Morbidly Beautiful

Your Home for Horror

Posts

These ten forgotten final girls deserve to stand next to genre giants like Laurie and Sidney, bringing depth and dynamism to their films.

No time to read? Click the button below to listen to this post.

The final girl is a trope we all recognize in horror films where a woman is the last person alive to confront the villain within the movie. Of course, we can all name several beloved final girls who always remain at the forefront of our collective conscience, such as Laurie Strode, Ellen Ripley, Nancy Thompson, and Sidney Prescott.

But what about the many final girls we have forgotten about or those who don’t get enough credit? So many amazing women in horror have stood toe-to-toe with the biggest of the bads and lived to fight another day. They deserve our love and appreciation, so I wanted to take a moment to honor the unsung or less heralded heroines of horror.

Without further adieu, here are my top ten forgotten final girls, in no particular order. Let me know in the comments what you think of my picks and who would have made your list. Fair warning, there are some spoilers ahead.

1. Beth, Hostel: Part II (2007)

Hostel: Part II is a retelling of the first film that puts women in the crosshairs of sadistic predators rather than men. In the sequel, set directly after the events of the first film, three American art students — Beth, Whitney, and Lorna (Lauren German, Bijou Phillips, and Heather Matarazzo, respectively) visiting Rome are kidnapped and taken to a facility in which rich clients pay to torture and kill other people.

What works best about this sequel, written and directed by Eli Roth, is its stellar final girl, Beth (German). I love how she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. When she gets captured, she plays by the rules of her captors and uses her cunning to stay alive, seducing and then overpowering her attacker. When she tries to buy her freedom, she learns that this elite society has no desire for more money; what they crave is bloodshed. Discovering that this pay-to-murder group demands a sacrifice, she doesn’t hesitate to take brutal action.

Although it’s really only remembered for its gore and infamous “torture porn” nastiness, Hostel: Part II offers an interesting take on the final girl trope and gives us an unflinching protagonist that will do anything to survive and take her revenge.

2. Reiko, Ringu (1998)

Ringu (The Ring) is a 1998 Japanese supernatural psychological horror film directed by Hideo Nakata, based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki. It follows a reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), who is racing to investigate the mystery behind a cursed videotape. Whoever watches the tape dies seven days after doing so. It begins with a couple of high school girls at a sleepover discussing an urban legend about the videotape. One of the girls confesses she herself watched the tape, seven days ago, and she is soon murdered by an unseen presence.

Reiko is the girl’s aunt. She makes it her mission to uncover the mystery of what happened to her niece and others like her. After watching the tape, Reiko becomes convinced that she’s also been cursed and brings the tape home with her to investigate. After she finds her young son watching the tape, she becomes frantic to solve the mystery and break the curse before the tape’s vengeful spirit claims both their lives. After methodically putting together all the pieces of the puzzle, she discovers the only real way to break the curse is to pass it on to someone else.

In an act of desperation and devotion to her son, she makes the decision to copy the tape and share it with someone she knows will become the next victim of the evil spirit, Sadako. In so doing, she makes a smart but selfish decision and becomes a willing accomplice to Sadako.

This is another flawed but compelling final girl who, like Beth in Hostel: Part II, has to do terrible things to survive. Because of the massive popularity of the 2002 American remake (The Ring), which had Naomi Watts playing journalist Rachel Keller, people forget about how great a character the original Reiko was.

3. Karen, The Grudge (2004)

We just talked about a fantastic J-horror film that inspired a hugely successful American remake. This time, we’re talking about an American remake of another great Japanese horror film.

After the success of The Ring (2002), Sony Pictures green-lit an American remake of Ju-On: The Grudge. Takashi Shimizu, the writer and director of the original film, was hired to direct the film from a screenplay written by Stephen Susco.

The Grudge explores a curse that is born when someone dies in extreme rage or sorrow and lingers where the person dies. Those who encounter it will die, and the curse is reborn repeatedly, passing from victim to victim in an endless, growing chain of horror. Horror icon Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen Davis, an American exchange student living in Japan and working her way through school as a care worker. She is sent to the home of an elderly woman, a home consumed by the curse. Karen begins to be haunted by a vengeful spirit.

Gellar is horror royalty and a beloved scream queen, having first won over hearts in her star-making turn as Buffy Summers in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

Sadly, while she made a big impact in a couple of 1997 horror films, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2, she was tragically denied the chance to earn her final girl status. Thankfully, in 2004’s The Grudge, she manages to survive the events of the film to come out victorious (at least for a while), becoming the kickass final girl she was always meant to play.

