The Final Girl

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One of the more important, if not groundbreaking, accounts/recuperations of the horror film from a feminist perspective is Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaw. One of the book's major points concerns the structural positioning of what she calls the Final Girl in relation to spectatorship. 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. We can see this operating archetypically in Halloween (Jamie Lee Curtis, 1978), Friday the 13th (Betsy Palmer, 1980), Eyes of a Stranger (Jennifer Jason Leigh, 1981), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (Heather Langenkamp, 1984).

One of the book's central strengths is the direct simplicity of its central premise: taking the classic Laura Mulvey male-centered identification process of sadistic-voyeur and flipping it around to a masochistic-voyeur (by having the identification process shift to the usually female victim/Final Girl). Vis-à-vis the Mulvian argument against male-driven cinematic pleasure, Clover does for the horror film what Gaylyn Studlar did for the Sternberg-Dietrich films: swapping the Post-Oedipal, male voyeuristic-sadistic impulse for a more feminine, Pre-Oedipal masochistic impulse. In psychoanalytical terms, sadism is post-Oedipal, meaning that it takes shape when identification shifts from the mother to the father. Masochism, deriving pleasure from one's own pain or submission, is pre-Oedipal and takes place when the mother is all powerful and is the source of the child's identification (from the womb to the breast). In the...
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