In a series of articles for Culture Mass this month of Halloween, I will break apart some of the broader aspects of horror in culture, custom, and country. Geographical, sexual, and political factors effect the notions of what fear is, as human beings evolve and globalization makes its impact on every aspect of our lives. The sociological climate of the United States as opposed to, for instance, Thailand, is very different, but not as different as it was in, say, the 1950’s. It would stand to reason that our collective fears would reflect these factors.
Paring back the layers of what creates “horror”, I will begin with gender. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, popular American films began to reflect the changing roles of women in American society. Horror movies were no exception. In 1992, Carol J. Clover developed the concept of the “final girl” in her book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The “final girl” is a representation of virginal purity. Because she has not succumbed to the hedonism of her contemporaries, she is spared a gruesome death but not the trial of the slaughter, the trauma of the experience.
Typically, in these films, we find a perspective shift about half-way through. In Halloween, Micheal Meyers’ wholesale slaughter shifts to Laurie’s (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) experience of abject terror and supposed victory over her tormentor. In the final sequences of the film, Laurie literally penetrates Micheal with a knitting needle. This element of symbolism, the female instrument of hearth and home defending the virginal teen from the looming male threat is typical of many films of the time, and the “final girl” trope has since evolved.
Joss Whedon created an atypical “final girl” with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is, in most respects, the “anti-final girl”. Blonde, beautiful, and a bare-knuckle brawler, Buffy did not succumb to the terror of her forebears. She was self-composed, self-possessed, and inured to the violence of her task: to slay vampires. It was her destiny. Whedon did something similar in The Cabin in the Woods, calling out all of the slasher cliches by name and then creating something truly fun and fantastic. Yes, there is a final girl. But there is a final boy, one to which she is not romantically linked (so refreshing). And they, in the end, get a choice. They choose their own fate. It was a pretty fantastic moment in the history of the final girl.