What if the final girl in a horror movie spent more time formulating a plan to foil the villain than locked in a closet sobbing? What if she had friends—other capable, smart, and of course totally badass women—who had her back? Writer and director, Matt Storc, of the forthcoming horror-comedy film Final Girls set out to answer these questions. Final Girls follows Jett (Amy Wilson), Barbie (Emily Rochester), and Vixen (Ashley Nickell) as they fight for their lives, and their place as final girls in the horror movie cannon.
To learn more about the film, I talked to Storc and the talented cast.
How did the idea for Final Girls come about?
Matt Storc: I really love all women in horror, particularly the strong female leads. Unfortunately, it never seemed like there was ever more than one in a given horror film. So, I’ve always had this dream that my favorite female leads, like Laurie Strode from Halloween or Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and so on and so forth, would join together to fight a common evil in an epic horror film.
Ashley, Amy, Emily and I had been talking about working on a horror film together after they launched their sketch comedy YouTube series and they wanted to be in front of the camera more. They said they wanted to run around the woods from a killer in an old school style slasher film. I shared this idea about the final girls team up movie. Immediately, we started to develop backstories for these three characters each of them would play.
I expected to write a fifteen-page script that would equate to about a fifteen-minute movie. When I was on page ten and we hadn’t even met our final girls yet, I realized I had found my feature. Over the course of about six months, I was working on the script for the film all while talking with the three girls about each of their characters. We all sort of worked on the story together while I went off and wrote the script. I think we really delivered in bringing that childhood dream movie to reality.
Ashley Nickell: Matt was really open with us during the writing of the actual script, so it feels like we have been involved since the beginning! He would send us about thirty pages at a time so we could get a feel of the story arc while still eager for the next act. The three of us had no clue how the story was going to end or even what would happen to any of our characters, which made the whole process even more exciting.
One of the traditions of camp filmmaking seems to be finding creative solutions to working on a shoestring budget. What solutions did you have to come up with to stretch your budget on set?
Amy Wilson: Budget? What budget? We shot a feature length film on a non-existent budget with a crew of six people—including the actors. Improvisation and creativity was the daily theme of set.
Emily Rochester: At one point I was applying latex and scar makeup with sticks in the middle of the night while I held a flashlight in my other hand. I think a great deal of the makeup also involved adding fake blood or mud, for color, as I was kneeling in the woods.
AN: It’s difficult when you want to make something as special as you can imagine it, so when it came down to it, we improvised everything we could think of. We were working with a small crew and when we needed a makeshift graveyard, I made one. Had I ever carved tombstones out of Styrofoam before? No, but it had to be done. Within 48 hours, what seemed like endless carving, a destroyed apartment, and an assembly line of our crew spackling and painting, we created tombstones. I almost cried when they were placed in the ground and we were ready to film because I was—cheesily enough—proud. Each of us brought something new to the table, and it was never something that we had done before.
MS: We had to beg and borrow every piece of equipment we used and we had to steal every shot that we could. Somehow we just pulled it all off. Also, I really shot for the stars with my script with several action scenes, locations, additional characters and so on. As a testament to everyone that worked on this movie, we were able to pull most of it off.
What does the final girl trope mean to you?
AN: The final girl, in basic terms, is just the last girl to make it out alive, but I see it as a person who has absorbed some sort of traumatic experience, felt the burden of those around her who have died, and takes that exhaustive energy to survive.
MS: To me, the final girl is the heart of the slasher film sub-genre of horror. She is the audience. We want to see good prevail and we get to see that through the final girl. It’s also one horror trope where we get to see a woman be strong and save the day. When I was growing up, the final girl was weak up until the very end when she had to pull herself together and defeat the villain. Lately though, it seems filmmakers are making the final girl strong from the very beginning and we follow her right up until the end as she problem solves her way to victory. I think that we’re in a very exciting time for that in the genre.
AW: She is a survivor, not a victim. Her strong will to live may come as a shock. You never know how precious life is until a crazed killer is about to rip it from you.
Which elements of the trope did you most enjoy parodying or celebrating in the film?
MS: We wanted to make sure that we set the audience up for every trope in the book, and we found a way to turn it on its head each time. We didn’t want the film to be too tongue in cheek or make our characters obnoxiously self-aware. We just wanted to acknowledge the world of horror our girls come from and give a tip of the hat to the genre we love.
