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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Vault of Horror & Day of the Woman Present: The Top 10 Penultimate Girls!

Ever since Carol J. Clover published her treatise Men, Women & Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film some 18 years ago, the term "final girl" has been one of the most universally recognized tropes in the entire horror genre (hell, we hear there's even a blog named for it!) We're all well-acquainted with the concept of the virtuous, resourceful female survivor who outlives all of her friends, and somehow finds the strength within herself to face off with and overcome the slasher/monster in the end. In other words, nice girls die last (or usually don't at all.)

But you know who everyone has completely forgotten thanks to the rise of this pop culture film studies phenomenon? Those poor girls who almost made it. The girls who gave it everything they had and came up just short. The also-rans who perhaps just weren't resourceful or virtuous enough, and met their grisly end just before the final girl made her stand. That's right, we're talking about the penultimate girls.

To help chronicle the exploits of these misunderstood and forgotten females, I've turned to the mistress of Day of the Woman herself, Ms. BJ-C, and together we've put together a very special edition of the "Tuesday Top 10". We hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, we bring to you, the girls without whom the final girls couldn't be final: The Penultimate Girls...

10. Tina Gray
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
In the tradition of Psycho, Tina is a female character killed off just as the audience is getting to know her. However, her death plays a vital role in the film, and in fact she is the only girl who bites the dust in NOES. She might not be on screen long enough for us to love her, but watching her body bag slide through the school hallways makes it impossible for us to forget her.

9. Chris Hargensen
Carrie (1976)

There are always those characters in horror films that you just cannot wait to see die off. Chris was by far the most easily hated character in the entire film, and yet she lasts longer than everyone in her high school but Amy Irving. She isn't a best friend, or a good person, but she's a character we all love to despise, and seeing her reach her demise is one of the best moments of the film.

8. Tatum
Scream (1996)
Tatum's death was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire Scream series. Mostly because it's Rose McGowan and she's a total fox. The typical "average girl" of the party crashes into Ghostface and goes through one of the most memorable death scenes in the movie. "Oh no, Mr. Ghostface, I want to be in the sequel!" I guess the moral of the story is don't get beer in the garage alone?

7. Lambert
Alien (1979)
If Ripley represented a strong female lead who broke the stereotype for women in horror films and stood her ground against the monster, than Lambert was th total opposite, fulfilling every stereotype of the hysterical, helpless woman who falls apart when the stuff hits the fan. She quickly becomes a total liability to the rest of the crew, and does nothing but weep and shiver before being gutted (and most likely raped) by ol' phallus-head.

6. Pam
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The subject of one of the most masterful camera shots in horror film history, poor Pam (Teri McMinn) wanders from her safe tree swing into Leatherface's domain, only to become the first on-screen victim of cinema's favorite cannibal family. Pam's fate is far from pretty, as she's hoisted on that meat hook, and subsequently stuffed inside a refrigerator. But seeing what Sally goes through after her, we wonder if maybe Pam was the one who got off easy.

5. Brenda
Friday the 13th (1980)
All Brenda wanted to do was play a friendly game of strip Monopoly, drink some beer and smoke some weed. Little did she know she was about to become Pamela Voorhees' last victim. After braving the rain to go check on some weird noises outside, she finds herself on the business end of an archery range, and the next thing you know, her lifeless corpse is being tossed through the window of Alice's cabin as a prelude to Ms. Voorhees' be-sweatered entrance.

4. Helen Shivers
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
While portraying the "harder" version of Jennifer Love Hewitt, SMG has a way of making us all adore her character, and we even feel for her when she wakes up with her beautiful hair chopped to bits. She's one of the girls it hurts to see go and sadly, we can predict her death easily once JLH is shown to be the main character.

