31 Days of Horror Day 27: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

TCM - Poster

There are many things to talk about when we talk about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Many fixate on Leatherface, and rightly so.  He’s one of the most recognizable slashers in horror cinema, but also the one that evokes the most empathy.  How can you hate a man who obviously has mental issues?  He is clearly not in control of his actions.  He’s basically the attack dog for his vindictive father, and that’s a very sad existence.

TCM - Leatherface

We could talk about the brutal nature of the movie.  It’s one that still manages to make me uncomfortable every time I watch it.  It feels real.  It’s a nasty movie, and that nastiness never feels dated.

TCM - Sally 2

But, when I talk about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I focus on one thing: the superb acting by the late Marilyn Burns.  Simply put, it’s one of the finest performances in the history of horror films.  Her scene at the dinner table is absolutely stunning, but her performance all the way through is incredible.
Because of this (and because of what her character went through), Sally Hardesty is rightfully considered to be one of the all-time best final girls.

TCM - Sally

This is a movie that still has the ability to shatter your nerves.  For a film that’s 40 years old, that’s a major accomplishment.    Throw this movie on.  Let’s get uncomfortable.

TCM - Sally 1

I’ve written a bit about this movie and the death of Marilyn Burns in this piece.  While you’re at it, make sure you read the interview LC Fremont did with Marilyn here.

My Favorite Final Girls

In honor of Women of Horror Week, I thought I would put together a list of my top five favorite final girls.  It was a fun list to put together.  It was also nearly impossible to cap the list at five.

With that in mind, I give you Dusty’s Five Favorite Final Girls, With Four Extra.
(It should be said that, due to the nature of this post, there will be spoilers for each one of these.  So, if you haven’t seen the movie in question, just skip to the next one.)

 Nancy Thompson

1. Nancy Thompson [A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 & 3]
(It’s worth noting that Heather Langenkamp – the actress who played Nancy – defeated Freddy in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare)

I wrestled long and hard over who should get the top spot.  In the end, it was Nancy by a very small margin.  She watched her friends die.  She was haunted by the bloody corpse of her best friend.  She was called crazy and locked in her room with barred up windows and forced to watch her boyfriend explode into a geyser of blood.  And still, depressed and sleep-deprived though she was, she was still able to figure out a way to drag a man who haunts dreams into the real world and defeat him (no easy feat, when that man has a glove of knives).

After that, she taught a group of ragtag crazies how to defeat the monster in his own world of dreams (pretty amazing, considering some of the powers these kids brought with them into their dreams were things like, “talking” or “just being kinda strong”).

And then, of course, Heather Langenkamp had to defeat a demon who had taken the form of Freddy in her own life.

Nancy Thompson 2

She fought Freddy Kruger – child-killing, dream-hunting Freddy – three times.  Sure, she only survived twice, but the lessons she taught those kids allowed them to live, and pass those lessons on to others.  Were it not for Nancy, there would be no Alice, and that would be a real shame.

Laurie Strode

2. Laurie Strode [Halloween 1, 2 & H20]
(I’m purposefully leaving out her brief cameo at the beginning of Halloween: Resurrection, because I’m trying desperately to purge that movie from my memory)

A bookish babysitter who endured the deaths of her best friends.  She ran and stabbed and put the safety of the children in her care above herself.  In the end, she defeated the bogeyman.
Well…kind of.
He showed up again and terrorized the hospital she was staying in after the events of the first film.  And she defeated him again.
Well…kind of.
She faked her own death, changed her name, started a family, and became the dean of a prestigious private school.  When Michael finally tracked her (and her son) down, she defeated him again.
(Like I mentioned above, I’m trying to forget about Halloween: Resurrection, so I’m choosing to believe she beheaded the real Michael Myers at the end of H20.)

Laurie is smart, kind, strong, and cares more about the welfare of those around her than herself.  Forget Final Girls: she’s one of the all-time great people in history.

Taylor Gentry 1

3. Taylor Gentry [Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon]
(It’s worth noting that this is one of my favorite horror movies of the last 10 years, and yet I rarely hear it mentioned.  Sad.  If you haven’t seen this, please do so immediately.)

