Blood, guts and feminism – reclaiming the horror genre for the girls who survive at the end
The Final Girls is a new London-based film club exploring feminist themes in horror and genre films. We chatted with the two sensational ladies behind the series, Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe, bonding over a love of gross movies and kick-ass leading women…
Hello both, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Exactly what is a ‘Final Girl’?
The ‘final girl’ is a horror-film trope, mostly associated with slasher films from the ’70s and ’80s. The term ‘Final Girl’ refers to the last woman alive to confront the killer at the end of the film. Essentially, the one left to tell the story.
We want to explore the representation of women in horror, both in front of and behind the camera, through a series of screening events and informal discussions. It’s a subject matter that we feel needs to be explored further – and we want others to part of that discussion. We also wanted to, in a way, “reclaim” the horror genre. There is a sense that these types of films, the darker, bloodier films, are only meant for a male audience. And we’re here to prove that it isn’t so.
How did you meet?
We both work in film, met about two years ago, and since then have spent countless hours sharing, discussing and marathoning horror films. We both have a strong interest in the onscreen representation of women [Anna will be producing this year’s Underwire Film Festival], so the idea seemed to flow naturally from our conversations. In fact, we planned out the concept and first event through a WhatsApp conversation!
Female horror film directors – like Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), St Vincent (XX), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) – are really owning this space right now. Why do you think this is?
There’s always been female horror and genre directors – but because there’s a bigger conversation about gender equality and representation in film happening now, people are paying more attention. Horror film has always had a strong female following and we think the upsurge of female filmmakers is reflective of this – women want to create characters in a genre they love from a perspective they can relate to.
Can you tell us a bit more about the way feminism and horror intersects on screen?
Undeniably, there is a negative image in the portrayal of women which is hard to avoid when talking about horror films from a feminist perspective. This is something we want to explore throughout our screening series. While it may not be unheard of for women to be playing the victim in the genre, there have also been countless strong and victorious women in horror history, as well as fascinating and vicious villains.
The term the ‘Final Girl’ in itself is a reminder that as a (diverse) audience, we are encouraged to identify with the survivor, rather than the killer - that is, the strong women who survive the bloodshed.
How do blood and gore fit in with feminism?
It depends on the film and characters, but there are some obvious examples that spring to mind. For example, Brian De Palma’s CARRIE uses a lot imagery of blood and menstruation throughout the film. Carrie’s discovery of her power coincides with her physical adulthood, and is the beginning of her use of her telekinetic powers – her powers are a symbol of her sexuality. Stephen King himself wrote: “Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.”
How and why is it important is it for strong women to be portrayed on screen?
It’s important to have a diverse range of roles for women on-screen. While roles for women in horror aren’t always a strong female character, it can be a genre that opens up a breadth of roles and character-traits for women that other genres cannot; in horror, women get to be the characters who fight back (or sometimes, even be the monster).
What are your favourite feminist horror flicks and final girls?
The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent, is a fantastic Australian horror film that came out last year. It’s truly creepy, and explores themes of loss and motherhood through a genre prism. We can’t wait to see what Jennifer does next with The Nightingale.
The Craft is pretty much a staple: weird girls bond together around their unconventional interests to form a powerful coven? Yes, please.
Slumber Party Massacre, one of the first openly feminist slasher films to challenge the male gaze, definitely needs to be on the list. Originally intended as a parody of traditional slashers, it is an experiment in how strong the feminist gaze can remain even in the framework of a slasher film. And it asks the audience to challenge what the male gaze can do to the casual horror-viewer’s perception of women.
We also can’t wait to see Under the Shadow, the debut feature from Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari, which premiered at Sundance. It has been described to have a ‘bracingly feminist tone’ – we can’t wait to find out more. And we have our eye on Always Shine, a psychological thriller directed by Sophia Takal, which premiered at Tribeca this year.
We don’t want to give away too many of our programming ideas but we hope to show you some more of our favourites over the course of the next few months, with bring to the forefront women both in front and behind the camera.
If we want to support you moving forward how can we do that?
Come to our screenings and spread the word! We’ve got a lot of events in the pipeline, so follow us on social media and stay tuned for announcements.
If you’re in London, you can catch Trouble Every Day presented by The Final Girls at the Prince Charles Theatre, Leicester Square, this Friday 13 May. Click here for more information.