. After discovering the deeds her stepmother and uncle commit, she has to balance outwitting them, seeing through their façade, as well as sending the creatures back to Hell. In the end, Laurence’s portrayal shows audiences a Final Girl that is willing to leap before looking in order to discover the answers she seeks.
Her reemergence as Kirsty Cotton in the sixth installment of the Hellraiser franchise is what gains her a spot on this list. Kirsty’s moral compass was always spot on and things were very black or white for her in terms of the way people act. Either they are bad or they are good. Interestingly enough, this time her character development adds a new layer to Kirsty. She is no longer just a “good” Final Girl, she now has her own set of questionable morals. Faced with a cheating husband (Dean Winters) who has planned to kill her, she instead turns the tables on him and kills his lovers and co-conspirators. One can argue that it is a question of self-defense because she is faced once again with the Cenobite, yet it is she that makes the choice to sacrifice these others instead of becoming a victim herself.
The original Alien (Ridley Scott) was a somewhat unique entry in the horror genre. While on the surface appearing as a science fiction film, one can easily argue that it has all the elements of a horror picture. This genre hybrid finds a monster that breaks loose killing all of the Final Girl’s comrades until she is left alone to destroy the monster and survive. Ellen Ripley manages to do all of this while knowing that in order to destroy the alien creature she might very well destroy herself. There is no window to escape out and no door to run through to scream for help. She manages to save herself and open a hatch to suck the alien out into space. All while also saving the ship’s pet cat. Ellen Ripley is a Final Girl to be reckoned with as she proves time and again. Sigourney Weaver’s career took off after Alien and understandably so.
Her return in Alien Resurrection was a new turn for Ellen Ripley. While Weaver was in the original trilogy of Alien films, her character was killed at the end of the third. Even then it was by her own choice and only indirectly because of the alien. By the end of the third film, audiences assumed Ellen Ripley was to be no more. Therefore, it was a welcome surprise when Weaver decided to reprise her role once more and was resurrected through a cloning process. The Ellen Ripley clone goes through an engaging character arc exploring newly found physical strength, sharper instincts, and an internal conflict of self realization. While no longer quite as vulnerable as the Final Girl status shown in the previous films, Sigourney Weaver’s return as an incarnation of Ellen Ripley still shows audiences all that a Survivor Girl is capable of in order to survive.
As everyone’s favorite victim, Neve Campbell’s performance as Sidney Prescott in the Scream trilogy showed audiences of a self-actualized Final Girl. While getting specifics on the rules of conventional horror films from friends such as Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Sidney grew up (as did most contemporary audiences at the time) with the 1980’s horror film catalog at her disposal as a guideline for survival. Having already seen these types of films and knowing how they generally played out in formulaic fashion, Sidney was able to utilize these films in order to achieve success as a Final Girl. Sometimes they helped and sometimes she found herself in situations where she (as most audience members) would normally mock the character on screen. While the hits kept coming with the backdrop of the Stab films highlighting her life, Sidney Prescott always managed to outwit the killer and ultimately survive.
Campbell’s return to the Scream franchise is what brings her to number three on this list. Eleven years after the assumed trilogy concluded, Neve Campbell’s return as Sidney Prescott revives the series with a character that has weathered many storms but has put a positive spin on her life experiences. Being a part of a horror franchise, though, it is only a matter of time before the audience is left to wonder if Sidney Prescott can still hold claim to her status as a Final Girl. Scream 4 finds the audience being left to wonder for more than a few tense moments if Sidney will finally become the prey of Ghostface with injuries more serious than any other previous tryst with the killer. Yet, by the end of the film Neve Campbell’s return as a Final Girl shows the audience that Sidney Prescott is still standing strong.
As the first of the Elm Street kids to successfully stand up to Freddy Kruger, Heather Langenkamp’s portrayal of Nancy found the audience watching in terror as she proved herself a prepared and resourceful Final Girl using Kruger’s own nightmare setting as a trap to bring him into the real world. While the original film’s ending is a cerebral commentary on the ambiguity of whether the audience is now watching a dream within a dream, the moments before determine that whatever her fate, Nancy will face and then turn away from the fear she is feeding Freddy. One can argue that a good Final Girl will show the audience that part of survival is facing one’s fear.
While Nancy’s return in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was a welcome sight, what warrants her inclusion on this list is her return in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. New Nightmare reunited Langenkamp with both Craven and Robert Englund. The film is an examination of how making horror movies can affect those involved. The film also was a nice bridge to the gap between 1980’s horror films with the postmodern horror commentary that would later be provided by the Scream films. What appeals to the audience is that Langenkamp is playing a fictionalized version of herself. She is a wife and a mother in the film and Langenkamp also manages to bring a realistic edge to the picture with moments like being bored while Robert Englund’s fictionalized self is being hounded by fans for autographs. The film is more about commentary and atmosphere than gore which brings the audience back to the tone of the original film. It is when Heather Langenkamp decides to finally “play” Nancy again that the true celebration of the character begins.
While scholars will never stop debating what was the original slasher flick and who was the original final girl, it is undeniable that John Carpenter’s Halloween set the stage for what the 1980’s would bring in terms of the horror genre and the slasher flick. The vulnerability, yet resourcefulness, of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode showed audiences just what a final girl could be capable of when faced with a knife-wielding maniac boogeyman. Laurie has instincts that are always heightened and being the eternal girl-scout, she is capable of recognizing when something is not right. Her moral compass is always gauged to make sure that the kids are taken care of, even after discovering the fate of her friends and being terrorized herself. When trapped into a tiny space she still manages to maintain her resourcefulness. And while she is not able to fully defeat “the boogeyman,” she is able to, at least, escape with her life.
Jamie Lee Curtis became the reigning Scream Queen after Halloween with such films as Prom Night, The Fog, Terror Train, and Halloween II. Yet, it was in 1998 that fans of Curtis and the Halloween series were to be given a massive treat with her return in Halloween H20. The film is a celebration in the spirit of the original film.Centering on Laurie Strode coming to terms with her past after years of drug and alcohol abuse, she ultimately succeeds by destroying her main demon in the form of her brother, Michael Myers. However, being The Boogeyman, it was only a matter of time before his return in Halloween Resurrection.
There are many factors that make the return of the ultimate Final Girl so memorable (s good script, tense atmosphere, etc.). However, it is Jamie Lee Curtis’ experience from between the original film and her entire career up until her return in Halloween H20 that cements the deal. The audience can feel that while taking the experience seriously and delivering another A-List performance, Ms. Curtis exudes a certain joy in returning to the character. Curtis’ character is still as concerned with the younger generation as she was in the original film. She is now in charge of a private high school. She manages to hang onto her instincts, despite the protests of those around her, and recognize that all is not right as night closes in on this twentieth anniversary Halloween. However, this time she chooses to face her fate and stay to fight instead of running, after making sure the kids are safe and sound, of course. From her opening moment greeting the audience with a glass shattering scream to the final scene where she is shown standing tall after defeating Michael Myers yet again, Jamie Lee Curtis’ triumphant return as Laurie Strode can easily be labeled one of horror’s greatest moments.