Leslie played a nasty little psychological game with Taylor throughout this film.  In the first hour, he walks her through the steps he will take to kill a house full of teenagers.  Then, in the last half hour, she realizes that he was never scouting the teenagers for a final girl: he was scouting her.  And now she must survive this gauntlet of horror that she knows is coming, yet without a clear plan as to how to defeat him.  And then, if she does survive, she knows that she will have to kill Leslie; who, while still a murderer, is a guy who she has gotten to know pretty well over the past couple days.

None of that is easy.  (You ever try to crush a man’s head with an apple press?  Harder than you might think.)  And yet she pulls it off like a champ.

Ellen Ripley

4. Ellen Ripley [Alien 1-4]

She fought aliens, rogue androids, and corporation stooges, and she won.  She saved the life of a cat and an orphaned, possibly feral child.  She was able to overcome her (completely rational) fear of androids and was able to befriend a couple of them.  She was frozen in time and set hundreds of alien eggs on fire in front of their mother (you know what they say about getting between a mother bear and her cub?  It’s much worse with an alien queen and her eggs).  She even killed her very own alien baby for the sake of her crew. You know what kind of woman can do those things?  The best kind.

Ginny Field

5. Ginny Field [Friday the 13th Part 2]

The first girl to battle the mighty Jason Voorhees and survive.  She donned a death-scented sweater, stared Jason directly in the eyes and convinced him and she was his mother.  It doesn’t work for long, but it works for long enough for her to bury a machete pretty deep into his shoulder.

Since we never see her in another movie, I like to think that she adopted a child, named him Jason, and raised him to be the exact opposite of a vengeful killer.

Bonus Final Girls!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986)

6. Vanita “Stretch” Brock [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2]

Do you have any idea how hard it is to kill a member of the Sawyer clan?  Ridiculously hard.  I’m pretty sure the grandfather was 300 years old, and yet he was still trying to hammer-murder whenever he got a chance (sort of).  The only member we see die in the original was known only as “Hitchhiker”, and he was run over by a semi truck.  It’s pretty hard to recreate that scenario.

And yet, Stretch killed Chop Top using nothing but her wits.  And a chainsaw.  And a mountain.  Still, a kill is a kill.  Anyone who taunts a recently dead Sawyer by holding a chainsaw above their head and rocking the Leatherface Two-Step belongs on this list.


7. Sidney Prescott [Scream 1-4]

Sidney survived Ghostface on four separate occasions (which involved seven different killers).  Sure, she was aided by a set of rules not many victims are afforded, but no one else on this list even came close to besting a series of psycho killers four times throughout the course of their lives.  She also had to deal with a suffocating media that no one else on this list had to endure.  And yet, she just keeps fighting.  If Scream 5 ever happens, I would not bet against Sidney.  At some point, don’t we have to start feeling bad that Ghostface never wins?  (No.  No we do not.)

(Completely unrelated to anything having to do with Sidney, but have you guys listened to that new Ghostface Killah album?  Stunning.)

Lisa Webber 2

8. Lisa Webber [A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge]

She stuck by her pseudo-boyfriend through his disturbing dance moves (I actually think “disturbing dance moves” was the reason Jimmy and BJ Betty broke up), crippling nightmares, chronic flopsweat, snake-tongue, and various homoerotic adventures.  In the end, she saved his life by kissing a horribly burned child-killer as he tried to cut her.  That’s love.  That’s bravery.  And that’s the mark of a true final girl.


9. Dana [The Cabin in the Woods]

She survived (with the help of her stoner buddy) a zombie redneck murder family, let loose a horde of nightmarish monsters on the corporation that (prematurely) celebrated her demise, got attacked by a werewolf, and still had the presence of mind to make a decision about whether or not the world ends or not.  Whether or not you agree with her decision is irrelevant.  It takes an amazing amount of strength to pull all of that off.

Hope you enjoyed this.  I’d love if you left your own lists in the comments.