The End of Your Trope: Three Gendered Horror Conventions and Ideas for Putting Them to Death

When MovieMaker first asked me to write a piece about female tropes in the movies, I misread the email and thought they wanted a travel piece about St. Tropez and the women I met there.

(I got halfway through writing it before I realized I have never been to St. Tropez.)

My new movie, The Final Girls, is a deconstruction of Carol Clover’s observations on the “final girl” convention, i.e. the last surviving female in a slasher film. I’ve always been attracted to stories that allow for a deconstruction of gender tropes, because that’s what I’ve experienced in real life. The women I know don’t fit the archetypes. My Jewish mother is loving, intellectual, goofy and tough; not a domineering shrew like Mary Tyler Moore in Flirting with Disaster or Mae Questel in Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks. My first girlfriend was a sort of manic pixie dream girl, I guess, but on Prozac, from South America and emotionally unavailable—not like Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, and every Zooey Deschanel character. My little sister is clever and hilarious in a way that doesn’t require being a klutz, like Bridget Jones or Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries. (Although she would constantly break wind. That is not yet a trope in film, but I’m working on it: The “Farting Sister.”)

In The Final Girls a group of modern kids who are sucked into the world of terrible ’80s summer camp horror movies. We tried very hard to find specific ways to create modern, charming, strong, funny women who could interact with classic ’80s horror movie clichés like The Slut (see: Jessica Harper in Suspiria or Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas) and The Virgin (Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween or Heather Langenkamp in Nightmare on Elm Street). In fact, one of the things that was so fun about working on the script was smashing modern women (and men) together with their two-dimensional, Bechdel test-failing counterparts. So much of the comedy of the film comes from finding clever modern reversals on tired tropes. For instance, instead of rewarding the virgin and punishing the slut, á la April Fool’s Day, Sleepaway Camp, Hostel and nine gazillion other films, our “slut” has a moment of self-aware redemption and becomes a hero.

When you’re working on a script, it’s always fun to find reversals like that. Here are my four favorite tired female horror tropes and some ways to flip them.

 The Invincible Badass: Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil, Sharni Vinson in You’re Next

Tough, hyper-confident, always beautiful, able to singlehandedly save the day whenever it needs saving. But wouldn’t it be a little more interesting if she were exhausted from all those guys constantly needing her to save them, and spent every night practicing Kundalini Yoga to cultivate compassion for the very same bad guys she destroys in the daytime?

The Bimbo: Paris Hilton in House of Wax, Drew Barrymore in Scream, Sarah Michelle Gellar in I Know What You Did Last Summer

Everybody’s seen the image: the bad guy chasing after a girl bouncing around in her bikini. Why not, right? I learned a lot about sexuality from Barbara Steele, Barbara Crampton and Adrienne Barbeau. But wouldn’t it be more interesting to see one of these women need to get a breast reduction, because it’s a real pain in the ass to run and sleep on her stomach?

The Ugly Duckling: Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Kristen Stewart in Twilight

You know, the character whom everyone overlooks, and, at the end of the movie, takes off her glasses and undoes her ponytail and gets (OK, or kills) the guy. But what if the guy she wanted worked at Warby Parker and was really into her glasses, and, when she took them off, just put a different pair on her (which, if she didn’t like, she could return within five business days).

And let’s not forget the biggest trope of them all: a white Jewish male writing about female tropes and how they make him feel.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson. Photograph by Hilary Gayle

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson. Photograph by Hilary Gayle

At the end of the day, it’s about making movies feel more like real life, deconstructing some of the antiquated ideas about how we interact, what we want and how we think of each other. You guys work on that. I’ll be here writing my franchise-starting opus about a farting sister who wants breast reduction, is dating a dude who works at Warby Parker, and is desperate for a community to help her save the city so she can have some time to relax and reflect in Kundalini Yoga. MM

The Final Girls opened in theaters on October 9, 2015, courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

1 Comment

  1. MoovieCow88

    October 16, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I noticed Scream’s final girl, Sidney Prescott, isn’t mentioned here. Would you consider the post-modern meta-context of Scream as a characterizing aspect, or is her character inherently more fleshed out due to this context? (You’re Next a close relative to this idea)

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