3. Sara
Suspiria (1977)
In grand penultimate girl tradition, Sara is a friend and confidante of the final girl--in this case, Jessica Harper's Suzy Banyon. Poor Sara gets oh-so-close to figuring out just what the hell is going on, before falling victim to one of the bleakest on-screen deaths in movie history. Stalked by our faceless killer, she is driven into a room filled with razor wire, where she fillets herself amidst the metallic vines.

2. Annie Brackett
Halloween (1978)
A best friend is someone who is willing to skip out on Halloween festivities in order to babysit with you. A best friend is also someone who is willing to let you take both the kids while she goes to wang her boyfriend. Laurie Strode is the best friend anyone could have, and Annie Brackett was lucky enough to have her. In both the original film as well as Rob Zombie's, Annie is portrayed as both a character you can't get enough of, and a character you hate to see killed off.

1. Marion Crane
Psycho (1960)
Without a doubt, the most iconic of all penultimate girls. Perhaps this is because her entire existence as a movie character hinges on the fact that she defies expectations by not living to the end of the picture, and in fact being killed off midway through in legitimately shocking fashion. By all the rules of film narrative, it should've been Janet Leigh's character who made it to the end, not her far less interesting sister. Yet the story messes with our heads, and becomes completely unforgettable in the process.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thanks for joining BJ-C and myself for this little homage to some of horror's most under-recognized characters. They may not have made it to the end, but they came so close, and they deserve our respect, damn it.

11 comments:

B-Movie Becky said...

I wasn't expecting to see Marion Crane on the list, but she is definitely the ultimate penultimate! Haha. Great list guys. Definitely with ya on Tatum and Annie too. :(

Autumnforest said...

Great choices! I'd want to put Liv Tyler's character in "The Strangers." It sucked when she bit it.

The Mike said...

Yeah, this is a pretty great listing. Good job you two!

B-Sol said...

Thanks all! It's been a while, wouldn't want anyone to think we were slipping...

Liv in The Strangers was a heartbreaker, but she can't really be considered a penultimate girl, since that movie had no surviving final girl.

Rob said...

Awesome choices, and it's about time "Penultimate Girl" gets the respect and attention she DESERVES! My three favorites are Annie Brackett, Helen Shivers (I LOVE that she goes out fighting, kicking and punching that fucker-way to go, SMG!) but maybe most of all Brenda. She may have loved her beer and her weed (and who doesn't?) but she heard a kid crying out in the rain, and went out to help, and that's what she gets??? On the other hand, I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a character die as when Chris Hargensen does...

Planet of Terror said...

Excellent list. The character of Barb (Margot Kidder) from Black Christmas would get my vote. The comedic relief in the film, she would have survived if she wasn't hammered 99.9% of the time.

Wings said...

Great list & great idea! Nurse Jill from Halloween 2 would be a great addition. As would Rachel, who actually survives Halloween 4 to bite it in 5!

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

The only one I'm not digging, really, is Chris Hargensen. She just doesn't seem to fit the mold. Maybe it's that the rest seem like slashers, and Carrie isn't really a slasher. However, everything you have to *say* about Chris is spot on. Oh, how I love to watch that evil asshole die.

Also, in TCM, Pam isn't really the first on-screen victim, right? I mean, we see Kirk get the head injury first, right? (B-t-dubbs, I think that is totally one of the scariest moments in horror history, and it still almost makes me pee my pants even though I have seen it more than twenty times.)

I'm just sayin'.

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

Are "Final Girls" tropes or just another horror film cliché?

le0pard13 said...

Great post, B-Sol.

B-Sol said...

Missy, I know what you mean about Chris Hargensen. Carrie is not a slasher, and doesnt follow the same kind of template, but Amy Irving is something of a "final girl", having survived basically her entire school. And Chris, I suppose just happened to be the last girl Carrie kills. So it kinda works......:-) And good catch on Pam from TCM, you're right, I need to change that right now!

Brian: I'd say they're probably a bit of both.

Thanks for the praise, everyone. And thanks especially to BJ-C for being my partner in crime on this one!

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