Strode was the quintessential ‘last girl’ – a term coined by scholar Carol J Clover in her seminal book on the slasher films Men, Women and Chainsaws, which refers to the last woman standing in a slasher, which is usually a paragon of innocence, sex and drugs, and is coded as somewhat androgynous. She’s never the pretty cheerleader, more likely the cheerleader’s friend, and she’s the character that audiences, regardless of gender, sympathize with the most. (Clover’s key and groundbreaking argument is that slashers actually encouraged male viewers to relate to women, rather than being inherently misogynistic, as critics previously assumed.) In some slasher franchises, like Halloween, and later in Scream, “The Last Girl” is also the real protagonist of the films. While for the villain killing her becomes the mission, for her survival is everything. Strode grows stronger with each new entry into a slasher franchise, ultimately becoming a hyper-capable, hyper-conscious protective force for those around him, without completely erasing the trauma of his ordeal.
In Myers, Halloween also made a plan for the villainous slasher. While the “final girl” is the central character to be referred to, it’s the slasher villain who usually becomes the icon of any franchise. Their resemblance is usually on the poster. Their name permeates the culture. They become Halloween costumes, Funko pops, stickers, t-shirts, tattoos. Mike Muncer, creator and host of Horror Evolution Podcast, told BBC Culture that the perfect villainous slasher is “unstoppable. You can behead him, you can blow him up and he’ll keep coming back.” They should preferably have a simple backstory (on Halloween almost nothing is discovered about Myers, except that he was evil embodied from an early age, when we see him commit his first murder while ‘he was a toddler). And they have to have an iconic look, which makes them instantly recognizable, even to non-horror fans. That’s how Myers, Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies, and Scream’s ever-evolving Ghostface all got their signature masks, while A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger has his bladed glove. “[The looks] almost even transcend themselves, ”as Muncer points out.
The power of the villainous slasher
Like all horror movie monsters, slasher villains are almost always manifestations of cultural fears. While the original horror monsters were supernatural creatures with dramatic flair – like Count Dracula, the Wolfman, the Black Lagoon Creature, or the Mummy – this new generation of slasher villains were relentless predators whose identity was secondary to their iconography. At the same time, however, the villains of the slasher are still human (or once were, anyway), and through them we understand the central theme of the slasher movie: the cycle of trauma that, if not. left untreated, can lead people to do terrible things.
Mary Wild, creator of the Projections lecture series at the Freud Museum in London and co-host of the Screenings podcast, both viewing the cinema through a psychoanalytic lens, see trauma as a defining characteristic of the villainous slasher, even down to the use of the knife as his favorite murder weapon: “[when] they’re stabbing other people, it’s an outward manifestation of their trauma, shifting their own pain and suffering onto someone else, “she told BBC Culture.” It’s definitely due to a trauma, something really unspoken and something that has become a corrosive taboo. “