BY MELISSA PLECKHAM
I have been thinking a lot about the final girl this year. It began over the summer, when I finally sat down to read Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chain Saws, a text that I found to be, frankly, a bit of a slog - and also at times too confined, too reductive when it comes to the appeal of the horror genre. As a lifelong horror fan, I bristle at this idea that horror is primarily the domain of adolescent boys, subscribing instead to something akin to Bela Lugosi’s famous quote: “It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out - and come back for more.” After all, as Alice Cooper (and, later, Tori Amos) so aptly proclaimed, only women bleed, right?
Then I discovered I Am Not Your Final Girl, a collection of poems by Claire C. Holland inspired by the “last women standing” in horror movies. I love these poems so much; they’re beautiful, poignant, eerie, dangerous, visceral, and transcendent, just like the characters they give voice to. In her Introduction, Holland lays out the reasons why she wrote this particular collection at this particular time, and unsurprisingly, it has a lot to do with our current political climate.
Since 2016, we have all become final girls, on a national - on a global - scale. What a time to be alive: We are so connected, so informed, so savvy. Every bit of human intelligence, all our art, all communication: At our fingertips, constantly. My privilege allowed me to naively believe that we were beyond all this hatred, all this ignorance. That perhaps we were simply too smart for all this. That we were too wise, in short, to be oppressed.
I have learned that no one is too wise. That oppression and violence, like the boogeyman, will come for us again and again, no matter how many times we think we’ve killed it. Shoot it, stab it, send it out a second-story window.
“You can’t kill the boogeyman.”
John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween is my favorite film of all time, and after so many lackluster sequels I was deeply skeptical of this new incarnation, directed by David Gordon Green and recently released. What could it possibly have to offer, I wondered, after we’ve seen Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode as everything from a near-catatonic hobbling through a hospital to a wine-swilling survivor trying to medicate her PTSD? She’s been on the business end of a blade more times than I care to count, and although she always fights back, it never sticks. It always ends in terror.
But then I finally saw 2018’s Halloween. This wasn’t a Laurie who was scared for her life, on the run, hiding out. This was a Laurie who was ready to do battle. End this monster. Take the power for herself.
So to honor Laurie Strode —to honor all final girls— here is a spell for this Halloween season.
A Spell for the Final Girl: Releasing Trauma and Reclaiming Power
An image of your favorite Final Girl, or any woman who inspires you with her bravery and survival
A white jar candle
ModPodge or other strong glue
Piece of paper & pen
Dish with water
Incense - I like sandalwood, but it should be a scent that is meaningful and beautiful to you
Before you begin the spell, affix your Final Girl to the glass of your jar candle using the glue. Add decorations if you wish - you can put as much or as little effort into this as you’d like. This will be functioning as your meditation candle.
When the candle is ready, light the wick and meditate on the Final Girl you’ve chosen. What qualities does she possess that helped her to survive? Do you see those qualities in yourself? Allow your mind to clear and wait for the answers to find you.
Next, ask yourself what you would like to overcome. Nothing is too small or too great, from a recent breakup to a professional rejection to deep-rooted childhood traumas to the patriarchy itself. When you have it in mind, write it down on the piece of paper. Again, you can write as much or as little as you’d like. It could be one word or an entire essay. Just express what you need to express.
Then, fold your piece of paper into quarters (you don’t want the piece to be too large, since you’re going to light it) and say the following words:
I call upon the final girls
I call upon the flames
To give me strength and take from me This pain which I have named.
Light a corner of the paper on fire and allow it to smolder before extinguishing it in the dish of water. Then, light the incense and envision the smoke removing any remaining negativity while you repeat:
Sisters, we are strong.
We will survive.
We are the last ones standing.
Allow the incense to burn until it goes out on its own. Dispose of the remnants of the paper in whatever way feels most empowering to you: Bury it in the soil, tear it up, throw it out. It is not yours. It never was. You are more than that. Bigger. You have survived the blade and come out stronger and wiser on the other side.
For this Halloween and beyond, my dearest hope is this: Every woman a witch. Every girl a final girl. Until, finally, we no longer have to outrun, outwit, outlast, outmaneuver.
Until we are free.
Melissa Pleckham is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles with her husband and their tuxedo cat. Her short films and screenplays have been selected for festivals including Salem Horror Fest, Screamfest, and Midsummer Scream, while her writing has been featured on Death & the Maiden and HelloHorror, as well as in the collection Entombed in Verse from FunDead Publications. Her thoughts on Halloween and horror films can be found on her blog, Spooky Little Girl, and she is on Instagram and Twitter @mpleckham.