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Credit: New Line Cinema

Justice for the Final Girl’s BFF

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Feb 20, 2020

Slasher movies come with certain expectations regarding who will survive the bloodbath. Just as a rom-com has a certain formula for the order of events (meet-cute, break-up, grand gesture), the narrative structure of horror often determines the fate of the main players. Audiences will instantly recognize which characters will be unlucky; any kind of indiscretion, whether it is booze, drugs, or sex is a big red flag. If the boyfriend is terrible, there is a high chance he is the killer (Scream). A sweet-natured significant other will probably end up splattered all over his bedroom (A Nightmare on Elm Street). But if there is one position that is far more perilous than the love interest, it's the Final Girl’s best friend.

By now, the Final Girl archetype has been much discussed, but for anyone who needs a quick refresher: Carol J. Clover coined this term in her groundbreaking 1992 text, Men, Women, and Chain Saws. The Final Girl defies death, vanquishing the killer through her instincts and ingenuity. She is instantly recognizable by her girl-next-door vibe, whereas her bestie will be more outgoing in every way. The latter is why she ends up dead. 

Credit: Lionsgate 

Over the last 40-plus years, the Final Girl’s BFF has ended up with the short end of the stick — or, sometimes, on the long end of a spike. However, now it is time to celebrate the women who died far too young because of their proximity to the Final Girl. While this particular journey still plays out in an often obvious fashion, recently there has been a slight change to the old formula. 

One of the defining characters of this trope is Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her two best friends also play an important role in illustrating what will get you killed in a slasher. Unlike Laurie, who instinctively notices a presence following them during the daytime, Annie (Nancy Keyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are blissfully unaware of the monster stalking them. They dismiss her concerns because they don’t possess the same life-saving, intuitive sense of danger. On their walk home from school, Michael Myers (Nick Castle) makes his presence known, but only Laurie sees him for what he is. Annie has the bad misfortune of looking in her purse at the moment Michael steps out from behind the bush, which Laurie correctly deduces is the guy who has also been following them in Dr. Loomis’ (Donald Pleasence) stolen car. Meanwhile, Annie yells insults at the jerk behind the wheel before stepping up to confront the figure behind the hedge.

Credit: Lionsgate

By the time Annie looks behind the perfectly manicured foliage, of course, he is gone. Annie is fearless, but she lacks caution. Her dad is the sheriff and she doesn’t even think he can smell the pot she was smoking in her car — a joint that Laurie partakes of in proving some people can do drugs and survive. “You know, Annie, someday you’re going to get us all into deep trouble,” Laurie tells her best friend. It isn’t Annie’s fault that Michael takes his murderous impulses out on babysitters; however, this underscores the difference between the friends.

On this short walk home, the audience is told everything we need to know about the dynamic among the three friends. Laurie, stacked with textbooks, is the sensible one, fretting over the biology book she left at school. Unlike her friends, she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but not because she doesn't want one. She mentions that boys think she is too smart, and Annie jokes that is for another reason: “I think you’re wacko, now you’re seeing men behind bushes.” If only she paid more attention to the real danger lingering.

Credit: Lionsgate 

Lynda’s concerns don’t include studying, her thoughts are preoccupied with cheer routines and hooking up with her boyfriend. Annie is also distracted by her own relationship drama —her bonehead beau got himself grounded. Sure, Laurie is a massive nerd, but the dynamic here is pretty representative of adolescent friendships in that we don’t just hang out with people who are exactly like us. Writer and producer Debra Hill’s influence is evident here, because this feels like a conversation between actual teenage girls — something that is often lacking in horror dialogue.

Unfortunately for Annie and Lynda, they are punished for breaking the rules. Annie takes Lindsay Wallace — the kid she is babysitting — to be looked after by sensible Laurie, so she can go meet her boyfriend. She never makes it, though, as Michael is hiding in the back of her car, which also plays into the urban legend of checking who might be lurking in your back seat. Meanwhile, Lynda and Bob (John Michael Graham) are next on the chopping block, which again reads like the ultimate cautionary tale for daring to be young and horny.

It Follows is a whole movie about being stalked by death after having sex, which is a fun twist on the promiscuity-equals-death trope, but it took an abundance of slashers to get to this point. Before this, the absence of parents led to sleepovers with boyfriends who are often the absolute worst. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tina (Amanda Wyss) invites Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her super-sweet boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) for a midweek sleepover after the troubling dream she had the night before. Her terrible boyfriend gatecrashes, which leads to makeup sex followed by Tina’s brutal murder by a seemingly invisible assailant. 

Credit: Miramax 

Perhaps the best best friend of all the Final Girls is Tatum (Rose McGowan) from meta-horror Scream. Tatum is Sidney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) fiercest protector and confidante, providing her a safe place to stay while all of the stabbing shenanigans are going down. Little did she know that the guy she was dating was also one half of the Ghostface killer double act. When she goes off by herself to get more beer, she effectively signs her own death warrant. Tatum puts up a fight, launching the booze she has been sent to get like grenades, and while the dog flap escape was the best she could do in a bad situation, it was also her downfall. Tatum and the excellent outfit she is wearing deserve better (a Final Girl's best friend often gets to embrace more out-there fashion than her sensible companion). 

Being Sidney's college roommate should come with a hazard warning, but sadly for Hallie (Elise Neal), she did not get the memo in Scream 2. And just as Tatum bit the dust, so does Hallie, after escaping a car driven by the dude she was flirting with earlier in the film. Much like Tatum, Hallie accidentally favors a guy with a penchant for murder. By the third movie, Sidney is living out in the sticks with no one for company but her dog and the ghost of her mother for company. She has concluded that anyone on her BFF list ends up dead. It sure does feel like a cursed position to hold.    

As Buffy Summers, Sarah Michelle Gellar ticks some Final Girl boxes, but in '90s slashers, she is the ultimate bestie who meets a grisly end and a first act death cameo. In Scream 2, her name is the cause of her demise (well, the stabbing followed by the fall actually kills her), but in I Know What You Did Last Summer she is a central player. Helen Shivers is beautiful and popular, has a hot boyfriend, and wins the 1996 Croaker Queen Pageant. Her best friend is the sensible Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and, well ... you know where this is going. First, the killer cuts off her hair — her new bob is far funkier, he did her a favor — and then he stalks her on the night she hands her crown off to the new Queen. Helen nearly gets away from fisherman Ben Willis (Muse Watson) after escaping him among the mannequins in her father's store and getting trapped in the back of a cop car. Her downfall? Pausing in the alleyway instead of running to the safety that is mere feet away. Buffy would never. 

In the sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Julie's college roommate Karla (Brandy) does the unthinkable and survives the murder holiday they get invited on. A true horror best friend miracle!

Credit: Universal

Recent takes on slashers have either leaned into this concept (including Cabin Fever killing Jules after pheromones have been released to up the horny levels) or subverted it. In the recent version of Black Christmas, friendship can't save everyone, but there is a welcome element of multiple Final Girls banding together to defeat the villains. It makes a refreshing change that it is no longer just one woman standing at the very end. More of this, please!

Slasher movies require a body count, and the best friend is a natural choice to meet their maker. Typically this doesn't happen until after the audience has warmed to this character, which makes her death more impactful. The stakes are raised, and this is meant to hurt both us and the Final Girl. However, she should be more than just a sidekick to be used as a pawn for pain. And in any other genre, she would end the movie with the guy and her guts still intact. But this is horror, and "best friends forever" is a sentiment impossible to fulfill.

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