Embodying the Moral Code? Thirty Years of Final Girls in Slasher Films

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Abstract

The slasher film is a subgenre of horror characterized by suspenseful scenes emphasizing victims’ fear of an antagonist and depicting graphic violence. A well-recognized characteristic of the slasher formula is the potential for viewers to quickly predict the fate of each character. Slasher films are thought to include a character known as the Final Girl who, by virtue of her refusal to engage in licentious behavior, is rewarded with survival. Although books and essays have advanced hypotheses regarding the characteristics of the Final Girl, empirical analysis has been lacking. We predicted that Final Girls would be more likely than other female characters to adhere to the traditional sexual script (e.g., less likely to engage in sexual behavior or wear revealing clothing), to exhibit prosocial behavior (i.e., the Just World Theory), and to demonstrate agency (e.g., fight behaviors). A quantitative content analysis of the 10 highest-grossing slasher films of each of the past three decades (i.e., 30 films with 226 primary characters) was performed. Relative to other female characters, Final Girls were more likely to be rated as attractive, were less likely to be shown nude or engaging in significant onscreen sexual behavior, demonstrated more prosocial behaviors as well as more agentic survival-oriented behaviors against the antagonist, and were more likely to demonstrate an androgynous gender role. Exploratory analyses of the characteristics of surviving male characters (Final Boys) are also presented. Implications of these findings for widespread cultural beliefs about women, men, and the traditional sexual script are considered.

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