4. Cecilia, The Invisible Man (2020)

THE INVISIBLE MAN FINAL GIRL

The Invisible Man is a 2020 science fiction horror film written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw). It is based on H. G. Wells’ novel of the same name, a reboot of the 1933 film of the same name, and the eighth installment in The Invisible Man franchise. With such a long history, it’s perhaps surprising that the film managed to set itself apart from its predecessors and defy the odds to reignite Universal’s Dark Universe — a film franchise many believed to be dead and buried.

The well-received film stars Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia, a woman who believes she is being stalked and gaslit by her deceased ex-boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) after he acquires the ability to become invisible.

A shining example of the ultimate modern final girl, she is run through the wringer and suffers considerable loss and emotional anguish throughout the film. Driven to a breakdown by the torment inflicted upon her by her manipulative, narcissistic, unconscionably evil ex, she struggles to get anyone to believe her and faces the loss of loved ones who are either killed or who turn against her. Towards the end, the audience believes all hope is lost. But Cecilia proves just how strong she really is, defeating the villain and surviving her harrowing ordeal.

I never see Cecilia getting her due as the relatable, exceptionally written final girl she is, and I hope more horror fans will start celebrating her well-deserved entry into the Final Girl Hall of Fame.

5. Taylor, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2020)

Behind the Mask Final Girl

A brilliantly executed simultaneous subversion and embrace of slasher horror tropes, not enough people seem to talk about the outstanding horror comedy/mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

The film follows a documentary crew — investigative journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her two cameramen, Doug and Todd. The killers depicted in famous slasher films, such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, are real-life historical figures in the film’s universe. Taylor and her team follow an aspiring killer named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) as he prepares for the fateful night when he will secure his place in notorious slasher villain history.

Leslie claims he is a boy from a local urban legend who became possessed and killed his family before being killed by the townsfolk, except that he actually survived the attack. He walks Taylor and her crew through his plans: to orchestrate a killing spree at his alleged family farm in the woods, slaughtering teens while facing off against his chosen virginal survivor girl.

In a satisfying twist, Taylor moves from an impartial observer to an active participant in Leslie’s twisted plans, ultimately becoming the real final girl of the film.

At this point, this witty and endearing satire becomes a genuinely intense and thriller slasher film, with Taylor forced to confront, with admirable ferocity, this Jason Voorhees mega fan hellbent on etching his name into horror history.

6. Amber, Green Room (2020)

Despite boasting a memorable cast and a truly nail-biting plot, the excellent Green Room always seems to fly under the radar. The film, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, follows a struggling punk band called Ain’t Rights that is terrorized by a sadistic group of neo-Nazis following a gig at a seedy venue that happens to be a skinhead bar (unbeknownst to them).

After metamorphically giving the middle finger to the crowd by opening with an anti-Nazi song, bassist Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve his phone. There, he stumbles upon the recent murder of a woman named Emily. Attempting to flee the scene, Pat is caught and thrown back into the green room with the rest of the band — Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) — as well as Emily’s friend, Amber (Imogen Poots).

Skinhead leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) orders the execution of all the witnesses. An epic battle ensues, with Amber and the bandmates furiously fighting for their lives against the ensuing attack. While most of the band members fall into the hands of the skinhead gang, Pat and Amber manage to make it out alive.

Amber stomps on the typical final girl trope. She’s quite the opposite of innocent and isn’t afraid to fight back in gruesome and lethal ways. Despite the sheer terror she faces, she remains calm and collected, making it impossible not to root for her as she takes down her fiendish attackers one by one.

The film topped many critics’ lists as one of the best films of 2016 and received a 2017 Empire Award nomination for Best Horror. However, it failed to gain traction with audiences, grossing just $3 million against a budget of $5 million. That’s a travesty, considering how gripping and memorable this film is.

7. Noriko, Battle Royal (2000)

One of the most chilling films to come out of Japan, Battle Royale (directed by Kinji Fukasaku and written by his son Kenta Fukasaku), was based on the controversial 1999 novel by Koushun Takami.

It follows a group of junior high school students forced to fight to the death by the Japanese totalitarian government. The film drew controversy and was banned or excluded from distribution in several countries. Japanse production company Toei Company refused to sell the film to United States distributors for over a decade due to concerns about potential controversy and lawsuits. Eventually, however, Anchor Bay Films acquired the film in 2010 for direct-to-video U.S. release.

The shockingly violent film, made even more disturbing by the tender age of its characters, was the highest-grossing Japanese-language film for six weeks after its initial release. It also earned critical acclaim and drew a large global cult following, including the United States, once it finally made its way overseas. Widely considered a masterpiece of genre filmmaking, it went on to have a huge influence on Western pop culture. In 2009, Quentin Tarantino praised the film as his favorite of the past two decades.

It’s difficult not to see the influence of Battle Royale in later American releases like Hunger Games.

Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda)