Although horror films like other stories have protagonists, they are not always heroes in the sense of being characters we admire and strive to emulate. Often I think most people watch horror films and just count the mistakes the protagonists make. To a degree this makes sense – it’s hard to have a horror film which isn’t (inadvertently or intentionally) a cautionary tale about the dangers of misbehaving (or just lacking common sense). Perhaps we are meant to learn lessons on what not to do from them.
Or what not to wear. Seriously Michael?
But there are characters who through sheer wit and grit rise above the rest. Even if they aren’t final girls in the sense of making it out alive, they are admirable in their efforts to confront their antagonist and use their intellect to fight back.
These are their stories.
1) Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street
When Jessica Craven was a preteen she watched her father’s 1982 film Swamp Thing. When the female lead tripped and fell while being chased she turned to her dad and asked why female characters were always tripping and falling. Women weren’t that clumsy in real life. Wes Craven didn’t really have a good answer for her. But a seed was planted that would later grow into the character of one Nancy “NOT HAVING YOUR BULLSHIT TODAY NO SIR” Thompson.
Nancy Thompson is the BEST final girl OF ALL TIME.
There is a reason she is my profile image on here.
I know what your thinking – duh everyone knows A Nightmare on Elm Street. But rewatching many of these iconic films, my love for Nancy grows and grows in comparison to other final girls in slashers. Unfortunately Freddy Kruger gets all the fame and attention which takes focus away from how badass Nancy truly is.
When Nancy’s friends begin to be murdered one by one in their sleep by a frightening figure with knives on his hands she begins to try and figure out what exactly is happening and how she can overcome it. As her parents keep telling her not to worry she begins to hatch a plan to learn about Fred Kruger and fight back.
She even pulls off the greatest wig snatch of all time by grabbing Freddy’s hat off in a dream and bringing it into the real world in front of a group of people in a hospital. And she’s all like “now do you believe me about this dream monster?” and they are all like “lol stop being hysterical.”
When her bumbling boyfriend (Johnny Depp in his first feature role)
is busy eating fast food, watching television while listening to headphones, and generally not helping, Nancy is researching how to booby trap her house and drag Freddy into our world to destroy him. She booby traps her entire house in a montage 6 years before Home Alone made it cool.
At first her hope is that once she pulls Freddy into the real world her police officer dad will be able to arrest him. But it simply doesn’t work. Despite dealing a walloping amount of damage Freddy manages to sneak away and kill Nancy’s mother. This is on top of killing her closest friend Tina, Tina’s boyfriend Rod, and Nancy’s boyfriend Glen.
At this point a normal person would break. But Nancy Thompson is no normal person. As Freddy taunts her she realizes the physical fighting will never work. It’s primal fear Freddy is powered by.
So she takes that away from him with one of the most inspiring lines in horror film history:
“I take back every bit of energy I gave you. You’re nothing. You’re shit.”
Then she turns her back on him and walks out the door and Freddy dissipates into a terrible CGI effect as he fails to stays corporal and try to kill her.
Now of course the studio insisted they tack on a bogus as hell ending when we realize she is still in a nightmare. In Wes Craven’s original version it would have ended with Nancy definitively defeating Freddy or at least realizing it was all a bad nightmare.
A lot of people think of Laurie Strode when it comes to the top final girl and although she fights back viciously in later films in the Halloween franchise I feel people are too quick to forget she is saved by Dr. Loomis in the original as she cowers in fear in the closet (lol been there). Nancy (although ultimately defeated in Dream Warriors) is resourceful and against all odds never stops believing in herself and her ability to fight back.
2) Maddie in Hush
Hush is a surprisingly well-made horror film which plays with the slasher and home invasion subgenres in a refreshing new way. Maddie is a writer who is deaf and mute. After a breakup she decides to work on her second novel in an isolated house in the woods, figuring the solitude will help her relax and focus. After her friend Sarah visits, unbeknownst to Maddie Sarah is murdered ten feet away from her by a glass siding door. When the masked man realizes Maddie isn’t reacting to her friend’s final cries for help because she is deaf, he becomes especially fascinated with Maddie.
First Maddie is clever enough to try and get the killer to give up by writing a plea on her glass door about how she didn’t see his face and wouldn’t be able to report him if he let her go. There’s a neat scene which plays with the fourth wall to show her ability as a writer to think out different scenarios and endings so she can figure out what she has to do to survive the situation.
I also like this movie because it really downplays the villain in the sense we see him as the pathetic asshole he really is. Unlike many slashers (typically thanks to becoming a franchise to be fair) where the villain is the character everyone thinks of Maddie is what you remember from this film. The focus stays more on her being smart and logically exhausting all her options throughout.
3) Kaylie Russell in Oculus
So Oculus immediately sounds dumb. A movie about a haunted mirrror? Are you fucking kidding me? Just get rid of the mirror!
This movie begins with showing us that Kaylie Russell has been waiting years to face off against this mirror and get vengeance for the way it destroyed her family when she was a child.
Is Kaylie so unable to accept what happened to her as a child she made up the idea an evil spirit contained in a creepy ornate mirror? Or is her skeptical brother Tim wrong about blaming what happened to them on the tragedies of untreated mental illness leading to neglect and abuse?
If you’ve watched this film you may disagree with me considering Kaylie a final girl…for obvious reasons. But regardless of the shocking ending of the film her obsession with setting up a scientific experiment and to vindicate her theory is incredibly admirable.
4) Elise Rainier in Insidious and Insidious 3
Elise Ranier is a badass character in Insidious and the main protagonist in Insidious 3 even though she is an elderly motherfucking woman. That is rare in any movie but watching Elise deal with these supernatural entities while her 2 young male helpers who she inexplicably has dress alike is just icing on the cake.
5) Beth Salinger in Hostel: Part II
Sensible and queer protagonist who, like many on this list, is admirable in her decision to confront her antagonist head on.