We set up a cat and mouse game between the killer and the girls where we hope the audience is really never sure where it’s going to go. Of course, at the same time, we love horror movies too much to pass up trying our hand at doing our own versions of some tried and true tropes of the genre.
AN: We definitely play off the “let’s stay and fight” mentality rather than doing what the audience is always yelling at the screen—”Just leave!” It’s that stubbornness that makes the situation frustrating but sometimes comical, and that is what I love to see about horror movies. I love how complex a final girl can be, and in this particular film, there are three of us. Three very different final girls that are thrown together from very different backgrounds. We adapt and react to survival in various ways, and because we are experiencing it all again but with each other, it becomes a complicated situation. It’s emotional, but in a strong way.
Is there a horror movie trope you wish would finally just die (and actually stay dead)?
AN: I enjoy when a final girl can prove her strength, not just sob and run around for an hour and then luckily find a lead pipe just within reach to clobber her slasher-villain at the last second as she is being choked. That whole thing is pathetic and doesn’t do much for the audience. I want to want the person to survive. Like, “Wow, she gave ’em hell!” Now I’m not saying that a final girl shouldn’t be scared. She should definitely be scared of someone or something on a killing rampage, but also determined that she can find some raw adrenaline to make a difference.
MS: I really am tired of seeing the overly masculine male come in and save the day for the damsel in distress. I think it’s getting better in horror films, but it has become a cliché in the genre. It’s just such a tired and lazy story device that really has worn thin on me.
What qualities do each of these characters—Barbie, Jett, and Vixen—possess that makes each of them survivors? What are their weaknesses?
ER: Barbie’s vulnerability has aided in her past as a survivor. She has this cheery disposition that makes her very persuasive and scarier when she turns to anger. This in turn is a weakness for her as she internalizes a lot of things and struggles with her final girl status.
AN: We’re all kind of representing a horror stereotype in a way, but flipped on its head. We have a girly girl who is actually crude and sarcastic, a dark militant girl who is sweet and motherly, and a quiet nerd who is outspoken and hot-headed. With how multifaceted the three are, there are plenty of strengths that clash together as well as weaknesses that reveal themselves when the tension is higher than ever. My character, Vixen, is confident, but lets anger get in the way of communicating with the others. I feel like they are more interesting than the very basic stereotypes like “the cheerleader,” “the loser,” “the slut,” etc.
AW: Barbie is a bad ass, Jett is a lover and Vixen is a fighter. Even though dying would be easier, they refused to succumb.
Were there any famous final girls you drew inspiration from?
ER: Sidney Prescott, Neve Campbell, from Scream and Sally Hardesty, Marilyn Burns, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974.
AN: I’m a huge fan of Amy Steel’s characters in both April Fool’s Day and Friday the 13th Part 2. Both films have a lot going on and even through the fast-paced chaos, she is terrified, yet keeps going. I don’t recall her falling down as much, which is funny to say, but it’s fun to go back and count how many final girls wind up with sprained ankles. Another favorite is Patricia Arquette in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors because she is a voice who brings everyone together and actually formulates a plan, no matter how unpredictable Freddy Krueger is.
AW: I find that many of the iconic final girls—Nancy Thompson Kirsty Cotton, etc.— portray victims and I didn’t want Jett to be a victim. I wanted her to be a fighter. A lot of my inspiration came from the recent horror thriller, You’re Next. It was refreshing to finally see a final girl who zeroed in on her killer and showed them whose boss.
What’s next for each of you?
ER: My illustration work is available at emroart.tumblr.com and emilyrochester.wix.com/illustration.
AW: I’m currently living in Los Angeles and working in casting. In my free time I work on developing horror scripts and ideas with my writer friends.
AN: I’ll always be working on short stories and a potential novel, but for now I’m focusing on scripts for short films and perhaps a feature of my own. A horror movie was so fun to be a part of that I am just not ready to step away from the genre yet! I’m also putting together a collaborative blog that focuses on women in horror because with all the chasing, jump scares, stabbings, beatings, and mind games that they go through before they can safely walk away, the ladies of this genre deserve some recognition.
MS: After we finish post-production work on Final Girls, I will be working on directing a couple of short films and a web series. I will also begin scripting our next feature length film, another female-driven horror flick. You can take a look at some of my other shorts here as well.