Classic final girls usually make it through a horror movie bloodied, terrified, and shaken to the core from battling their slashers, demons, monsters, or inner nightmares. There are so many dynamic women to choose from, but I can’t help but find one of my favorite final girls in a more modern era of horror through Sidney Prescott of Scream.
I am someone who thoroughly enjoys the entire Scream franchise (yes, even the clunky mess that is number three) and loves seeing how Sidney grows through her trauma in various stages of her life. But there is something so magical about that first film which boggles my mind each time I watch it. The fact that the opening scene features Drew Barrymore playing out a detailed horror plot from start to finish, an end where (spoiler alert, and many to come) she is gruesomely murdered and hung from a tree. The film starts strong and I love bold beginnings.
The self-aware nature of Scream’s script, characters, and overall structure keeps audiences engaged and ready to solve the whodunit mystery. We can laugh along with Sidney, Randy, Billy, Tatum, and Stu as they badmouth horror movie tropes that seem to play out regardless of how prepared they assume they are when it comes to a psycho Ghostface killer on the loose.
Sure, characters in horror movies make idiotic decisions, but without these moments of stupidity, we wouldn’t have the big showdowns or epic death scenes we all know and love. That being said, I don’t think I have ever rolled my eyes at Scream. Giving Sidney and her friends enough sense and sass to understand what is happening in Woodsboro gives the audience a chance to focus on who the killer could be rather than cursing so-and-so for investigating a noise outside.
Sidney has a refreshing amount of depth for a typical teen horror movie. We find her a year after her mother’s murder, in love with her boyfriend Billy but left insecure and fearful of intimacy, marking her as the token virgin. Her innocent introduction (modest nightgown and all) quickly fades away as she is forced to face scrutiny over rumors that she sent the wrong man to prison for her mother’s murder, the masked killer gunning for her life, and the possibility that she could be dating the slasher, because after all, EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT.
Sidney’s first run-in with Ghostface starts with his cat-and-mouse phone calls which she meets with mocking sarcasm and an ‘I’m-not-dealing-with-this-shit’ attitude. When she hangs up and locks the door, of course the killer pops out of a closet behind her, because remember, this movie keeps with classic themes. But then my feminist heart soars as Sidney kicks and punches herself away from the intruder as much as possible. Scream is fueled by Sidney sticking up for herself, running tirelessly in circles to get away from danger and she succeeds, one crotch kick and broken vase over the head after the next.
She sends Billy to the cops for questioning just in case, boyfriend or not. She punches reporter Gale Weathers square in the face for her pestering comments. She goes to a party rather than hiding in fear. She curses, she fights, she bites, and she has sex because she wants to, even with the looming threat that hangs over the town. How scandalous when a traditional final girl is the sweet, virginal beacon of survival!
Scream also embraces the party scene trope present in many teen horror flicks and makes it the big finale. Sidney has lost her virginal immunity from being slaughtered, so where does that leave us? Teens are being picked off left and right. Tatum’s head is crushed in a disturbing/ridiculous/slightly-hilarious garage door incident, Deputy Dewey is stabbed in the back, Gale’s cameraman has his throat slit, and Randy gets shot. A knife may be Ghostface’s weapon of choice, but deaths in the Scream series come in fun variety of flavors.
Even though I enjoy every second of Scream, the final act is pure perfection. I remember watching this movie for the first time and having my mind blown to pieces with the reveal. (Once again, super spoilers. You have been warned). This masterpiece spends the entire time convincing you of who the killer is and then minutes later giving alibis so that you have to make the switch again. How is this possible with such a small cast of characters? Two damn killers. When Billy flashes his crazy eyes and Stu gives his serial-killer smile, I screamed in rage, delight, hilarity, but then quickly went silent so I could hear the motive. Why? WHY? More clever dialogue about classic tropes, sequels, and crafting the perfect murder. “See,” Billy says, “it’s a lot more scarier when there’s no motive, Sid.” And that’s the truth! But of course he has a motive, one he is eager to divulge.
This dramatic sequence does not abandon the humor we have felt throughout as we get to watch Stu, dumb enough to let Billy stab him way more times than necessary, become a goofy crybaby as he loses blood rapidly. The best part of it all, Sidney still has enough fire to play their games, disappearing when they look away, calling the cops immediately, and then having fun with the Ghostface voice changer through the phone herself. She’s a badass and if everything I have said about her doesn’t leave you convinced, she stabs Billy twice with an umbrella and pushes a television set onto Stu’s head. She’s scrappy and I will always love her.
Scream is hard not to have fun with and I think the jump scares and building of tension are genuinely effective. Horror comedies are difficult to get right but Wes Craven and his team somehow mastered the perfect split of genres and thankfully went on to make sequels that allow Sidney Prescott to keep kicking ass.