The “Final Girl” and Spectatorship (Carol Clover)

The “Final Girl” is a theme of horror films in which there is a single female protagonist left at the end who tells the story. The most well known examples of this genre are Halloween, Friday the 13th, Eyes of a Stranger, The Shining, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The term was coined by Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book,  Men, Women & Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. 

Clover points out that the “final girl” in theses films is generally depicted as wholesome and virginal, and serves as a contrast to the other male and female characters, who indulge in unsavory behaviors, like drugs and alcohol use and sexual activity. Clover also argues that despite age and gender, all types of audiences are able to identify with her. The “final girl” is also depicted as a helpless damsel in distress until the end of the film, when she shows “masculinity” by fighting back against the killer.

While most theorists label the horror film as a male-driven/male-centered genre, Clover points out that in most horror films, especially the slasher film, the audience, male and female, is structurally ‘forced’ to identify with the resourceful young female (the Final Girl) who survives the serial attacker and usually ends the threat (until the sequel anyway). So while the narratively dominant killer’s subjective point of view may be male within the narrative, the male viewer is still rooting for the Final Girl to overcome the killer.

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