chicks and chainsaws

Everyone loves a Final Girl, myself included.  I love when chicks survive whatever mindfucking series of violent punishments befall them in film. Revenge is a fatal dish best served with T and A, you know? There is something hella satisfying about a badass broad not only saving herself from what could have been a splatter-filled fate but also vanquishing the fuck out her tormentor(s). 

Officially recognized in the early 1990s, the Final Girl trope was coined by film critic Carol J. Clover, who posits that, “…during the final girl’s confrontation…she becomes masculinized through ‘phallic appropriation’ by taking up a weapon, such as a knife or chainsaw, against the killer.”  While that definition certainly offers some merit, especially when viewed as a cultural response to Second Wave feminism with which to analyze the iconic American slashers in the 70s and 80s, this facile explanation of hyper-situational penis envy does not hold up whatsoever when the Final Girl is considered in any other number of academically adjacent genres. 

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Take our Final Girl, Suzy, from Dario Argento’s 1975 supernatural Giallo masterpiece, Suspiria.  An American gal who is having a shitty time in Germany, Suzy has been gaslit about bats and phenobarbital and barbed wire by strange European ladies who run a storied dance school, and ends up relying on a single glass quill nicked from a decorative peacock as her pathetic weaponry to release the evil spirit of a Greek woman who is the vaguely corporeal leader of a coven of international witches.  Nary a phallic-inspired chainsaw is in sight for this peerless Final Girl.

Then we have our solo space ace Ellen Ripley, who, in Ridely Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic Alien, successfully evades the intergalactic predation of acid-blooded alien Xenomorph using her considerable wits, a perfectly placed airlock, and an orange tabby cat.  Her co-workers on this ship were not as lucky; alas, in this vision, corporately-programmed murderdroids and sullen interstellar janitors are both irksome obstacles to the group’s survival. Ridley’s ability to overpower her would-be killer is without any masculine vestiges whatsoever, and, let’s face it, she is at her girliest in that barely-there alien-ejecting pink pajama set.

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However, within this inspirational library of Final Girls, there is but one whose story of survival trumps them all, and that is our tight white bell-bottom wearing Texan heroine, Sally Hardesty.  Arguably the greatest horror film of all time, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Masscre is a masterpiece of feminist cinema, even if — or especially because — our Final Girl has no typical weaponry to defend herself at her disposal.  The knives in this narrative are viciously brandished by the men, and the titular chainsaw is brandished by a different kind of gender altogether.   

Sally’s story is some hardcore early American seventies despair. After accidentally falling in with a group of dudes who happen to be disenfranchised multi-generational cow-slaughtering southern cannibals, one of whom sports a series of facemasks made from what can only be presumed as former female victims, Sally is the only one left from her group of five, and by the time we join her for the film’s last half hour, things are not looking good.  A gruesome death from phallic stand-ins such as meathooks and power tools are real possibilities for our Sally, her tight white bellbottoms notwithstanding. 

However, it is only through a series of ferocious flailing, jumping out of any number of windows, and leaping into the back of a random flatbed truck, Sally GETS AWAY.  Her face and hair and body are doused in all sorts of blood, her eyes are aglow with the neon sheen of insanity, her ear-splitting screams of both terror and triumph are synonymous with the soul-shattering shrieks of a moor-wandering Banshee, and she is still wearing those tight bellbottoms, albeit now ruined with the crimson stick of dried hemoglobin…but she gets away.


She does so without anything resembling a warm gun, and that’s why this film’s Olympian status as one of the greatest feminist horror films of all time remains above reproach. 

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Thank you for reading the fouth entry of Cyberian Cinema, an ongoing blog series inspired by my intense love of three concepts as they are captured on film: 1) murder; 2) space; and 3) murder in space.

Stephanie Sack, AKA voluptuousrobot, identifies as a Cosmic Hostess, gothy AF, Chicago native, hot yoga junkie, UFO valet, film snob, and total weirdo.

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